Nightspell, by Leah Cypess (Greenwillow, 2011, YA, 336 pages)
"Here be ghosts, the maps said, and that was they had to say about the kingdom known as Ghostland" (page 4). Ghostland, where Darri's little sister Callie was sent as a pawn in a political game....though she was too young to be married to its ruler straight away. Now the exigences of politics have demanded that the match between Ghostland and Darri's homeland be made now, and so Darri is sent, accompanied by her brother, to take her sister's place.
In Ghostland, the spirits of the dead live side by side with the living, and the intrigues of both the living and the ghosts have created a tangle of twisted plots. And the loyalties of Darri and her siblings are no longer as simple as they were when they were children together. As Darri begins to untangle the machinations at the heart of Ghostland, she finds both hope and heartbreak in its ancient magic.
This is one for fans of twisty, political fantasy, where the reader (along with the central character, in this case) is plunged into a mystery, and must struggle to determine who to trust (and who is alive or dead!). In this case the mystery is compounded by the magic at work in Ghostland--magic that brings anyone who was murdered back from the grave. And there are lots of these....
And this is one also for fans of books in which the relationship between sisters is front and center. It is fascinating to watch Darri and Callie, so close as children, struggle to rework the bond between them.
And finally, this is one for those who like complex magics, tangling past and present, that dictate the shape of a whole society!
All of this is presented in smooth writing, that nicely balances the various aspects of the story, offering information gradually, teasing the reader with clues about the mystery (resulting in the pages being turned very quickly indeed!), and making the characters people for whom one can care (especially Callie. I was very fond of Callie). My one reservation was that I found the bad character too one-dimensionally bad; I would have liked more backstory gradually doled out, and more nuance of character.
I loved Mistwood, Leah Cypess' first book, lots; it's still my favorite, but Nightspell is a great read in its own right.