Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell
Published by Tor
ARC – 500 pages
Published April 2011
Review copy given by Pan Macmillan
When the last of the Gravediggers, an elite imperial infiltration unit, are disbanded and hunted down by the emperor they once served, munitions expert Colonel Thomas Granger takes refuge in the unlikeliest of places. He becomes a jailer in Ethugra – a prison city of poison-flooded streets and gaols in which a million enemies of the empire are held captive. But when Granger takes possession of two new prisoners, he realises that he can’t escape his past so readily.
Ianthe is a young girl with an extraordinary psychic talent. A gift that makes her unique in a world held to ransom by the powerful Haurstaf – the sisterhood of telepaths who are all that stand between the Empire and the threat of the Unmer, the powerful civilization of entropic sorcerers and dragon-mounted warriors. In this war-torn land, she promises to make Granger an extremely wealthy man, if he can only keep her safe from harm.
This is what Granger is best at. But when other factions learn about Ianthe's unique ability, even Granger's skills of warfare are tested to their limits. While, Ianthe struggles to control the powers that are growing in ways no-one thought were possible. Another threat is surfacing: out there, beyond the bitter seas, an old and familiar enemy is rising – one who, if not stopped, will drown the world and all of humanity with it . .
Sea of Ghosts is set in a pretty grim and gritty world. As the result of a war between humans and a race called the Unmer, the seas have been poisoned with brine, which causes mutation in all who touch it. As well as this, the seas are constantly rising, and so there is a growing threat of extinction by this poison. Campbell has created a complex relationship between humans and Unmer, for although the Unmer are treated as sub humans with nothing but malicious intentions with their sorcery and magically imbued artifacts, trading Unmer magical trinkets on the black market is commonplace. Though the Emperor is the de facto ruler, in reality a number of powerful crime barons rule each city. This adds a definite air of suspense for the characters, as even the smallest mishap could lead them to their own execution, or in some cases something far worse. Given the nature of the world and the rising seas, there was a distinct nautical focus that took some getting used to.
Granger is a well balanced and flawed character. After meeting the girl Ianthe, he is betrayed and left for dead. In what seems like half self preservation, half dead reckoning, he puts his life in the firing line continuously in order to rescue her. He slowly becomes warped in both mind and body as his desperation grows in his search for Ianthe.
Ianthe's character is very well written, and very intriguing. Her power is handled well, as it its limitations. Although she jumps from one form of imprisonment to another throughout the book, she has the strength of character to resist at every turn, developing her power in the process. The scale of her abilities toward at the climax are pretty awesome to read.
Ethan Maskylene was the show stealer. His malevolence is very cold and distant, as though the most unspeakable acts of torture have no emotional effect on him, which makes him that little bit more sinister. His drive to protect his son and to learn the mysteries of the universe give him an angle that normally isn't seen in such cruel and vindictive characters.
The one down side to Sea of Ghosts was that the ending wrapped up far too quickly, and this had an impact on the climax of the story. The rest of the novel was very well paced and Campbell handled and intertwined the plot threads very well. The balance of power between Granger, Maskylene, the psychic priesthood known as the Haurstaf and the Empire shifts continuously, which makes for an exciting read.
Sea of Ghosts was a very enjoyable book with an excellent set of characters and a brilliantly thought out setting. Though things seemed to fizzle out towards the end, it was a gripping adventure with plenty of action to sink your teeth into. It's a dark, fast paced story filled with intrigue, forbidden lore and corruption, and you'll enjoy every page of it.