Publisher: Cadre One, 2009
Genre: Science Fiction
Full, spoiler-free review posted at genrereviews.
There are some really interesting ideas in Angry Ghosts, not the least of which is the dramatic contrast between the two cultures presented in the novel and the huge gap in understanding between them, even when both sides truly want to work together. This is a huge theme in the book, and one dealt with gracefully. Both sides are presented sympathetically, so there's no "our way is obviously superior to yours and therefore you should all just drop your culture and merge with us" that is so often prevalent. I could have read an entire book just based on the world-building and the culture clashing presented here, it was put together so beautifully.
The three main characters make a nice balance. Argo is perhaps less developed than the other two, but considering they come from a culture where emotion is considered a danger and a liability, this is perhaps to be expected. Thompson, as the leader, is given more opportunity to demonstrate his personality quirks. He's strong and competent without resorting to gruffness, an unusual balance in an alpha male that made him fun to read. Maiella is particularly nuanced; as the sole female of Team Spectre, I was initially annoyed to see her shown as the "weak link" due to her poor control of her emotions (oh, those hysterical wimmins!), but as the book progresses, it's implied her emotions have the potential to make her the strongest of the three of them, even if her culture refuses to perceive it as such. She's also arguably the smartest team member, and unquestionably accepted as an indispensible team member.
Angry Ghosts does, however, have its flaws. The most distracting was that I often felt like I was missing pieces of the story. At only 227 pages, this is not a long novel, and with micropublisher Cadre One, wordcount limits were presumably not a problem, but there were gaps where it felt like something had been hacked out. The first two chapters of the book come from the perspective of the blue lizard aliens who eradicated (or attempted to eradicate) the human race. We're told they have their reasons, regret the necessity, and still carry the guilt along with them. What is this deep, dark reason of theirs? I have no idea, because not only is it never revealed, but we never see the blue lizard aliens again after the focus is switched over to the human protagonists. Granted, this is clearly set up as the first volume in a series, but to have what is presented as a key storyline abruptly dropped so early on is at best disorienting. In fact, the prologue and the first two chapters have so little to do with the rest of the book, it would be easy enough to skip them entirely and just start the book with chapter three.
This doesn't mean it's a bad book, though. It's certainly an interesting one, and I'm curious to see where Farnham plans to take the story from here. The themes of guilt, forgiveness, and redemption become especially thought-provoking when the actions of the alien race are taken into consideration, and as long as there's going to be more of the culture contrast without either trying to swallow the other, I am intrigued.
And, of course, all of this brings me back around to questioning the packaging of this novel. The title is based on a reference that is never mentioned beyond the second chapter, and the cover copy ignores the main conflicts and themes of the novel. I can only presume the "angry ghosts" and the blue lizard aliens will return in future volumes, particularly since the series has been dubbed the Angry Ghosts series, but it doesn't follow that the first book's marketing needs to rely so heavily on that, especially when it fails to draw its target audience. Which is a shame, because in spite of its flaws, this book has something to say.