A place where the dead are both as solid as the living and as shadowy as ghosts – that is where Darri and her brother Varis are riding. Darri’s purpose for coming to Ghostland is simple: to save her sister Callie, who’s been trapped in that ghastly place since she was a child. We’re not sure what is driving Varis: he is all strategy in his stoic, detached way. What we do know is that he strives unwaveringly to do the will of his father, the king, and what’s in the best interest of their country on the plains. But when they finally arrive it’s clear that Darri and Varis’s well-made plans will not last as Callie seems irrevocably changed and Darri’s betrothal to Prince Kestin an unlikely solution for her escape.
The premises to the books in Leah Cypess’s Mistwood series always appear straightforward but anyone who has read Mistwood knows in actuality nothing is as it seems and the motivations of every character will come under question. I appreciated that knowledge going into Nightspell, the companion book to Mistwood. I knew it would make it easier to connect with characters who have slippery motivations without the plot twists that accompany them becoming predictable. It certainly helps that Cypess has created an original, intriguing setting in Ghostland, one I will not forget. Its mysteries slowly begin to unfold in the first chapter and keep you hooked with each reveal of its are-they-or-aren’t-they ghostly players and their machinations.
Going along with the worldbuilding are the themes that accompany a land where everyone becomes a ghost at death. Technically Ghostland inhabitants find immortality in death if they aren’t killed permanently by silver or sunlight. But should they exist because they can talk, walk, and look just like their living counterparts? Is the type of existence they have worth living? I personally was enthralled by these ethical questions and the ever present unknown of who is dead and who isn’t. In the end though Nightspell is most about the sibling relationships between Darri, Varis and Callie and how underneath the differing motives that drive them there’s still love, devotion, and commitment to each other. As the ending neared I wasn’t sure how all the plot points could be tied up but I was very satisfied in their resolution. Recommended for fans of court politics, intrigue, and young adult fantasy.
Note: Just so you know, the photo of Nightspell’s cover does not do it justice. It has this colorful metallic sheen that’s even more stunning in person, and prettier I think than the already lovely cover of Mistwood.