Talking to ghosts leads to trouble

The Secret of Ghosts by Sarah Painter is the sequel to The Language of Spells which I know I have read but which, unfortunately, I couldn’t remember anything about at all even when there were references to it in this novel.

Katie belongs to a family of witches but has not come into her own power. She studies plant magic with her aunt but this does not seem to be her particular talent. She is desperate to have power of her own but whilst waiting for it to turn up she works in a local hotel. When someone dies in the hotel she becomes aware that she can communicate with the ghost and that she has been communicating with other ghosts although she thought that they were real people. This is her new magical power and it will lead her into trouble.

Katie and her aunt appear to have no contact with other witches or any written records (the reason why may be in the previous book but it is not made clear here). This means that Katie is making this up as she goes along. She meets a man who has conned his way into the hotel and who also wants to know what has happened to the dead guest. A medium is booked for an event in the hotel and Katie does not know whether he is faking or real.

The basic idea behind this book is good enough. The characterisation is not great and occasionally inconsistent but I think this is a Young Adult novel so it is similar to what I have read in other books. The problem with the story, for me, is that we never know the rules and what Katie can do and what she can’t. This means that when the plot requires it she can do something we didn’t know about before or use a new power to solve a problem. She has been studying for years but doesn’t have any frame of reference for these new abilities but seems to be able to use them instinctively – if that is how magic works then why weren’t we told earlier and why, and what, has she been studying all these years ? Katie’s only mistakes are about who she trusts rather than in how she uses magic.

Other things spoiled the story for me as well though they weren’t as great a problem for me. She seems to do a housemaid’s job in this hotel but yet she orders the owner around (and does amazingly little work). She asks questions and interferes in a way that most people would find unacceptable. Everyone seems to be happy to do what she tells them even though they don’t believe in magic or ghosts. She seems to be annoyed by the con artist and then attracted to him without me ever working out why she changes her position or what his attractions are.

Overall I found this book disappointing. I thought that it verged on the silly in places and certainly wasn’t very believable. I assume that I must have enjoyed the first book in the series as I purchased the second but I shall not read more of this author’s novels.

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