By KG Spangler
Greek Key is the 4th novel by Ms. Spangler and like the last three it is part of her own expanded universe from the web comic “A Girl and Her Fed”. As such I should start this review with a bit of a spoiler warning. If you've only read the Rachel Peng novels, this book carries many spoilers for what's going on. You know those secrets that Rachel's boss keeps from her? They're front and center in this book and massively part of the plot. So if you want to avoid finding out before Rachel does, you might want to skip this book (or at least this review) and go to Brute Force. That said if you've been reading A Girl and Her Fed, you're already in the know as it were and you have nothing to worry about. Now that I've covered that, let's get into the book.
Let me start with Hope Blackwell. Hope Blackwell is millionaire martial artist who discovered a secret government conspiracy when she realized she was under surveillance by a government agent who also happened to be a cyborg. Hope was aided by the fact that she is close personal friends with Benjamin Franklin, who is also a ghost. Said government agent, Patrick Mulcahy ended up teaming up with her to bust the conspiracy wide open and eventually went public with the whole damn thing. For more details, read the webcomic or prior reviews of the other novels. Hope is a woman with a lot of gifts, she's a great fighter, psychic (although she's terrible at it), a good friend, and studying to become a doctor. She also has a great many flaws, she has a foul mouth with a temper almost has bad and tends to prefer fast easy solutions. She also has a terrible attention span, in fact after checking for word of god, I confirmed that she does in fact have ADHD. Which makes this less of a character flaw in my mind and more of a disability you could say as calling it a flaw doesn't seem right to me. Ms. Spangler tries to reflect this in her writing by giving Hope a very different voice from Rachel Peng. Peng is methodical, focused and disciplined, she dislikes violence and while she's no wallflower, she isn't a full blown extrovert either. Hope throws herself from topic to topic, her narration is full of asides and observations, Ms. Spangler keeps this from getting out of control or detracting from the story by making a lot of those asides (the ones that don't directly serve the plot) footnotes, so you can completely skip them if you like. This is actually very clever and helps capture Hope fully without derailing the story into a incoherent wreck. I'm also tickled to see footnotes being used in a novel for mass consumption in 2017 when back in 1997 one of my English teachers firmly told me that footnotes were dead and never coming back outside of really dense academic papers. Let that be a lesson kids, listen to your teachers but realize there's going to have to be a point where you throw their pronouncements to the way side and make your own damn calls, just be prepared to live and die on those calls. Anyways back to the review.
Joining her on this story is Mike, also a terrible psychic but a terrifyingly good martial artist. Hope is something of a statistical anonymity in that she developed her psychic powers through genetic mutation. Mike on the other hand comes from a long line of psychics who have organized themselves into families with wealth, power, and influence coming from their gifts. Many of the families have withdrawn from the rest of humanity and there is more than a little feeling of their abilities make them better than the average schmuck. Mike decided that was bullshit and ran away from home when he was twelve and then worked his way up to becoming a master of aikido with his own studio in Los Vegas (it's a young city, not a lot of ghosts you see). Frankly Mike is bloody amazing but infuriating. He has worked very hard at not developing his psychic powers and not learning anything about them. Now his decision to not develop his God given abilities is his own, I disagree with it but it's his right to decide what do with his inborn talents, but being ignorant about them is down right dangerous and could get someone hurt. I'm of the opinion if you have a talent or a possession that could hurt someone it is absolutely your responsibility to know everything you can about it to ensure it's safe use or it's safe lack of use. I won't tell y'all how to run your lives folks but I will insist that you do not endanger the neighbors. There's also the issue that Mike is as self righteous as his family members and at some point I would like to see his face get ground into it. I say that despite liking Mike, because whatever his flaws he is honestly trying to be a good and helpful person. In this case he goes to Greece with Hope leaving behind his own life with little warning to help her guard herself (Hope really doesn't need protection honestly) and provide a second opinion on things (which Hope often needs).
