This is the first time in 2017 that I am copying a review I wrote for Flying High Reviews and expanding on it a bit for this blog.
My reviews dealing with Madame Presidentess about Victoria Woodhull and The Witch of Napoli here , show my interest in spiritualist mediums. This is why I wanted to read and review Ghost Talkers by
Mary Robinette Kowal. The premise is that during WWI the British
secretly utilized mediums to pass on information from recently dead
soldiers to military authorities. This is an extraordinary concept. So
I thought it would make for a highly unusual novel.
Ghost Talkers reflects
the world wide predominance of women among spirit mediums. This
doesn't mean that it's impossible for men to be mediums. There
actually are male mediums shown in this novel, but mediums are usually
women. The reasons are largely based on cultural traditions and gender
stereotypes. Mediums must be receptive to spirits. That ability to be
receptive is a strength in the context of mediumship, not a weakness.
Gifted men must overcome the idea that receptivity is unmasculine in
order to accept that they are mediums.
mediumship as a way for women to play an important role in the war.
It was not the only role that women played in WWI. We know that women
were nurses, ambulance drivers and espionage agents. There were also
woman pilots in WWI. See Inspirational Women of World War I. Ghost Talkers does include nurses, and Kowal prominently mentions ambulance drivers in her historical note.
women in the British medium corps are presented as strong
individuals. It's mentioned that some were Afro-Caribbean immigrants.
One Afro-Caribbean medium was a named minor character. Yet the main
protagonist was Ginger Stuyvesant, an American whose mother was
English. I ended up respecting Ginger for her courage. Her romance
with British Captain Ben Hadford is very central to the plot, and her
last scene with him was very moving.
There were some literary references in Ghost Talkers. A number of them were due to the use of books as keys for coded letters. There were a couple of others that I enjoyed.
One was a reference to a martial arts form that was mentioned in a Sherlock Holmes story. Arthur Conan Doyle mistakenly called it "baritsu" in "The Adventure of the Empty House". Sherlock Holmes was supposed to have survived his encounter with Moriarity at Reichenbach Falls by using this martial art. It was actually bartitsu . What interested me most about the Wikipedia article on bartitsu that I linked is that Edith Garrud, who trained women to guard suffragettes, studied it. I discovered Edith Garrud when I researched the movie Suffragette which I reviewed here. Another literary connection with bartitsu, according to its Wikipedia article, is Will Thomas' Barker & Llewellyn mysteries. Since I've read a couple of them, I was tickled that Will Thomas based protagonist Cyrus Barker on the founder of bartitsu, E. W. Barton-Wright.
I also enjoyed finding out in the acknowledgements that the Lieutenant Tolkien who was briefly mentioned in Ghost Talkers really was J.R.R. Tolkien who did fight in WWI, and based The Battle of Helm's Deep on his war experiences.
I give this book
an A for originality. It may be a candidate for my favorite read of
2017, but it's much too early in the year to know that for certain. It
would be wonderful if Mary Robinette Kowal wrote further about the women
of the medium corps.