Quick Reviews: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (2016), and Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis Chen (2016)

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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 16th 2016 by Tor Books
Ghost Talkers is a WWI-era novel that follows Ginger Stuyvesant, a medium (yes, that kind of medium) from America, living in London during the war. Ginger is part of a mostly-secret group of magical seers, the Spirit Corps, who communicate with recently deceased soldiers, reliving their final moments and helping to assist them into the afterlife, while using the information they gather from these deceased soldiers as a form of intel for the army. Her fiancee, British soldier Benjamin Harford, is an intelligence officer for the British Army, and is lucky enough to work alongside Ginger periodically, when he isn’t being sent to the front lines.
After a fairly shocking turn leaves Benjamin deceased (mild spoiler, sorry), he finds himself unable to pass on to the afterlife due to the unfinished business of getting to the bottom of who killed him and why, and is able to assist Ginger with this mission as an incorporeal being who has some ability to interact with the real world, at the cost of his post-life sanity and energy. It soon becomes obvious that there’s more to the situation than there seemed on the surface, and Ginger, Benjamin, and Ginger’s peers find themselves on a wild goose chase to find traitors and murderers.
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I’ve been a fan of Mary for quite some time, as much for her personality, wit, narrating ability, and other talents as for her writing (which I also enjoy thoroughly, mind you). Her regular series is a bit out of my “normal” reading genre, but is a wonderfully written set of stories, with a lot of really high quality characters – especially strong female characters. Ghost Talkers is no different, with Ginger being a force, a strong-willed, intelligent and persistent presence in the story, and the true powerhouse of the novel. The supporting cast vary greatly in background, attitudes, and actions, but work well alongside Ginger to complete their tasks.
The novel itself is a lot of fun. It’s quick and to the point, and a total page-turner – I found myself flying through it, and actually read it in one sitting. I had become excited by the prospect of this novel when Mary first mentioned it at a book signing something like 2 years ago, and have been eagerly awaiting it since, and it did not disappoint.

Rating: 4.25 / 5 

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Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 21st 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books

Curtis Chen is a local Portland author who I see quite often, and have hung around quite a bit (though much like David Levine, I doubt he could pick me out of a lineup), so I’ve had my eyes on this novel since he announced it some time back (last year?). Kangaroo is a spy, but one with a very particular and exclusive talent – he can open a “pocket” to a foreign bit of space, in which he can store anything of any size, for an indefinite amount of time, until he can return there and recover it. You can imagine that this would be pretty useful in general, but doubly so for a spy, as it allows him to have a variety of specialized instruments, weapons, etc for missions, as well as smuggling out important items without being caught with them. Neat, right?

Except Kangaroo is a bit of a loose cannon – too loose for his employers at times, as he finds a way to bungle some form of his missions seemingly consistently. So when Kangaroo yet again involves some collateral damage in a careless mistake, he’s asked by his boss to ‘take a vacation’, and walk away, specifically while their office is being audited, and there’s a chance he could blow it for them. However, as Kangaroo boards his cruise ship to Mars, he quickly finds himself unable to discontinue working, and is quickly entwined in a murder mystery on the ship, assisting the military-employee crew of the boat.

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Waypoint Kangaroo is a blast. It’s fast-paced, intelligent, witty, and has a lot of twists and turns. Not the most complicated plot line I’ve ever read, but I appreciate that because it let me simply enjoy the fast pace and pleasurable prose. Kangaroo isn’t your typical wittier-than-thou, smooth-talking protagonist we deal with so often in male-centered first person spyish novels, which was a nice break; he’s certainly witty, but isn’t perfect by any means. I had a good chuckle – I was reading this while on vacation, but on a vacation in which I found myself working more than not. Often my boss and friends tell me I’m ‘terrible at taking time off’ because I never stop working, and never let myself reset and rest. The entire novel, Kangaroo is ripped on for never relaxing, not knowing how to turn off work, etc – it hit very close to home, and made me laugh quite often at the irony of it.

In the end, I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and found it to be an encouraging and fun debut from Curtis. I look forward to the forthcoming sequel, and hopefully I’ll see Curtis sooner than later so I can tell him in person that I enjoyed the work quite a bit.

Rating: 4.25 / 5

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