Medium: Kindle (254 pages)
Overview (No Spoilers):
Unbeknownst to the mundane community, the world is full of magick. While this is a secret for now, tensions are steadily rising between those who don’t want to hide anymore and those who worry that exposure will result in strict rules and regulations (or worse). Just how far is each side willing to go to achieve their goals? Sarah Cohen, for one, would rather sit on the sidelines with a bag of popcorn and watch as the drama unfolds than get involved. Besides, her job at a call center in Philadelphia keeps her busy, helping the Departed come to terms with their newfound status and recommending ways to use the karma they accrued in the land of the living. Despite a boss who goes out of her way to find fault in everything Sarah does, she stays at Ghostline because her coworkers make it all worthwhile (and she needs the paycheck). Just when she thinks the company will finally be swayed to hire more customer service representatives to handle the endless stream of calls they’re receiving, the calls just… stop. Management may deem it a natural lull in call volume, but Sarah isn’t convinced. Why are the Departed acting strangely? What’s changed?…
Ghost Line by M.A. Poole came out in January 2021 and is the second book in the What Magick series. According to its blurb, books 1 through 3 can be read out of order, with greater overlap planned in the future. Since I haven’t read book 1, I agree that this novel works as a standalone, without expectations of prior knowledge. The first thing that stood out to me was the cover, as it’s done in a style that I really liked. As I settled into the tale, it was easy to get lost in what was going on. Ghost Line is written in first-person present tense, giving a front row seat to the action surrounding Sarah and allowing readers to get to know her well along the way. In addition to general descriptions, her thoughts are also used to add snarky commentary to the dialogue. LGBTQ+ representation is featured throughout, first and foremost by Sarah herself who is queer. Aside from a select few, the majority of the characters are interesting but don’t get much depth beyond what Sarah tells us about them. I would’ve also liked to have learned more about the magickal groups running things in Philadelphia (perhaps they were more prominent in book 1).
For those who know Philly well, you may be happy to know that this novel appears to highlight places (and acronyms) that actually exist. Not only do characters rely on SEPTA for transportation, but some portal hopping also takes place in this novel. Other fantasy elements in this book lean more toward the paranormal side of things, with ghost hunting, psychic abilities, witches, and necromancy. There is also a romantic subplot that is sweet to watch unfold. Poole does a good job using many different events to move the plot along and build suspense. The first third of the book is spent introducing characters and immersing the reader into the world, the second third has events happening away from the main character that continually drive one to wonder what is going on, and the last third places the main character in the thick of it as the book comes to a close. Things get wrapped up for the most part, but it felt kind of chaotic, answering questions I didn’t know to have and leaving explanations for some of the more dramatic moments leading up to the final showdown implied rather than resolved. Overall, this novel has an interesting premise with plenty of directions available to take the story in the future!
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound!):
- “What you did good in life gave you good karma, what you did harmful in life gave you negative karma. That bad karma is currency for your time in the ghost realm.” This makes it sound like only bad karma can be used, but “…for the rare person who had mostly good karma, they could create their own signs and portents, and communicate directly with [loved ones].” So, how does karma work?
- Had Gwen brought the guy in the theater back to life? Was he supposed to be there? Was he just practice for the real deal?
- How does Zendia leaving the office change her vision of “the picnic tables at Dilworth Park. You laying on the ground. Blood on concrete…”? How would things have been different if she’d ignored the energy pulling at her?
- Spring mentions that Sarah leaving early after learning that Rachel had died would be unexcused, resulting in a second write up. What was the reason for the first write up?
- Who’s the dark figure that Sarah sees while in Rachel’s room? Rachel, Gwen spying, or the beast?
- With Urvina’s message: “I’m sorry. I got it wrong.” What is it that she got wrong?
- “A voice, low and soft floats over me. I want to open my eyes, because it’s not Zendia’s, but exhaustion keeps my eyes closed. I catch one word clearly, just as I drift to sleep. ‘Train.’” Who said this? Urvina ‘haunting’ Sarah after she died?
- Re: the threatening phone call – who called? Gwen? To make sure Sarah hasn’t figured out what’s going on? Gwen makes it seem like Sarah isn’t supposed to be involved in any of this when they fight at the council building, and yet, she would’ve been the one to plant the wires in Sarah’s room (since Spring didn’t know Gwen was behind the bombing).
- If the police were looking into Sarah as a potential suspect, wouldn’t the wiring be enough to at least bring someone in for formal questioning? I know the cop says that she is a good judge of character, but that seems like a little too much evidence to just let Sarah go.
- What is the difference between being on the Coven versus on the Council? Do they do different things? Is one more illustrious?
- I think there might be a few cases of mistaken identity in this book. “I was planning to find Spring and Rebecca to apologize first.” Who is Rebecca? Is this supposed to be Alison? In a similar vein, are Caleb and Charles meant to be the same video game-playing co-worker? Also, the blurb currently lists the main character as Sarah Mendoza when her last name is Cohen in the book…
- “I dunno how close of an eye you keep on your karma, but you’re one of the brightest adults I’ve ever seen.” How is S able to see this (psychic?)? Are you supposed to be able to tell your level of karma (via its brightness) before dying?
- Did Gwen kill S? When would she have found time to run off and do that?
- Who is the assailant that attacks Sarah in the hotel elevator? Is it Spring?
- Did the High Priestess know that Gwen was her daughter? Did she know that Gwen was a necromancer?
- “She’s got the High Priestess as a hostage. The MagVox is blowing up.” Why is this information known? Did someone witness it? I’m not entirely sure how the MagVox works, but is this a Gossip Girl kind of situation?
- “I made a deal…Just to keep you safe and out of the hands of the Council. Try to keep the office’s body count to a minimum.” Who did Gwen make a deal with? Why? Is this related to the rumored splinter group in the Golden Fingers? What was the point of setting off a bomb in the office if not to incriminate Sarah? A practice for the bomb on the train?
- Where does the burst of raw magick come from at the end? Is Sarah the only one affected by it?
- Who is the new High Priestess?
- Who are the two women in the Pocono Mountains and how are they related to Spring?
Ablution: the washing of one’s body or part of it – usually plural
Bint: girl, woman
Snerk: Expressing amusement; a snicker, or a snort of laughter
Upbraid: to criticize severely; find fault with
Zoetrope: an optical toy in which figures on the inside of a revolving cylinder are viewed through slits in its circumference and appear like a single animated figure