Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ghosts, Conspiracies, and a Smoking Hot Deacon

Philippa Ballantine
Ace, 294 p., $7.99

That should probably be "deaconess" in the title of this post, but since both male and female holders of that office go by the title of "deacon" in Geist, I'll stick with Ms. Ballantine's convention.  Regardless of details of semantics, this was a thoroughly enjoyable novel.  It's not the author's first, but it was the first one of hers I've read.  It won't be the last. 

The geists of the title are beings from the Otherside, sort a spirit world, and "geist" is something of a catchall term that could encompass a number of different entities.  They are usually pretty destructive.  They can be a form of ghost or some other malignant being.

The novel probably wouldn't be considered heroic fantasy in the strictest sense, but there were plenty of heroics.  The setup is this, at least as I understand it.  I may have a couple of the details wrong.  There were no major infodumps; background was filled in as you went along, often from context.  It takes place on continent that had been settled some generations before, although how long ago was a little unclear.  The Deacons long ago cast off all their religious beliefs and are quiet secular in their behavior, as much as they may still function as a religious order at times.  The book opens with Sorcha putting out her cigar on the side of a building.  Anyway, the Deacons are the ones who protect the citizenry against possessions and other attacks from the Otherside.

The current Emperor, or at least his line, hasn't held the throne long.  Raed Rossin, the son of the former Emperor, is still around and is known by the title of The Young Pretender.  He still has some support, but it's fading.  When the book opens, he's surviving as a pirate and is a bit down on his luck.  He also suffers from a curse.  If he spends much time on dry land, he transforms into a Rossin, which is a pretty nasty geist.

The gorgeous woman on the cover is Deacon Sorcha Faris.  Deacons fall into one of two categories, Actives and Sensitives.  Sorcha is an Active, which means she does the fighting.  Sensitives can see Otherside activity as well as know what living creatures are in a given area.  Sensitives and Actives in the field are always paired.  Sorcha is somewhere in her thirties, the most powerful (and feared and beautiful) of the Actives, and has had more partners than most Deacons.  She's married to her current partner, and the marriage is in trouble. 

When her husband is seriously wounded in an attack in the first chapter, she's given a new partner, Merrick Chambers.  Sorcha isn't happy about this.  Merrick has just passed his final test and been made a Deacon.  Although she doesn't realize it, Merrick has met her before.  When he was a child, he watched Sorcha kill his father.

The pair are given an assignment to investigate trouble at an isolated Priory.  That's when things really begin to go to the Otherside in a handbasket.  Along the way, they have to be rescued by Raed.  Plenty of sparks ensue, some from conflicting loyalties, some romantic.

There's plenty of combat and fighting, and while most of it is magical in nature, there's still a good deal of sword play.  The viewpoints alternate between Sorcha, Merrick, and Raed.  I found this to be very effective, in that when the viewpoint characters had conflicts among themselves, the reader gets to see both sides in detail.  The book is told from their perspectives, and since very little is as it appears to them, there are a good number of surprises.

There are also some unanswered questions that I expect will be resolved in the following books.  The author's website says there will be at least four.  The second, Spectyr (A Book of the Order), recently hit the shelves.  One of the questions is about the events that led to Raed's father losing his throne.  Not a lot of details were given in the book.  Also, the Deacons in the book came across the ocean from another continent a few years prior to the book's opening to clean things up.  The native Deacons had let things get out of hand.  This ties in some way to Raed's father.

This was an entertaining fantasy adventure/romance.  I've not been impressed with this type of blend much in the past.  The ones I've read have tended to interject the romance pretty early in the story, and the characters started acting in ways that should have gotten them killed.  That wasn't the case in this book.  The threat and the conspiracy were well established before the romance really ramped up.  Ms. Ballantine managed to balance the adventure and the romance well.  While I thought the ending wrapped some things up a little too neatly, there are more books in which to address some of the loose ends.

Give this one a try. 


  1. I have to admit to a bias against female authors, in that the simply don't move me, BUT I have been impressed with your reviews, so I am keen to check it out.

    Thanks to Borders demise (and insane sales) I just snagged Thirteen Years Later and Among Thieves on your say so.

  2. Thank you for the confidence in my reviews, David. No, I don't feel any pressure. :)

    I understand what you mean about female authors. In spite of what some people seem to believe, there is often a real difference in how men and women write, and in what they look for when they read. Women tend to be more focused on the internal, emotions and feelings and such; while men prefer external conflict such as politics and violence. What I've found is that there is a wider range of writing by women than the preceding sentence would imply. Geist is probably close to the edge of my comfort zone as far as the emotional, romantic aspects of the story. But the intrigue and conspiracy aspects of the book were the central part of the story and what made me keep reading.