Review: The Ghost Theatre - Mat Oseman
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Published: Bloomsbury Publishing, May 2023 My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
“The thing is, Shay: the stage is the only place where anything makes sense. “Out there”, he flung his arms wide, “is arbitrary. Hero’s die and the good suffer.” He stomps his foot on the theatre roof: “This, here, is where truth lives. Outside everything is dead, and nothing can breathe and nothing can grow. Words are stillborn. But here. He stood with one foot forward, like he did for heroic roles , and he spoke for the clouds; we are kings.”
An absolutely magical story about a girl outlawed for her worship of birds, and a boy who lives the lives of others on stage to escape his own, against the background of the rich atmosphere of Elizabethan London. When the two of them collide, the subsequent spark ignites a revolution of the classes that ripples through every layer of London's society.
I loved how The Ghost Theatre transported me into its world of stage-magic, plays and "roles" (in more than one sense of the word), in a way I haven't experienced since reading The Night Circus. Don't get me wrong; The Ghost Theatre has a very different and more dark feeling to it, but with their similar themes of theatre, magic and a doomed relationship in a richly described historically British setting, the tickled similar parts of my brain regardless.
With his creative ideas, intriguing protagonists and an element of magical realism that I absolutely loved (Shay's underground religion in which Gods are birds and Birds are gods), Mat Oseman had all the ingredients for a 5-star read in his hands. Unfortunately, for every hit his rythmic and descriptic prose lands, he misses one too. Meandering at best, getting lost in nonsensical metaphors that placed style and "sound" over content at worst. A great example of this, I saw pointed out in Erica Wagners review written for The Guardian. There's a point in which Oseman describes Nonsuch's name as “a name made of stone and glass". I mean; it sure sounds pretty when you first hear it, but on second thought, it doesn't actually mean anything really.
Regardless of the occasional prose that overstayed its welcome, The Ghost Theatre is strong contender for one of the top fantasy releases I've read in 2023 and one I highly recommend to any historical fantasy fan.
Find this book here on Goodreads.