The Ghost in the Net
Note: The following post is where I completely geek out about Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. The latest book in the series, Heart of Obsidian, is coming out next week. So if you have no interest in the gritty details of world building in paranormal romances or spoilers for the aforementioned series since you haven’t read any of the books yet, it might be a good idea to look away.
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One of the things about the Psy-Changeling series which I think propels it heads and shoulders above many other series in the paranormal romance genre is its success at integrating character with the world building. Sure, you can read it primarily as a romance, but the speculative elements (which are integral to the characters and not face paint) push things into really interesting directions beyond the simple boy-and-girl-fall-in-love story.
The character of the Ghost, to me, is probably one of the most intriguing characters in the series. Up to and including the spoiler chapters posted for Heart of Obsidian, we still don’t know who the Ghost is even though there are clues sprinkled throughout the series. I think most of the clues point in one direction (as Dear Author speculates for one particular character). But not all. And it’s this little bit of uncertainty that’s driving me nuts (in a good way). With most books, I find the answer to mysteries obvious or completely out of left field. Singh’s books keep me guessing even though I know there’s a completely logical explanation.
So, let’s dive into the clues and interesting coincidences:
(Edited to add: a character guide to the series for the confused.)
The Ghost and Kaleb Krychek
The Ghost is a rebel, a saboteur who is a thorn in the Council’s side. He is first introduced in Caressed by Ice. However, we’re introduced to the term “ghost” way back in the first book (Slave to Sensation, 193). Sascha has developed a telepathic shadowing skill called “ghosting” which she uses to cruise the PsyNet as a “ghost”, undetected, to gather information. Later we discover that Kaleb Krychek can also travel this way through the PsyNet. And in fact, he learned this trick by observing Sascha (Blaze of Memory, 160).
When Shoshanna presents the Council with an infected data file, Nikita suggests that it was corrupted by the Ghost (Caressed by Ice, 32). This is the very first mention of the Ghost as an individual in the series. To Nikita, Kaleb immediately replies that the person responsible could be someone else. If Kaleb is the Ghost, is he trying to deflect attention off himself? Kaleb also has a strong motive to destroy the file. The file contained information hacked from the Liu group. Kaleb has a relationship with the Liu group which he does not want to jeopardize. And he considers that particular issue as a “first strike” after reading about Protocol I (Caressed by Ice, 19). The data file was infected by a virus. Nikita, a Tp-Psy, is a known viral transmitter. Everyone knows that Kaleb is a Tk cardinal, but he is also revealed to be a Tp cardinal (Tangle of Need, 335), making it likely that Kaleb is responsible for the destruction of data.
As noted above, Kaleb has an interest in Protocol I. The Ghost is responsible for the destruction of a Protocol I lab. The Ghost is part of the Council’s superstructure with access to classified data, but he is careful not to use data above a certain access level, probably to prevent revealing his identity (Caressed by Ice, 42). Kaleb is part of the Council. Both Kaleb and the Ghost aren’t afraid to kill. The Ghost is skilled in both psychic and physical warfare (Caressed by Ice, 286). So is Kaleb. Both the Ghost (Mine to Possess, 240) and Kaleb are well versed in finding information on the PsyNet.
The Ghost assassinates Marshall Hyde, but he is careful to be in a public location with a minor official to guarantee an alibi (Mine to Possess, 252). As a highly visible member of the Council, even a random doorman recognizes him (Bonds of Justice, 287), it would make sense for Kaleb to be seen at the public location. An Arrow would not need such a public alibi.
While certain things involving innocents and children give the Ghost pause, he is actually focused on something far bigger (Mine to Possess, 182). The Ghost’s plans are meticulous (Kiss of Snow, 364). Kaleb also has meticulous plans (Mine to Possess, 293). The Ghost has been carrying out a particular plan for over 20 years (Ghost chat). Kaleb has also been working on his plans for two decades (Hostage to Pleasure, 48). Later in the series, the Ghost notes that he understands change and that plans could change (Kiss of Snow, 364). Kaleb is also somewhat flexible in his plans as he hasn’t discarded all of his options in pursuit of his goal (Tangle of Need, 144).
Judd suspects that the Ghost wants control of the Net (Play of Passion, 96). Kaleb wants to control the Net (Hostage to Pleasure, 95; Kiss of Snow, 293; Tangle of Need, 144). In fact, he doesn’t like things out of his control in general (Branded by Fire, 41).
The Ghost will do anything to protect the Psy (Branded by Fire, 119). Kaleb finally reveals his dual cardinal powers to Aden and Vasic when he single-handedly saves a section of the Net from total collapse (Tangle of Need, 335).
Faith discovers that an old, hidden crack in the PsyNet is the Ghost (Branded by Fire, 244). Each crack in the PsyNet represents an individual who has flaws in their conditioning. Kaleb also has a large flaw in his conditioning (Heart of Obsidian, chapter 1).
The Ghost grew up in “a cage so tight, so restrictive that he’d almost forgotten how to breathe” (Branded by Fire, 261). Santano Enrique was a sociopath who groomed Kaleb to be his audience (Bonds of Justice, 312). Enrique also trapped Sascha, making her an unwilling audience as he recounted his murders. Enrique applies his trap with pressure and crushing walls (Slave to Sensation, 311).
