Ser Ghostwriter by Joshua Derrick

Medium: ebook

SPFBO Status: cut

Overview (No Spoilers):

A poet in the service of a muse must watch his words.

A ghostwriter can choose his own muse. And his own words.

Upon the sudden death of his employer following an altercation with bandits, Ed finds himself pondering his next move. Given his size, most assume that he’d be best suited as a warrior defending the Holy Lands, but as a scribe, he was finally learning how to use his words to shape the world around him. Opting to follow in his mentor’s footsteps, Ed sticks with their original plan of traveling to a nearby town to try his hand in their poetry slam competition. As a newly self-appointed freelance ghostwriter, can Po Edgar impress a Muse enough to earn a spot within their household? Or will he find himself indebted to one (or worse) if he suffers a loss in the tournament instead?

Released in December 2021, Joshua Derrick’s novel, Ser Ghostwriter, is infused with multiple types of poetry. While I am no expert in the field, it was fun to recognize nods to well-known poets from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. In this world, words have power, such that one could use poetry to do things like raise (or raze) buildings, influence the weather, or heal injuries as easily as inflict them. A poem’s strength comes not only from what you say, but how you say it and the intention behind your words. During slams, though, two individuals recite verses at the same time until one participant yields (or dies). As entertaining as it is to witness the magical effect competitors’ words have, I found the poetry in these competitions harder to follow since the rhythm is repeatedly broken to inform the reader what the other party is simultaneously saying.

Set against a medieval-esque backdrop, muses and musettes reside in castles and oversee the day-to-day activities of the realm on behalf of the triarchs (three elected officials who rule together for life). Since one of these leaders died years prior and another is busy defending the realm’s borders, the area is more or less governed by a single individual. Chance encounters pull Ed ever deeper into this world rife with political machinations. For better or worse, Ed persists in sticking to what’s right and tends to use his poetic ability for good, but there are definitely instances where he’d prefer to use his fists instead! While the lore wasn’t always clear to me throughout Ser Ghostwriter, it was interesting to see how ramifications for past events played out in the present. So, if poetry is your jam, check out what happens at this slam!

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound!):

  • ​​After being hurt by the bandits, why didn’t Po Alonne write something to help himself heal?
  • Can anyone learn their words? What provides words with power versus just being ‘letters’?
  • What’s really happening in the East with Triarch Redbeard? Had Triarch Frost been getting updates? How has this conflict lasted more than two hundred years?
  • Why isn’t Wallace in contact with his mother about not being able to find Kip if they’re still in Yateswood? Why couldn’t anyone find the ‘missing sons’ if they’re still out and about in town?
  • Why doesn’t Maud recognize Kip (or his name) when Ed returns Bill’s horse? Ed even introduces Kip to her. Does she not know the brother of her on-again/off-again love? And how do both Lucien and Bill not recognize Kip while he’s still on Ed’s shoulders? Was there even a poster to go by so folks know who they’re searching for?
  • At one point, Silgo writes something down and the paper folds up and flies away. There’s no mention of words being spoken to cause this response, so was this paper already enchanted or can the written word also have magical properties? Perhaps the latter is possible since burning poetry can cause imagery to rise from fire?
  • So many poets included in this book: Poe, Frost, Yeats, Shelley, Browning, Bishop, Teasdale, Blake, Wadsworth, Hardy, Plath, Donne… While the afterword makes some connections, it would’ve been fun to include a table of all of the poets hidden in the novel at the end of the book (I’m sure I missed many of them).
  • If “triarchs served for life, and were only elected from among the muses once all three of their number had passed into the East”, why are they opting to elect new Triarchs if Redbeard is still alive? Shouldn’t the muses electing new Triarchs inform Redbeard of this beforehand?
  • I liked how each chapter title incorporated a different form of poetry. I also enjoyed the short descriptions that relayed a hint about what will take place within the chapter.

Vocabulary Builder:

  • Bier – a stand on which a corpse or coffin is placed
  • Cento – a literary work made up of parts from other works
  • Epigram – a concise poem dealing pointedly and often satirically with a single thought of event and often ending with an ingenious turn of thought
  • Fallow – usually cultivated land that is allowed to lie idle during the growing season
  • Fief – a feudal estate
  • Gyre – a circular or spiral motion or form
  • Surcoat – an outer coat or cloak
  • Tanka – an unrhymed Japanese verse form of five lines containing five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables respectively
  • Villanelle – a chiefly French verse from running on two rhymes and consisting typically of five tercets and a quatrain in which the first and third lines of the opening tercet recur alternately at the end of the other tercets and together as the last two lines of the quatrain

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