Some Mini Reviews: Ghost Road series (1-2) by Seanan McGuire

Posted 27th March 2021 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Reviews / 0 Comments

It was time for a reread of this series, and though I’m not up to writing a full review at the moment, I did want to get some thoughts down!

Sparrow Hill Road (Ghost Roads, #1) by Seanan McGuire
ISBN: 0756409616

Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea.

It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running.

They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her.

You can’t kill what’s already dead.

Sparrow Hill Road is the first book in Seanan McGuire’s Ghost Roads series, and if there’s anything you should know about McGuire, it’s that she can write – and rock – absolutely anything she sets her mind to. Sparrow Hill Road came out of nowhere back in 2014 and immediately earned itself a spot on my favourites shelf with its unique (and brilliantly clever) modern mythology, and a main character who knew when to dig her heels in and when to take off running.

What can I say: I love characters who know their own limitations, okay?

Rose is a ghost; she’s been 16 for over 60 years. Thankfully, (un-)living that long means she no longer has the mentality or psyche of a 16 year old; in fact, it’d be pretty hard to translate her maturity into a living human age. McGuire successfully writes a ghost who feels like a ghost, ie, still very human, but a human who has been around for a while and seen some very strange things. Her body might be frozen at 16; her mind isn’t, and her voice (the series is written in 1st-person) absolutely sounds like it. Rose never feels alien, though; if anything, she feels wonderfully normal – and brisk, and practical, and unwilling to put up with bullshit. She gets scared. She’s careful when encountering new supernatural creatures or practices she doesn’t know. She tries her best to be good, and sometimes she gets tired.

Sparrow Hill Road is set up more like a series of interconnected short stories and novellas, covering a number of Rose’s adventures with the afterlife – including her run-ins with the man who killed her living body and now wants to feed her ghost to his car. (It’s complicated). Besides Rose herself, my favourite aspect of this book has got to be the worldbuilding; McGuire has created an entire eco-system of ghosts and spirits, all of which are bound by unique rules and limitations, and while some draw on old mythology, most of it has been spun out of modern urban legends in really clever ways. As usual, though, McGuire doesn’t drown the reader in her worldbuilding, letting us put it together piece by piece alongside Rose, who also has to learn how the Ghost Roads work, while making friends, enemies, and allies all across the supernatural USA.

It’s a very easy read, soothing and exciting in equal measure depending on which of Rose’s adventures you’re reading about at a given moment. It’s definitely the coolest ghost book I’ve ever read!

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown (Ghost Roads, #2) by Seanan McGuire
ISBN: 075641380X

The second book in the Ghost Roads series returns to the highways of America, where hitchhiking ghost Rose Marshall continues her battle with her killer--the immortal Bobby Cross.

Once and twice and thrice around,
Put your heart into the ground.
Four and five and six tears shed,
Give your love unto the dead.
Seven shadows on the wall,
Eight have come to watch your fall:
One's for the gargoyle, one's for the grave,
And the last is for the one you'll never save.

For Rose Marshall, death has long since become the only life she really knows. She's been sweet sixteen for more than sixty years, hitchhiking her way along the highways and byways of America, sometimes seen as an avenging angel, sometimes seen as a killer in her own right, but always Rose, the Phantom Prom Date, the Girl in the Green Silk Gown.

The man who killed her is still out there, thanks to a crossroads bargain that won't let him die, and he's looking for the one who got away. When Bobby Cross comes back into the picture, there's going to be hell to pay--possibly literally.

Rose has worked for decades to make a place for herself in the twilight. Can she defend it, when Bobby Cross comes to take her down? Can she find a way to navigate the worlds of the living and the dead, and make it home before her hitchhiker's luck runs out?

There's only one way to know for sure.

Nine will let you count the cost:
All you had and all you lost.
Ten is more than time can tell,
Cut the cord and ring the bell.
Count eleven, twelve, and then,
Thirteen takes you home again.
One's for the shadow, one's for the tree,
And the last is for the blessing of Persephone.

Book 2 in the Ghost Roads series sees Rose, at least initially, protected from the hungers of Bobby Cross, the man who killed her. But it wouldn’t be a story if he couldn’t figure out a way around those protections, now would it?

Unlike Sparrow Hill Road, Girl in the Green is a novel, not lots of interconnected short stories. And that makes sense for several reasons, not least of which is that ghosts don’t experience time in a linear fashion – hence moving back and forth along the timeline in the previous book – but in Girl in the Green, Rose spends most of the book…alive.

It’s funny, because Sparrow Hill Road had many moments that savoured life and celebrated its joys, but Girl in the Green is much more focused on the normalised grossness of being a living biological being. Both Rose and the narrative make it clear, over and over again, that Rose’s desire to be a ghost again is not the same as suicide, nor is suicide something to be encouraged; Rose wants to be a ghost again because that’s where her life is. She’s really not human any more; doesn’t think like one, act like one, or want to be one. All of her friends are supernatural beings who can’t interact with her while she’s breathing. Resurrection would have been a gift and a miracle to her if it had happened earlier, closer to her death, back when she was still more human than not. But now all it’s done is turned her world upside down, cut her off from the world she knows and the people she loves, and left her helpless and stranded in the modern world – a world she doesn’t know. It is, very believably, a nightmare for her.

Like everything McGuire writes, Girl in the Green is a smooth and easy read, complicated and interesting enough to keep you hooked, while also asking very little of the reader. I finished the last chunk of the book while waiting to undergo surgery (very minor, no worries) and it absolutely kept the jitters at bay. Even though this was my second time reading the book, I was still locked into the story, and when it was time to put the book away I was much calmer and more relaxed than I would have been otherwise.

Girl in the Green also delves a fair bit deeper into the workings of the Ghost Roads, and the rules (and rulers) of the Twilight, the next-door dimension where Rose and the other ghosts ‘live’. It’s not all pretty. It’s not supposed to be. McGuire is very, very good at creating fantasy…let’s call them ‘systems’…that are magical, but still feel very real, real because the rules are harsh and unfair. The means by which Rose is resurrected, in particular, struck me as the kind of horrible that I can absolutely believe in. If that makes any sense.

It’s a very solid, thought-provoking book that I for one found it so easy to sink into, and I’ve got to admit I preferred the novel format to the interconnected short-stories of the first book. But they’re both ridiculously good, and I recommend them heartily!


Leave a Reply

(Enter your URL then click here to include a link to one of your blog posts.)