It took me a long time to get through Living with Ghosts by Kari Sperring. As a fantasy novel, it meets all the requirements in terms of the setting, the use of magic and the plot. I think that it took so long because I had a hard time getting into any of the characters, and for me that is essential to my enjoyment of a book.
Gracielis is a gigolo. He is well-mannered, good-looking and seemingly omnisexual in his willingness and ability to become attractive to anyone. Gracielis’ history is actually quite interesting. He is a failed novice of a group of assassin-sorcerer-priests who spend years training to become the ultimate blend of lover and killer. The process is only loosely depicted, but it’s something to ponder, and it’s interesting to imagine what could be created out of a blend of complete conviction, extreme skill and magic.
Gracielis is something of a catalyst for the events in the story. His flawed apprenticeship as an assassin/priest allows him to be manipulated by his former mentor, and his relationships as a lover/prostitute to people in Merafi make him interesting. Throw into this mix the fact that Gracielis is able to see and to a certain extent understand the ghosts of people who have died with events in their lives incomplete, and you have a complex mess.
Kari Sperring evokes the novels of Alexandre Dumas with the culture and decadence of the city of Merafi: an island in a river in more senses than one. As a result of a long-ago pact, Merafi is untouched by much of the magic that lives throughout the world. Practitioners of magic are banned from the city and this would include Gracielis if his true nature and skills were known.
Sperring uses a wide variety of characters to tell her story. An evil, power-hungry dark sorceress, an overly ambitious young noble, the self-sacrificing ruler of the realm, an unappreciated spouse, and a love affair ended in death fill the pages of Living with Ghosts. Of them all, the young soldier caught up in events beyond his depth is perhaps my favorite, because he feels like someone I could actually connect with and for whom I felt pity.
Living with Ghosts is a complex, deep story that, unfortunately, I never felt connected to. The plot is interesting, the characters detailed and world development adequate, but I just never fell into the story. That could be because I found Gracielis repugnant; his sexual exploits were not to my taste and I had trouble getting past that. In any case, while I can acknowledge the positives of Living with Ghosts, I never really enjoyed it.