Sara Ghost by Matt Posner

I’ve just read Sara Ghost by Matt Posner, a short story from the School Of The Ages series.

Three caveats: one, it’s not my usual genre, two, I’ve not ready any of the other School Of The Ages series so I’m coming at it completely cold, and three, everything here is just my opinion (which is of course the case for every book review everywhere, but many reviewers seem to think that opinion is the same as fact…).

Sara Ghost is a short story (about 13,000 words long) about a girl called Sara Ghosh, the self-harming product of a loveless union between an American woman and an Indian man in search of a green card, whose hopeless situation is changed when she meets two mysterious young people who can apparently do magic.

When you hear the word “magic” your first reaction is likely to be that it is a certain type of book, but it’s not. There is magic, certainly, but there are no wizards or castles or goblins or indeed any of what I would have called the staples of a “traditional magic story”. The narrative takes place in an uncompromisingly modern American landscape, and the use of magic is much subtler and more pragmatic than I expected. It’s dark, gritty, violent (I’m thinking particularly of a scene in which Goldberry and Simon tackle the loathesome Jack Misra); there are no magic wands here.

I thought the way that the author dealt with magic was refreshing. Instead of the all-powerful neon flashing magic of other stories, the magic in Sara Ghost is much more understated, much more ordinary – just a word, or a way of behaving – and it’s the better for it. It feels like a tool, like a mechanism for achieving an end, and the magical characters seem to treat it as such. 

The writing is economical, but in a good way – the dialogue and plot are conveyed efficiently, such that the flourishes stand out all the more. For example: ‘This girl turns the dingy little nurse’s room into a stage and she’s the star. Enter Goldberry. Line: “We’ll sort it out.” End of act one. Curtain falls.’

The characters are well-realised, and come across as three-dimensional, consistent and believable. I don’t know a lot about self-harming, but the way that the author presented Sara Ghosh’s motivations and attitude towards it seemed entirely plausible. In addition, the various dynamics and relationships between Simon, Goldberry and Sara were interesting and left infuriatingly unresolved…

In fact, that hints at my only real criticism: that the story was too short. By the time I’d got to the end I found that I wanted to know more about Sara Ghosh and what happened next (more so than the two overtly magical characters, in fact), particularly regarding the implied tensions between her and Simon and the unexplained relationship between Simon and Goldberry…which I think is a good sign.

Buy it here:
Visit Matt Posner’s School Of The Ages website here:


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