Den Of Geek Book Club: Sparrow Hill Road

Review Kaci Ferrell 16 Jun 2014 - 07:00

Welcome back to the Den Of Geek book club, which this fortnight takes Seanan McGuire's Sparrow Hill Road as its subject...

Welcome to the sci-fi and fantasy fiction portion of the Den Of Geek book club! Our first selection is Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire, which hopefully you've had a chance to read by now.

If there's one thing I consistently love across all of McGuire's works, it's her ability to create characters who feel like real people. She presents them to us unflinchingly, warts and all, without excusing or apologizing for any of it. Rose can be petty. Rose has a short temper. Rose is unbelievably stubborn. But she's also kind, empathetic, and resilient. Life hands her lemons and she makes a lemon ice cream malt.

I'm always a fan of stories about victims getting revenge on those who've hurt them, but this one felt a little off. Although Rose notes that it's not the end of her story, and so we can assume that there's more to her rivalry with Bobby Cross, that doesn't change the fact that it's a rather unsatisfying ending we've been given here. After planning ways to truly defeat Bobby once and for all and finding his weaknesses, we then quickly change course. What should've ended as a defeat instead ends in a rescue mission. Not that rescuing Emma isn't a worthy goal, just that when you've been teased with Bobby's utter destruction and then you end up with only his temporary annoyance... well, it feels like a let down.

I think that, in general, sums up one of the biggest problems I had with the novel: plot lines going nowhere. There are so many tangents in this book, where we're introduced to characters that ultimately don't matter and given details about the afterlife (ghost religion, anyone?) that aren't explained. What role do Persephone and Hades have in the afterlife, given that what we see in Sparrow Hill Road is completely incongruous with the myths the Greeks left us?

It's a weird issue to have: all these little bits that don't matter and details that do nothing but enrich the world certainly prove that McGuire has given a lot of thought to the world in which Rose Marshall exists. But on the other hand, the incongruity seems to hint that maybe she hasn't quite thought it through enough. I like having detailed worlds, but they should operate on their own internal logic. I don't feel that Sparrow Hill Road manages that.

Another problem I have is that, while I love the fantasy genre, I do need it to not simply explain things away with, "Well, because. It's fantasy, it doesn't need an explanation." For instance, how, exactly, did Gary manage to have his spirit inhabit the car? And what kind of life is that for him and Rose? If he'd wanted his ghost to be with her, wouldn't it have made more sense to request that, as he was dying, someone get him onto the road so that he could become a road ghost with her? Turning into a car just seems like an incredibly excessive solution to a relatively simple problem. Not to mention that it turns out to mostly just be a plot device so that Rose can race Bobby in the finale.

But as I said, for me, the strength here is in the characters. Reading it, I felt like Rose Marshall could be someone I knew. I intensely related to her struggle to get out of Buckley when she was alive, and how the freedom of being a Hitcher would make not moving on to the next stage of her afterlife very worth it. The same holds true for Emma; I could easily imagine why a banshee might scream when I thought of having to watch over a family, come to care for them, only to watch them die.

I guess I just wish that these great characters inhabited a world that was just as believable as they were.

But now I'm turning it over to you. What did you think of the book? Were the plot twists easier for you to swallow?

Feel free to recommend books you'd like to see covered here in the future — I can not promise they'll make the cut, but I'm always in the market for new selections.

On Tuesday, 1 July, Aliya will be reviewing Pictures At A Revolution: Five Movies And The Birth Of The New Hollywood by Mark Harris, our next Den of Geek Book Club selection.

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I absolutely agree with the ending, it seemed very rushed especially when there were a few stories in there that could have been replaced with more Bobby Cross to kind of make that the central story throughout the whole thing (Laura subplot, for one). I would have preferred a more centralized story with the kidnapping thing happening a little bit earlier.

The elements that fleshed out the world were a nice touch, I thought. Sure, they didn't add too much, but sometimes I enjoy that in a story, elements that are just there because they're part of the world, and going deeper into them or explaining them just isn't a part of the story. It kind of made sense with how Rose was, too. She didn't really seem like the type of person to seek out answers to questions she didn't want to know the answers to, she just rolled with it. I can respect that.

I did get annoyed by some of the prose, though. There were a lot of times where Rose kept repeating things that we've heard before, and in a way that made it seem like she was having the thought for the first time. Like how she explained the levels of daylight, twIlight, and midnight every time she went from one to the other. Or how her coat disappeared when it became daylight. She literally explained (not mentioned, or thought, but EXPLAINED) that multiple times. Got a little irritating.

Rose was great though, as was Emma. As little they were in the book, Bethany, Bobby, Apple, and Gary were good characters as well. Despite some issues I never felt crappy reading it, like I had to, which is a testament to how well the characters were written.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. The cover made it look incredibly stupid, and then when I found out what it was about I figured it would be anthology book. So having an actual story with an awesome character at the center shocked me, to say the least, especially when I came out of it with a positive opinion.

Good point about the repeatedly explaining certain mechanics of the ghost world. It's even more out of place when you consider that, as you say, Rose isn't really the type of person to focus too much on the "how" and instead just deal with the consequences.

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