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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dead People with Problems (Review of Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire)

"The only people who don't have problems are dead people," my mother is fond of saying, but boy, have I got a ghost for you who's dying (har) to take issue with that. Her name is Rose Marshall and she's the protagonist of Seanan McGuire's Sparrow Hill Road. She was killed in a car crash on her way to her high school prom back in 1952, a crash that was deliberately caused by a sorta-undead Bad Guy name of Bobby Cross. As a ghost "hitcher" ever since then, she's been on a mission to save drivers she can sense are about to die in wrecks or, failing that, save their souls from being taken by Bobby Cross. Are their paths going to cross (har) again? What do you think?
Ms. McGuire has postulated an afterlife of baroque complexity, full of beings like "routewitches" and haunted highways who populate a thousand levels of "twilight" and "midnight" underlying the "daylight" America, and brother, every ghost of them has a story to tell and a passel of problems that don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy afterworld.
The underlying plot is sound, the fantasy setting is intriguing, and the atmosphere is sufficiently eerie--reminiscent of one of Neil Gaiman's better books, like a cross between Neverwhere and American Gods. On the down side is Rose's habit of sounding disconcertingly like a twenty-first century American teenager. I grant you that she's been keeping up with the times in her unchanging Sweet Sixteen form, but still, a girl who died in 1952 ought not to express her displeasure with her circumstances by saying that they "suck," nor should she have the habit of dropping such irritating present-dayisms as "I'm good" for "No thanks" and "Oh wait, I just did" to express sarcasm. And is it really necessary for Bobby Cross to intone, "This isn't over" after his first encounter with Rose? A better editor would have spared us these minor literary sins.
Still, I give the novel two-and-a-half Phoboses out of three. More, please, Ms. McGuire.
This review is cross-posted on Amazon.com.

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