Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Geist - a complex fantasy tale

Geist: A Book of the Order
By Philippa Ballantine

Reviewed by Deirdre Murphy

Active Deacon Sorcha Faris has plenty of problems. The husband who has grown increasingly distant from her emotionally is also her Sensitive work partner, paired with her magically and metaphysically to fight the geist—unliving forces that keep trying to invade her world. For no apparent reason, geist activity is on the upswing, with more and stranger attacks suddenly appearing in a part of the world that she spent years working to make safe for humankind.

As the book opens, what should have been a boring bit of guard duty turns deadly, requiring her to call on the most dire of her powers, one that many Active Deacons never master. They win the fight, but her husband is nearly killed, and will spend months in the hospital even with the best of care.

She expects to be given leave to take care of him. Instead the Abbot calls her in with new orders from the Emperor. She is to partner with a very powerful young Sensitive, Deacon Merrick Chambers and leave immediately, quietly and with no backup, to aid a priory that’s besieged with violent geist activity. Sorcha doesn’t recognize the young man—but he recognizes her as the beautiful woman who destroyed the geist-creature that had just messily killed his father years before. Merrick covers his nervousness about being partnered to her by deliberately antagonizing her.

As if this isn’t enough to deal with, their trip to the endangered Priory is beset with danger, and before they get there, they run into geist-cursed Prince Raed of the former royal family, now known as the Pretender. Raed spends his time sailing the high seas to avoid both the Emperor and situations that could waken the murderous geist-beast that is twined into his body and soul. When increased geist activity threatens even ships on the ocean, Sorcha ends up having to worry about the curse too.

There’s plenty of action, and twists and turns to the plot that I didn’t predict. I found it harder and harder to put the book down as the plot unfolded. The ending was satisfying, though it wasn’t a “happily ever after” sort of thing. But then, this was never portrayed as a fairy-tale sort of world. The characters and the Empire they live in are complex, powerful, and imperfect—and that, along with how they face their dark enemies, is what makes them interesting.

As noted above, in the book we see hints of Sorcha’s interesting history—history with her husband, with other former partners, and, of course, fighting the spooky, dangerous geist creatures. Thinking about that while writing this review, I wondered if this might not be the first book about her (though I never felt like I should to have read a prior story to fully understand this one). A quick web-search did not turn up any earlier Sorcha book, but I discovered there is a sequel, Spectyr, which is due out in June. I’ll be watching for it.

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