Geist - Philippa Ballantine The good things about this book: I like the idea behind the Order of Deacons – an areligious order of monkish types (the only traditional vow I think you could argue they take is the one of obedience; definitely not chastity) – sworn to keep the barrier between the living and the dead whole. I like the ontological underpinnings of the Otherside, though they’re only hinted at in this first novel of the series. I like the character of Sorcha Faris – mostly.

Why only two stars?: One of the novel’s blurbs says “[o]ne of the most vividly original books I’ve read this year.” But it isn’t (or, if it is, then the blurber must have had a sorely disappointing year). There’s no story or character here that I haven’t encountered before: The oddball pair up of experienced partner and novice; the inevitable, passionate love affair between male and female protagonists; the family curse; the corrupted institution; the evil demon lord who wants to manifest in our world; the deus ex machina (or dea in this case); even the faithful gruff retainer.

Alas.

Familiarity does not necessarily breed contempt, though. There’s nothing wrong with following the traditional fantasy formula if the storytelling works but – for me – it didn’t. Ballantine’s writing is annoying and intrusive and sometimes, simply bad, constantly throwing me out of the reading experience. For example, the setting is a world reminiscent of late 18th/early 19th century Europe (particularly Russia as there’s a definite Slavic flavor to many names – Kolya, Rossin, the Murashev – but not overly so) yet the characters speak in 21st century idioms. The writing itself is awkward and clumsy; she actually writes “incredibly seriously” at one point. And can we please ban the use of “wryly” to describe any action, at least more than once per novel?

Beyond that there’s no effort to establish character. We’re told that Sorcha’s marriage to Kolya is mostly dead but there’s no attempt to create the context that would give it emotional depth. Thus, when Sorcha – our heroine – falls for Raed Rossin – our hero – so passionately (as we’re told) it’s not believable that she’s starving for a lover. We’re faced with the same flatness in the relationship between Sorcha – the experienced Deacon – and Merrick – the novice. Almost immediately, they are working together like a well coordinated team and bantering like an old, married couple. (This despite the fact that Merrick’s father was brutally slain when Merrick was a child because of a mistake the young, inexperienced Deacon Sorcha Faris made.)

The story – the “mystery” – is a mystery only for about two chapters. If you can’t see who the bad guys are or who the abovementioned dea ex machina is then you’re a novice reader or you’re not paying attention.

Recommended?: No. I can’t recommend this book. It’s not such a horrible read that you want to gouge your eyes out but if you’re going to test the waters, check it out of the library or borrow it from a friend. If the writing weren’t so annoying and the story so mediocre or there’d been stronger character building, I would be more enthusiastic but the book didn’t quite measure up to what I had been hoping for.