Solid 4.5 stars, great read! Between the living and the dead is the Order of the Deacons, protectors of the Empire, guardians against possession, sentinels enlisted to ward off the malevolent haunting of the geists... Among the most powerful of the Order is Sorcha, now thrust into partnership with the novice Deacon, Merrick Chambers. They have been dispatched to the isolated village of Ulrich to aide the Priory with a surge of violent geist activity. With them is Raed Rossin, Pretender to the throne that Sorcha is sworn to protect, and bearer of a terrible curse. After a confusing start, I pushed through the complicated beginning to find myself immersed in an amazing fantasy world with some of the best characters I’ve read in a long time. Billed as steampunk fantasy, this story builds a relationship between the three main characters that I adored: self sufficient, smart and strong Sorcha Faris, the newbie, but immensely talented, Merrick and Raed Rossin, the exiled Pretender to the throne of the Empire who bears within him an incredible ancient supernatural curse. OMG, he not only can turn into a LION, but he can vary the shape. Tail of a fish or wings and head of an eagle! SUPER cool These three, linked by a bond Sorcha creates in a moment of need, are astounded by the unparalleled power they can create and sustain together. Once they’ve made their way seemingly clear of the confrontation in Ulrich they were sent to deflate (and I’ve totally made that sound easier than it was!), Sorcha and Merrick, now inexorably joined by Raed, return to the seat of the Empire to discover new treachery and betrayals, and by the by, foil the invasion of a powerful demon lord.Geist was an extremely pleasant surprise that I pulled out of my TBR read pile without realizing what a gem I had! Now, Ballantine’s books are on my ‘go-to’ list for good reads and I’ve already read and thoroughly enjoyed Pip's more traditional steampunk series, Ministry of Peculiar Occurances.