July 2, 2015

Review: Ghosts of Shanghai

Ghosts of Shanghai First in a series
By Julian Sedgwick
Available now from Hachette Children's
Review copy

The beginning of GHOSTS OF SHANGHAI is rough.  I liked the description of Ruby and her friends catching a fox spirit, but then the story moves back and forth in time rapidly to catch the reader up to what they need to know about Ruby's history and what's coming next.  It's a rather choppy and disorienting beginning.  But then GHOSTS OF SHANGHAI begins to find its groove.

One of GHOSTS OF SHANGHAI's biggest strengths is the setting.  It is the 1920s, and the Qing Dynasty has passed but the People's Repulic of China is still on the horizon.  It's a time of great tension.  It's dangerous for Ruby, since she is foreign, although she has one advantage over her parents: she speaks Chinese.  It's dangerous for her two best friends, who are communists.  Then there's her other friend, whose family was killed by communists.  Violence is brewing even before you throw supernatural nasties into the mix.

Ruby and her friends like to hand out at the old White Cloud Temple, and they're the only ones who can see that something supernatural is happening.  But then a new caretaker comes to the temple and starts to teach them how to face these creatures, instead of relying on an old book with no context.  (A dangerous prospect, indeed.)

And then you throw some mobsters and a kidnapping into the mix.

I really enjoyed the density of the plot of GHOSTS OF SHANGHAI.  There's lots of juicy historical fiction details, including multiple corrupt governments clashing against each other.  There's also lots of great cultural details, including how people get treated differently based on how they're perceived.  Ruby is a bit too good at transcending some of those barriers, but she is the protagonist in a book.  I liked the mythological details too, which draw from Chinese stories and traditions.

I wish GHOSTS OF SHANGHAI had a smoother start, but it levels out into a layered treat.  I believe there are sequels to come, and I look forward to Ruby's future adventures in Shanghai.

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