Book Review: Ghost Talkers

For the last 20 years or so, we’ve all loved a good paranormal investigator. There are loads of them. From Harry Dresden, to Grimm, from Psych to the Frankenstein Chronicles, and on to Constantine, it seems to be the birthright and obligation of anyone with The Sight to start a private detective agency. But is that the only way such persons would engage with society? With history? What would they do if their countries went to war? 

Ghost Talkers answers the question – What if the Allies employed a unit of mediums in World War 1? 

The Basics: 

Title: Ghost Talkers
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Genre: Mystery, Paranormal Romance, Historical Fiction, Horror
Publisher: Tor, 2016

Spoiler-Free Summary: 

Ginger is a Medium. She sees dead people and can read emotional auras by projecting her soul outside her body. She is also one of the founding members of the Spirit Corps – a British unit that takes reports from fallen soldiers for rapid, actionable intelligence. Where was the machine-gun nest that shot you? Thank you. Any final message? We will pass that on. You may rest. Ginger has some variation of this conversation a thousand times every day. Safely disguised as nurses and hospitality workers, the Spirit Corps seems to have a good thing going…

…until they don’t. Soon, German spies are sniffing around. A string of on-base murders circles ever closer to Ginger and her team. She must leave the safety of the corps and solve the mystery of these inexplicable deaths to save her life, her unit, and a loved one’s reputation. 

Why You’ll Love This Book: 

Ghost Talkers is a well-blended smoothie. It’s that insert-region-here-fusion restaurant you’ve been meaning to try. Both I – an avid fantasy and horror fan – and my wife – a rapacious romance and historical fiction reader – enjoyed this book thoroughly. 

Photo by cottonbro on

I love a well-structured magic system. The particular flavor of spiritualism in Ghost Talkers is fascinating. It’s subtle, nuanced, and is held in check by organic limits that fit right into the ecosystem Kowal creates. It does exactly what magic should do in a well-written fantasy: It influences the plot without driving or breaking it. 

I appreciated that Ghost Talkers is not blind to history. It addresses, without overshadowing the plot, very real issues of gender and race that would have affected our characters in 1910’s Europe. Ginger struggles to overcome the prejudicial barriers the military throws in her way. 

The romance angle is deliciously tragic. If your response when a book or movie punches you in the gut is “thank you, could I please have another?,” this is your cup of tea. 

The heartbeat of the story is the mystery, and it does not disappoint. Both my wife and I are genre-savvy readers, and although one of our guesses was ultimately correct, we agree that we were never positive until the big reveal. Kowal does an excellent job of asking a steady stream of urgent questions that keeps the reader turning the page.

Where can you find more? 

Goodreads is always a good’un for quick summaries and checking out an author’s backlog. For another reviewer’s opinion, NPR has a good write-up

As always, happy reading, and happy writing.


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