Along with Mike and Hope is Speedy, who is a male Queensland Koala Bear. An overly ambitious scientist genetically (and surgically, since you'll note Koala's have no vocal cords) modified Speedy to make him intelligent. Speedy killed him when he realized the scientist was planning on dissecting him to see what improvements could be made on the next model. Speedy is a genius, an expert code breaker and a complete and total asshole. A lot of this is Speedy lacking the social instincts that a human would have because he's a fucking Koala! Part of it is the rather rough life he led until Patrick found him (leading to an intense bond of loyalty between the two of them). The rest of it is Speedy is simply an asshole who enjoys jerking people around. Hope is able to keep him in line with the fact that she can kill a small bull with her bare hands so a Koala wouldn't even slow her down and Speedy knows her impulse control is bad enough to make it a possibility; and you thought you had complicated friendships, right?
They are all in Greece to find out something very important. Just who built the Antikythera Mechanism and were they alive when they did it? See the Ghost of Ben Franklin is worried that if a Greek Ghost, say of Archimedes, built the machine and it gets discovered by living people, then the universe might... implode (I love that these reviews let me type sentences like this for the record). Sadly Patrick and our favorite Cyborgs cannot leave the country so it's up to Hope to head over to the sunny Mediterranean during her spring break and see if she can whistle up a ghost or five to explain just what is going on. There are problems with that: first, Hope can't see non-American Ghosts, so they'll have to basically try to play guessing games. Second, Speedy's the only person in the group who speaks Greek, both modern and Ancient dialects (just remember all of this stuff happened 2,500 years ago, think about how much the language you speak is different from your parents and... Yeah). Third, none of their ghosts can help them while they're in Greece. Fourth and this is a kicker folkers, they got the attention of a powerful Greek ghost alright, it's Helen of Tr... Sparta! She prefers to be called Helen of Sparta and I would recommend indulging the lady here. She wants Hope to do her a favor, she ain't gonna take no for an answer and she's gonna start beaming her life story into Hope's skull if that's what it takes. This is a journey that's gonna led them from Athens to Rhodes to islands in the middle of nowhere in the sunny sea. Meanwhile they also have to deal with hired goons, who really cannot take a hint, a hired archaeologist/treasure hunter/tomb robber... Who cannot take a hint and his cousin the lady black market treasure hunter... Who also cannot take a hint. It's not a very relaxing vacation.
On top of this Hope is also having to hide her connections to the afterlife as she and Mike are committed to keeping a secret on the logic that they don't have the right to spill the beans. I'll admit I have trouble following their logic, when they declare they don't have the right to the tell the truth. Which honestly sounds ass backwards to me, basically they're declaring that a lie must be maintained and Mike's position is the lie must be maintained at all costs. Now, I'll admit I'm not going to throw too many rocks here, because... Imagine tomorrow that the existence of an afterlife is proven, verifiable fact. Even putting religion on a shelf (HA!) here... How many changes do you think that would cause? Would you want to be the person who pulled that trigger? I'm not sure honestly that I'm brave enough to do it but here's the thing. Everyone has the right to tell the truth. The truth is what everyone is entitled to, now I'll grant that often the truth isn't what we want to know. There are times when a lie is more pleasing or may even be better for our well being. I'm not saying you should never tell someone a lie, just be aware that when you do... You're hiding something that the other person most likely has a right to (there are exceptions to this obviously, there are parts of your private life you have every right to keep private for example and if you need to lie to do it so be it but I'm speaking in very general terms here). I suppose this is nitpicky of me since, I'm not sure I disagree with the characters actions in hiding the afterlife and ghosts from the living. I just disagree with their reasoning. Some of you may suggest I'm splitting hairs and I'll remind you that I've decided of my own free will to review books for almost three years now. A certain amount of hair splitting should be expected!
All of that said, I continue to be impressed with Ms. Spangler's ability to use the written word. The story communicates Hope's lack of focus without damaging the plot. The interplay between the characters show a committed friendship between combative and strong will people without going over the line and making it look like they hate each other. The action is well written and really does communicate a sense of chaos while clearly showing what is going on. There are some writers who try to use martial art sounding names which leads to “He attacked with Floating Mountains Snow but was blocked by Grazing Hare Naps!” thankfully Ms. Spangler does no such thing here. As side note here to any aspiring writer, just describe what the character is doing and leave the fancy names to anime, alright? You're writing to help me form a mental picture of the fight. The dialogue is fun and the book as always is full of interesting ideas and facts on top of it's plot. I'm giving Greek Key by KG Spangler an -A. Go read it, have fun.
Next week, Gang Leader for a Day, keep reading.
This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen