Sea of Ghosts (Gravedigger Chronicles 1) Hardcover – 1 Apr 2011
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'The start of a thrilling new fantasy series by the author of the Deepgate series. Warfare, telepaths and metallic dragons hold sway in a bleak and dangerous flooded world, where a poisonous sea make everyday living almost impossible.' --The Bookseller
'A truly fantastic tale... an accomplished and original achievement... his invented world is one of the most bizarre, fascinating and dangerous it has been my pleasure to encounter... the story grips like a vice, filled with mystery and action, and there is a rich vein of black humour running through the strangeness.' --The Times
'Rampant imagination is allied with unusually rich writing.' --Morning Star
'Rich, detailed, vibrant and totally unlike anything that you've read before, the setting comes across as a heavily steampunked Bioshock laden down with bizarre weaponry, strange ships, telepaths, magic, strange contraptions, weird science, poisoned seas and even mechanical dragon... Already this is earmarked as one of the books of the year. If there's any justice in the world then Sea of Ghosts will break Campbell out into the première league of UK fantasy writers, it's endlessly imaginative and impressively ambitious, but it's also a hugely fun adventure story that keeps up a relentless pace, leaving you with a cliff-hanger ending that will have you gasping for the next book in double-quick time.' --Sci-Fi-London
'Sea of Ghosts is a stonking good time, rip-roaring and boundlessly ambitious - a breathless, whistle-stop tour of a wonderfully moldering world one can only glee in imagining the stories Campbell is set to tell in. Onwards, I say! And upwards, I do not doubt.' --The Speculative Scotsman
'Sea of Ghosts is a highly entertaining novel highlighted by cinematic pacing, exhilarating action sequences, and unexpected moments of dark violence' --Fantasy Book Critic
A brand new series from the author of the Deepgate Codex seriesSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
The Sea of Ghosts is a novel of honour, revenge, loyalty and perseverance, set in a world ravaged by unfathomable science and magic. Falsely accused of treason, the surviving members of the Gravediggers are forced to go underground, or flee the imperial capital altogether. Granger, our hero, has fled to Ethugra with his comrade Creedy. Ethugra is a twisted, darker version of Venice, if you were to replace the palazzos and fine architecture with multiple jails, constantly in need of repair and modification as the toxic and caustic seas continue to rise.
Campbell's characters are universally realistic and complex. Granger's sense of honour is frequently tested by his chosen profession (that of jailer), and his life is turned upside down after Ianthe arrives, creating an irreparable rift between him and his former comrade-in-arms. As events progress, we see just how determined Granger is to make up for past mistakes. He also reveals a MacGuyver-esque ingenuity that serves him well as we follow him on his personal journey. Ianthe is a tragic figure, someone who has only experienced a world intent on taking advantage of her gifts, never looking out for her best interests; as she deals with the multiple factions intent on harnessing her powers for their own ends, she comes to develop a very harsh world view, and some of her choices and actions are quite chilling.
Campbell introduces more perspectives as the novel progresses, and we gain a more nuanced picture of the protagonists and nominal antagonists of the novel. Granger's perspective, of course, predominates, but Ianthe's comes to feature prominently as well, as we get to know her more, and she attempts to get to grips with her unique powers. Maskelyne is another interesting character: a metaphysicist and treasure hunter with far more than just wealth on his mind, the reader will come to develop a mixed impression of him, as his possibly noble agenda is sullied by the single-minded brutality to which he resorts to achieve it. It is through Maskelyne that we learn the most about the Unmer, and especially their artefacts (he is quite the fervent collector).
The world of the novel is as important as the characters, and as complex and interesting. Life is defined by a person's ability to avoid the toxic brine, and the unlucky masses who are unable to avoid its touch and mutating effects are forgotten and, under Maskelyne's harsh rule of Ethugra, often used for brutal sport, entertainment, and experimentation. The harsh life of this world's people is brilliantly portrayed on the page. Among the dangers presented by the ever-rising sea-levels, citizens and misfits must contend with brutal dictators, the occasional escaped Unmer (a species we learn tantalizingly little about), and also ever-hungry dragons with peculiar addictions.
