Philippa Ballantine's Geist initiates her "Chronicles of the Order" fantasy series in high style (as well as serving as a satisfactory stand-alone). The function of the magically talented members of the Order is to protect ordinary humans against the threat of the undead, called the
Geist, which can take control of people and force them to do awful things. The Order's members are called the Deacons - either Actives with the power to fight the undead, or Sensitives who can see the undead and their world, called the Otherside. One Active and one Sensitive are
Bonded together so that the Sensitive can guide the Active's attacks.
Sorcha Faris is the Order's most powerful Deacon, but when an undead geist attacks, even she can't keep her husband and Bonded partner, Kolya, safe. Kolya is gravely wounded, but the Arch Abbot needs Sorcha's powers. She
is given a new partner and sent to protect a remote Priory against a large undead attack.
Deacon Merrick Chambers has literally just been elevated to Deacon, and he is terrified of being Bonded to the legendary Sorcha Faris. Even though she doesn't know it, they met when Merrick was a little boy. Sorcha was sent to save Merrick's father from a geist possession;
instead, she destroyed him. Merrick doesn't trust Sorcha at all.
The newly Bonded Deacons are sent to defend a remote town against geist attacks.
When they are attacked on en route, they realize that the old rules that the geists used to obey no longer
hold, making the geists more powerful than ever. Merrick and Sorcha decide to continue with the mission instead of returning to report the geist's strange behavior. In order to reach the small town Ulrich, they board a ship and set sail
but are shipwrecked on the way.
Raed Rossin is the Pretender's Heir. His father, the Unsung, is a banished king, and Raed carries his family's curse which forces him to sail endlessly. He has dealt with princes who promise a little help just in case the Unsung manages to overthrow the Emperor, and
hehas grown bitter and resentful. Heading to a remote town where he can repair his ship, they
stop to rescue some shipwrecked people - among them two Deacons who work for the Emperor.
Sorcha is an interesting female main character, clearly older than Merrick and set in her ways,
a straightforward sort who does not suffer fools gladly. She smokes cigars,
drinks, and loves her horse more than her husband, with whom she shares a strained relationship. Kolya has withdrawn from her, and they
seldom talk anymore.
Merrick is the young and idealistic counterpoint to pessimistic Sorcha. Powerful in his own way,
he believes the best in people; sometimes, he trusts a bit too much.
The smart-mouthed pirate Raed has seen much and no longer trusts anyone. In that respect, he is
similar to Sorcha; unlike her, Raed hides his feelings behind sarcastic banter. Raed is determined to stay alive so that the
family curse will not pass on to his younger sister. The curse has forced him to do terrible things, and he has to live with what he has done.
Some interesting secondary characters include Raed's first mate, a magically talented man who was thrown out of the Order
who is fiercely loyal and protective of Raed. Nynnia is a young woman the Deacons meet at the start of their sea voyage. She seems gentle but is a mysterious figure.
The world they inhabit is clearly modeled after Renaissance times more than the usual Middle Ages. Some wealthier people have muskets, and the Emperor
possesses a fleet of dirigibles. While the secretive Order (some secrets are
never shared between Sensitives and Actives) and its members bear clearly Christian titles, it does not seem to be a religious organization. In fact, there is a short exchange between Sorcha and Raed
during which Sorcha says that the branch of the Order that she works for is not religious anymore. Gods are only mentioned in passing,
and this mixture feels strange. If anything, having a clear afterlife and supernatural world would
likely strengthen any claims about gods no matter if they existed or not. Also, the Pretender's Heir, Raed, is called the Young Pretender,
even he does not seem to be actively pursuing the Emperor's throne.
Two courtship romances play out throughout. Merrick falls in love with beautiful Nynnia the moment he sees her and pursues her gently. Sorcha
finds Raed's magical power and abrasive personality compelling, and Raed is similarly attracted to her. The plot is fairly fast-paced, especially at the start. Characters and their world are introduced quickly.
There is time later for some breathing space for both the reader and the characters.