October 24, 2020

Seanan McGuire: "Sparrow Hill Road"

Title: Sparrow Hill Road  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Ghost Roads (1st of ?? books)
Author: Seanan McGuire [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Urban Fantasy
Year: 2014 (reissued in 2018)
Age: 14+ (but I shelved it as Adult because the lead, though technically 16, has been around for decades as a ghost)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Engaging character voice. Creative spin(s) on a few classic urban legends. Humour, depth and heart.
Cons: Not every story is tightly connected to the others, but they weren't written with a book in mind at first (and they do provide a sense of unity nevertheless).
Will appeal to: Urban legend fans. Readers with a penchant for dead characters who know how to come alive on the page.

Blurb: Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross - a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea. It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running. They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her. You can’t kill what’s already dead. (Amazon)

Review: Afterlife + Seanan McGuire...you all know nothing can go wrong here, don't you? 😉 I even upped my original 4.5-star rating (the one from my mini-review), because I can't very well punish a book for being a short-story collection instead of a novel, and anyhow, I enjoyed it even more the second time around!


There's only one thing that I love more than an afterlife story: an afterlife story with a unique mythology (and a captivating main character, it goes without saying). The Ghost Roads series - born quite by accident from a series of short stories published all through 2010 on The Edge of Propinquity - reads familiar enough that you can nod at most of its urban fantasy references, and fresh enough that you never know where its endless routes will take you. The main character, Rose - innocent but fierce, poor but resourceful, handy with a wrench and very much in love - died in 1952 at the hands of Bobby Cross, one of the many souls he had been feeding (literally) to his dream of staying young and handsome forever. Except Rose's spirit, or whatever you want to call it, got away, and Bobby's sort-of-existence became an endless attempt at getting her back and making her pay. While trying to stay out of Bobby's reach, Rose also fulfills the role of a psychopomp to those who are destined to die on the road, and sometimes - when fate can still be manipulated - even manages to save their lives. This is, more or less, where the most familiar urban legends give way to a different (if still recognisable) mythology, that - coupled with a character to root for - kept me enthralled the whole time. [...]


While Rose's world is full of figures/creatures - some more obscure, some widely known - like ambulomancers, strigoi and Valkyries, McGuire puts a new spin on every single one of them (the book also comes with a living and dead deuteragonist compendium, so you can always get your bearings regarding those McGuire took some liberties with), and most of them reach the status of unforgettable characters. But the most intriguing feature of the Ghost Roads universe is that even objects, if they've been loved or "lived" enough, can leave a ghost behind (think cars), and roads are no exceptions. Rose's afterlife is juxtaposed to the real world, and there are layers and layers to it, literally - with every road that ever existed still a part of it, if you know where to look (or maybe not sometimes, because mortals can accidentally cross to them), and some of them even with an homicidal streak of their own. There's even a story where Rose is called in to kill a highway...though in that case, I can't help but feeling the premise is better than the actual execution.


I still have to read a McGuire book where she doesn't nail the character voice, or doesn't manage to give them a unique one - and heck, the woman writes up a storm. And maybe it's just that I have a soft spot for dead things who won't stay dead, but Rose haunted her way to my Top 3 Seanan McGuire characters, along with Dodger and Roger from Middlegame. It helps that Rose is far from your average helpless teenager turned into a ghost (and the fact that she's been around for more than 50 decades only enhances the effect). She only looks like a teen, and she doesn't sound like a living person who's pushing, say, 40 or 80 either (depending on the year her stories are set in). She sounds exactly like we can expect her to...except much more nuanced: an ageless being with a grown woman's/creature's wisdom and sass, and a girl's heart underneath, that sometimes dims her judgement or sidetracks her ever so slightly enough to get her in trouble. Also...the author gave Rose's story the most unique romance twist ever, and not even I, with my perpetual cynical streak, could roll my eyes at it. So...what's not to love here? 😉

For quotes from this book click here.
For my "The Girl in the Green Silk Gown" review (second installment in the series) click here.
For my "Angel of the Overpass’"review (third installment in the series) click here.
For more Adult books click here.
For more Afterlife books click here.


  1. Whoo hoo! I love reading 5-star reviews. McGuire really seems to be a good fit for you. It's impressive for a short story collection to win all the stars too. For me, all the stories never seem to be of the same caliber, but this sounds like it was a solid collection.

    1. It helps when there's an unifying theme, at least for me. And when there's a single writer LOL.

  2. Sounds interesting! I haven't read a book featuring an urban legend in a long time. But I think they're super cool.

    1. I hope you'll give a chance to this one then! 😉

  3. I've been curious about this one for a while. It sounds like it has some really interesting stuff, like the road ghosts and sentient highways. It's always great to find a writer who knows how to do strong character voice!

    1. I may be biased...but I'm sure you'd love this series 😉.

  4. I loved this one when I read it around 2015. Felt that it was very creative and separated from others.

    1. Exactly! It does have a lot of recognisable elements, but it builds a completely unique world out of them.

  5. Oooh, this one sounds really interesting. I rarely like main characters so I'm happy to hear that Rose is so likeable. I also like when the lore is unique - lots of spooky reads these days are predictable when it comes to the scary monster or the plot because they're more interested in being frightening rather than being developed and unique (at least from what I've read). Cool review - I'm glad that you enjoyed it so much!

    1. "I rarely like main characters"
      LOL, really?

      "lots of spooky reads these days are predictable"
      Are they? Then I've been lucky with my reads. Maybe they suffer from the same problem fantasy has - too many books, too little ideas (often derivative ones). But I swear this series is unique!

    2. Yes, I don't know if you've read many YA book series, but Clary/Jace, Gansey, Cinder, Sam (from the Gone series), Plath, Rhen/Harper are definitely not my favourites from their respective character lists.

  6. I've read a couple of her books and really liked them.

  7. I've read a few seanan Maguire books but nothing lately. The thing about her is she's so inventive and her stories just have a ton of creativity.

    1. Exactly! For a writer who focus on one genre (supernatural), except when she writes as Mira Grant, that is - I'm looking at her SMcG works here - she's so creative and nuanced!


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