Ghost Star Night by Nicole Kimberling

Rating: 8.5/10 ★★★★★★★★½☆ 
Title: Ghost Star Night
Author: Nicole Kimberling
Genre: Fantasy/magic
URL: Samhain Publishing
Price: US $4.50
Other Information/warnings: Violence
Summary [from the publisher]:
Thomas Myrdin knows that intrigue is part of life at court, but that doesn’t make his king’s betrayal any easier to take. Yet heartbreak troubles him less than the apocalyptic visions that haunt him. Fiery premonitions that show the world burning in ruins—and the cause, the king’s daughter. Visions and vengeance awaken a strange new power within him, but not even he is sure if he is the kingdom’s savior, the king’s pawn.
Lord Adam Wexley harbors a secret longing for the elegant Thomas, but his duty is to protect the newborn princess. When a sudden threat arises, Adam seeks to procure services of Grand Magician Zachary Drake. Even if it means sacrificing his own soul—and his body.
Drake has seen the worst of kings and courtiers. Now he protects himself with powerful sorcery and the adamant refusal to affiliate with any of the Four Courts. But the grand magician isn’t without weaknesses and Adam may be the one enticement that could draw him to ruin.
In a rising storm of magic with the power to strip away men’s souls, the thread of desire connecting three men could be the kingdom’s last lifeline…

My review: Ms Kimberling seems to be fascinated by people being not what they appear to be. In Turnskin, she wrote about shapeshifters, and in this, people’s souls are the currency which drives the magic on which a uniquely and intricately conceived society operates. Souls are trapped in rings, insects and animals, by choice, by contract, by theft – traded and stolen and put into new bodies while the soulless bodies work as slaves. Ms Kimberling has created a world where courtiers are all lords and ladies and sign their very souls over to their kings and lieges in blood, the world is dominated by astrology and magic and supernatural forces and demons – and everyone drives cars and talks on mobile phones. This is not a typical fantasy world by any means.

The world building is detailed and mesmerising – almost literally as there’s an awful lot to take in within the mere 117 pages of this novella, and I found myself lost several times, wondering who this or that character was. There’s also a twisty, complex plot involving assassination attempts and plotting of coups, the retrieval of stolen souls and vengeance for past crimes. This is not a story where you can skim. It’s dense and the cast of characters quite long. Nonetheless, it pulls together beautifully at the end, leaving me in awe of the author’s achievement. It’s a stunningly good piece of speculative fiction writing – truly one of the best I’ve read in a very long time.

But something’s got to give when you have this much plot and universe to pack into such a short space, and it’s the romance which loses out. For most of the story, the main couple barely show an interest in each other, one being caught up with intrigue, the other mooning over a suicidal lord. When they do get together, the reasons are slight, as is the attraction – and we never really get to know either Drake or Adam all that well, despite the narrative being told in their POVs.

So if you want a deathless love story, this isn’t what you’re looking for. But if you want a superb work of imagination, taut writing, and a plot which will keep you glued to the screen, then this is the book for you. Highly recommended.