Book Review – Ghosts of Tsavo

This is a book review for Ghosts of Tsavo by Vered Ehsani, available here:

This is an unusual book and I don’t really know how to review it. I didn’t particularly enjoy it but I could appreciate what the author was trying to do and I can clearly see what she was aiming for.

At first the story is very confusing. There’s little world building, you are just dropped straight into the deep end without any understanding of who or what anybody is. The protagonist, Beatrice Knight (Bee), tells the story from first person perspective in the style of a florid memoir.

It’s not a writing style I like, particularly when the narrator addresses the reader and foreshadows future plot points with commentary (“I would later come to regret this” etc), but perversely this is the precise strength of this book. It’s very much told in the style of the time it represents. The whole story is representative of that time. Another interesting facet of the style is that I felt like I was missing something through my own cultural ignorance. In the same way that Bollywood films are very different in style and execution to Hollywood films, part of me wondered if I was missing something stylistically through sheer ignorance of the author’s cultural influences. It may be that this is a style of writing specific to a culture that I’ve just never read before.

It’s a deceptively simple plot with a lot of extraneous detail that doesn’t really go anywhere, although the story ends quite abruptly so I expect many of those threads will be picked up in the second book. It is written as a book written contemporaneously would have been, bar a few slips here and there, so while I didn’t enjoy it I can very much appreciate it. As I got about three quarters of the way through, it occurred to me that it had the flavour of a folk tale, told around the fire to scare children.

The main character, Bee, is eminently likeable. Sassy, smart, strong and sometimes hilariously subject to convention, her adventures are fun to follow and if I were to read the second book I think I’d look forward to her emotional turmoil over her dead husband.

Another think I liked is that the author is clearly well versed in her history and gives a breakdown at the end of the book of all the places where fact and fiction have intersected and then diverged. It was fascinating reading.

So would I recommend it? I don’t know. I think it depends what you’re looking for. If you’re after something different and you like the steampunk style, try and and see what you think. If you just want a contemporary style historical novel, skip onto the next one.

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