Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Phantom prom date.
Girl at the diner.
Hitchhiking ghost.

Any one of those may provide a better clue as to what Sparrow Hill Road is about, but then it would sound like one of those teen horror novels by Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine, or Lois Duncan.  Seanan McGuire takes it a step further in this fantasy-ghost story combination for adults with her premise of how urban legends and ghost stories exist.

McGuire plays around with the idea of urban legends and establishes this whole paranormal world with its many ghosts and other inhabitants and how it works.  There is a plane of existence called the twilight, a kind of limbo separate from the “real” world and from wherever the dead move on. Sparrow Hill Road is about one particular urban legend and her afterlife. Rose Marshall is a victim of a car crash-murder on her way to prom.  She is a well-developed character, transitioning from an innocent, poor small-town girl who only wanted to get out to a worldly hitchhiking ghost who makes a difference, finding purpose in her twilight existence. She helps other people in accidents move on or tries to prevent their deaths.  She has a lot of spunk and attitude but not like the typical urban fantasy's sassy heroine. McGuire captures well how different Rose is as a ghost from other people and how Rose has matured during her life in limbo.

This story has the feel of telling ghost stories in the dark, though sometimes violent and tragic and rather bittersweet, the focus is not on the blood and gore. There is a distinctly old-time America feel with the road ghosts, hitchhiking, and love for diner food.McGuire's wonderful dialogue is present, with great lines and puns about being dead. It reads like a serial with each chapter providing a complete story and forming a collection of related stories.  Each provides more information about the twilight world with a different ghost or issue that is laid to rest. Some of the supporting characters have their own backstory of their connection to Rose and appear throughout the different stories. The stories build on each other, adding to the overall arc of Rose's eventual decision to stop Bobby Cross, the one who killed her (he made a bargain for eternal life and youth as long as he keeps killing).

Look for Sparrow Hill Road in the VBPL Catalog. Try Indexing for McGuire’s twists on fairy tales (see review).  Another road ghost makes a cameo in Richard Kadrey’s Aloha from Hell. Read Alvin Schwartz's collections for classic ghost stories.

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