Geist: Book of the Order by Philippa Ballantine


Recommended for: Ballantine fans, people who like a little romance with their kick-ass women.
★ ★ ★ 1/2

Don’t let the first thirty-eight pages of Geist fool you–it really is a good book.

My decision to rely on the library for first reads was stymied by the fact that my 50-library system had no copies of Geist: Book of the Order. Eventually purchased (by me), it languished on my shelf while other books took precedence. Unfortunately, I had a bad experience with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, which reduced my enthusiasm further. But my co-moderator ran into Ballantine at a book-signing and she agreed to stop into our Goodreads group for a Q&A, so just like that, my read was back on. I started but was unable to get past the first couple of chapters. Overly complicated, point-of-view switching, my own half-hearted interest; it just didn’t gel.

This last time, I fared much better. I stuck with it through the awkward beginning and suddenly, it morphed into a much higher quality read. Once I hit page seventy, I started reading faster, interested in seeing the magic system in play and focused on discovering the next episode of the adventure.

A summary, of sorts: Sorcha Faris is an extremely powerful deacon, a magic user who works in service of an organized group that works with the political system to remove angry spirits and protect the citizens of the Empire. Spirits, known as geists, can inhabit people, sickening them or forcing them to do their will. The more blood spilled among the geist, the more attracted to the scene, so the ultimate solution is calling in Order representatives to banish geists with magic. Events start rolling when geists are noted using unusual powers in unprecedented locations. Merrick is a novice deacon, newly confirmed and newly partnered with Sorcha after her estranged husband and partner becomes disabled in an attack. Unfortunately, as a child, Merrick had an unfortunate experience with Sorcha, and he’s not sure he can keep it from negatively impacting their relationship. Meanwhile, Raed, former heir to the Empire and bearer of a terrible curse is sailing the new land, looking for a safe harbor. When Sorcha and Merrick are sent north to offer help to an order priory, they meet Raed on the way.  Sorcha and Raed soon fall into the traditional strongly-attracted-but-highly-resistant-to-love romance.

There seems to be a new trend in fantasy novels towards the multi-person narrative, particularly a triumvirate where authors get to show their chops writing other genders and races. The trouble with this character switching is that someone tends to lose out; in this case, it’s Merrick. Sorcha stands out as a character: older, confident, brusque, very aware of her position in the Order and her responsibilities. She has an interesting personality for a lead female, somewhat ‘masculine’ in traditional characteristics and not particularly prone to caring about others’ feelings. Raed is conflicted about a political role he’s never sought but retains the feeling of responsibility for his people and land. Merrick is young, and inexperienced, and prone to dwelling on Sorcha, so in many ways his character merely rounds out Sorcha’s. Otherwise, I’d say hero characterization is a strong point of the novel, but if the reader is put off by Sorcha’s bold personality, it may be a significant detraction. Conversely, villains were predictable and flaccid.

[spoilers ahead]

Relationships become very strange when Sorcha binds with Raed as a means of controlling his geist. The bond between partners in the Order is also a metaphysical bond, so Sorcha and Merrick share a new bond as part of working together. It makes for an interesting and vaguely weird dynamic between them.

[end spoiler]

The initial pages are troubled by political plotting interspersed with internal reflection. Since Ballantine doesn’t do much info-dumping, it means a period of confusion complicated by a limited ability to character bond. The action scenes are strong, so once it is underway, it became much harder to put the book down. Pace is driven by action scenes, following a roller-coaster model with small ups and downs, a subsequent intimidating fight, followed by a short lull with penultimate conflict.

Ballantine stated that she was inspired to use both an older woman, as well as the tried-and-true ‘buddy-cop‘ trope. It works. It’s nice to see an older woman in fantasy that isn’t strictly a court dignitary.  The buddy-cop routine works and probably anchors reader experience in an unfamiliar situation. The romance is charming, if somewhat stereotypical. A wild card love interest of Merrick’s doesn’t feel adequately dealt with and seems to mostly be a device that leaves more questions for the characters.

Other reviews frequently note reader confusion or lack of interest due to the lack of world-building information. I’m of two minds about it. On one hand, I grew up on science fiction/fantasy from Andre Norton, and while her worlds were clearly developed, the reader only saw bits and pieces. It’s the philosophy of taking a reader on the journey, and subjecting them to the same confusion as the narrators. On the other hand, these narrators are at a time of transition but aren’t necessarily lost, and Ballantine doesn’t spend much time with conceptual detail, although the scenes are rich in scene-specific detail. Still, I felt like I was piecing it together midway through, and my feeling is that those kind of books often have high re-read potential. Still, if it is the kind of approach that drives you away, it’s worth considering.

One star for an interesting heroine, one star for interesting magic, one and a half for a fast moving plot. Better than expected, so I’ll end up giving book two a go, although I’m still of two minds about buying it.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Epic fantasy, fantasy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Geist: Book of the Order by Philippa Ballantine

  1. Olga Godim says:

    I tried this book but couldn’t get past the first couple of chapters. Perhaps I should’ve stayed with it, like you did.

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