It's a bit difficult to locate The Sea of Ghosts in the fantasy genre as a whole. There are a plethora of elements and inspirations drawn from so many sub-genres and non-fantasy genres, and in the second half, Campbell starts bending the fantasy genre to feature some things that are usually reserved for sci-fi (metaphysics, for example). It's handled expertly, even if it was a bit of a weird addition to the novel, and certainly promises some interesting developments to come in the series. The genre mash-up reminded me of Mark Charan Newton's Red Sun series (one of my favourite fantasy series). There are also elements of the novel that reminded me of China Mieville's New Crobuzon novels, and maybe a little bit of Neil Gaiman at his darkest (but not weirdest - the atmosphere was akin to that in American Gods).
The plot is tight and quickly paced, and even though it's obvious that this is the first part of something larger, it doesn't suffer from the weaknesses that often characterise first parts of series - the world-building is expertly interwoven into the plot, and the story doesn't get bogged down into long tracts of exposition. The aforementioned themes Campbell weaves into his novel are classic (betrayal, revenge, family), but the world into which they are located is highly imaginative and original. It is a world so full of weird, wonderful, and sometimes horrifying invention, it's captivating. The Unmer artefacts in particular are an intriguing element of the world - very little is known about them, how they work and also what some of them do; only a handful of collectors understand even surface-level details about the Unmer creations, and trove-hunters have to tread very carefully when they find an artefact.
I enjoyed this novel really very much. Campbell's prose is sublime, possessing that indescribable quality that sucks you in, envelopes your imagination and pulls you happily along for the ride; insistently readable and compelling. The novel kept me up until 4am on three occasions, as "one more chapter" turned into three or four. The ending will also leave you gasping for more, as the futures of the characters and also the world are left unclear. I cannot wait for the next book in the series.
Campbell's knack for atmospherics is almost peerless, and his innate storytelling ability is awe-inspiring. The Sea of Ghosts is superb and essential fantasy reading.
For Fans of: Mark Charan Newton, China Mieville, Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Brian Ruckley, Mervyn Peake, Neil Gaiman
For all that, there were a few very familiar themes here. A world being gradually poisoned and a world seeming littered with magical items left behind by an elder race now in rapid decline. However! The gradual spoiling of the earth is not (thank the lord) an encroaching ice age or some sort of thorny blight, it is a poisonous brine being released into the oceans by thousands of little ornate bottles dropped into the sea by the Unmer (said elder race)out of spite as man aided by a coven of psychics throw off their slave chains and rise up to gain the upper hand.
The result is a very peculiar place! Cities rising on top of the flooded cities of the past, trovers diving down to the old streets looking for magical artifacts and most strange of all the seas haunted by the shark skinned drowned who are preserved by the poisonous liquid.
Add to this world a cast of largely ruthless and self serving folk with the noteable exception of the main hero. A former soldier betrayed by his emperor and living in exile. His struggles to rescue his daughter make the central thread of this tale.
That said, the most compelling figure is a sociapathic scientist who is determined to unlock the mystery of the Unmers powers. When I say determined that is perhaps the understatement of the century and he will allow nothing and no one to stand in his way! This sets up the confrontation between two equally resourceful men that will, I guess, run for a further two volumes.
There were a couple of minor flaws that just (but only just) stopped me giving this the full 5 stars. However I am reluctant to give too much detail as they will act as major spoilers. I will go as far as saying one scene/ event seemed a bit contrived to me to give our hero some nice toys to play with and the ending felt a bit abrupt but I would put this on your to read list. It was satisfyingly different. It was at times impossible to put down and generally I didn't have a scooby as to what the hell was going to happen next! It also had that hard core and edgy feel, full of human misery and suffering (so sensitive readers beware)
I will be watching out for news of the sequel.
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