The Spirit Room by Michael Cairns
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I had a lot of fun reading this book. The plot was entertaining, fast-paced, and gripping. The reader is thrown into the story with little to no explanation of who these people are and what they are trying to accomplish. Done poorly, this can be disastrous. Done well, this forces the reader to immerse herself completely into the story. Happily, Cairns is a very good writer and pulls it off beautifully.
There was a good variety of characters, with different backgrounds and personality. It felt as though there were a lot of stories that could be told about these people and not all of them would be pretty. Every character had their own personality. When the POV switched from character to character, it was easy to tell from the tone who’s mind I was in. This is not common (as some of my other reviews have noted). The most flat character type was probably the nebulous villains. We know they are evil and they want to control people (for some unknown reason) but beyond that we are not told much. I hope in the next book this is examined more.
The use of the planets’ names as the titles for superheroes was a great idea. I especially liked the integration of the domains of the appropriate Roman gods into the manifestation of the powers themselves. Mars is a good fighter, Venus is alluring, etc. This gives both a structure for the reader to work off of and the best semblance to a system that you will see in this book.
That brings me to my main criticism of the book. In The Spirit Room, you meet superheroes, gods, seers, mages, wizards, aliens, telepaths, and immortals. Next to none of it is explained or even differentiated. In the world that Cairns created, what exactly is the difference between a wizard and a mage? What are the limits to various people’s powers? Is there any cohesion to this? There are clearly any number of different magic/powers systems at work, and it was disorienting. It felt like I was reading a novelization of a comic book in this respect. If you know me, you know that well, thought-out magic systems are very important to me. I want to know the rules, limits and capabilities of those who wield power. Multiple systems is fine, but mashing everything together is not.
I would definitely recommend this book –especially to anyone who likes comics and superheroes. Based on the quality of this work, I would like to go back and read Cairns’ other work.