The Ghost gives Judd information that Arrows taken off Jax are funneled to a facility in the Dinarides (Blaze of Memory, 293). In an earlier scene, Kaleb realizes that he doesn’t have the location where Ming sends Arrows to die, but he knows he can get the information before the day is out (Blaze of Memory, 230).
There is someone that the Ghost cares about. This is implied by the Ghost’s reaction to the fact that Xavier hopes that Nina is alive (Blaze of Memory, 292). When Judd questions the Ghost, he discovers that there is one person the Ghost doesn’t want to die (Play of Passion, 195 and Kiss of Snow, 140). This person is the reason the Ghost doesn’t just destroy the Council and everything else because the person acts as the conscience he doesn’t have (Kiss of Snow, 179). Kaleb has been searching for someone for over six years (Bonds of Justice, 287) and even kills for this person (Bonds of Justice, 311). Kaleb owns a platinum star charm and he wonders “what its owner would make of his thoughts of assassination” (Tangle of Need, 329). This implies that Kaleb thinks of this person as his conscience.
On Twitter, the Ghost states: “you do not want to marry me. I would snap your neck if you touched me wrong.” Sophia notes that Kaleb has many admirers, but that he is “quite capable of snapping his admirers’ necks without the least pause should the occasion call for it” (Bonds of Justice, 66). Judd has an inkling of what the Ghost’s “other matters” are and that if he is right about his guess, the Ghost would become even more dangerous (Play of Passion, 96). It is around this time that the Arrows are considering Kaleb for their leadership.
Judd and Hawke know the Ghost’s identity (Kiss of Snow, 291 and Ghost chat). Judd remarks: “If I am ever taken…my mind is set with triggers that’ll erase your name from my memory banks at a single mental command. Images are more difficult to remove” (Kiss of Snow, 364). As Judd gave Hawke a name and not an occupation, it is highly likely the Ghost is high profile. Like Kaleb. If it was an Arrow, names and images wouldn’t mean as much.
The Ghost comes across a hidden archive of data which he names Obsidian (Kiss of Snow, 180). The book, Heart of Obsidian, is about Kaleb. The Ghost says, “There are places in the Net that belong only to me” (Kiss of Snow, 368). Kaleb can communicate with both the NetMind and the DarkMind that can take him to places other people don’t know about.
The Ghost remarks: “Some things need to be broken to become stronger” (Tangle of Need, 415). For Kaleb: “The fracture had sealed to adamantine hardness, the weak spot morphing into the strongest part of his Silence” (Heart of Obsidian, chapter 1).
The Ghost and Vasic
Just as the Ghost and Kaleb are Tk-Psy with blood on their hands, so is Vasic, an Arrow who claims at his first appearance in the series that he is not a team player (Hostage to Pleasure, 12).
When the Ghost first appears in person in the series, he asks Judd about human and changeling funeral practices (Caressed by Ice, 66). Vasic seeks darkness (Tangle of Need, 39) and is tired of life and just wants peace (Tangle of Need, 249).
The outcome of several of the Ghost’s actions–destruction of Protocol I (Caressed by Ice, 293), finding out who massacred the deer changelings (Caressed by Ice, 302)–result in protecting or avenging innocents, particularly children. We know that Vasic has a soft spot for children (Tangle of Need, 339).
The Ghost doesn’t think that he has a soul (Kiss of Snow, 364). A little later, Vasic remarks that there is nothing left in him to save (Kiss of Snow, 408).
When the Ghost watches Sienna’s mating ceremony, he notes that Sienna’s hair has darkened and after observing Judd ponders that this was not a life he would ever have (Tangle of Need, 100). This implies that the Ghost had seen Sienna when she was younger. Vasic knows that he would never have a life like Judd’s (Tangle of Need, 398). Vasic had also seen Sienna when she was younger (Tangle of Need, 399).
It Could Go Both Ways
The Ghost has been “broken” as a child (Ghost chat). Vasic was broken (Tangle of Need, 339) through Arrow training which starts in childhood. In Kaleb’s records, there are odd gaps starting at seven years old when he was supposedly being trained by Santano Enrique–who turned out to be a serial killer (Caressed by Ice, 306-307).
The Ghost says that Ming will die when the time is right (Ghost chat). Aden says that Ming will die when he needs to die (Tangle of Need, 247). It is possible that he is also voicing Vasic’s opinion since they have a subconscious telepathic connection (Kiss of Snow, 33). On the other hand, both Vasic and Aden are tentatively under Kaleb’s leadership. Kaleb also has similar thoughts: “That left Ming and Tatiana. Both would have to die when it was time” (Tangle of Need, 329).
Vasic also notes toward the end of Tangle of Need that his reaction to Sienna, not precisely Sienna herself, was what helped him survive through the years. There is no mention of any other women in Vasic’s life. On the other hand, the Ghost is bonded to a woman, but that woman is the only one to whom he is loyal and will keep him from carrying out his plans (Ghost chat). Similarly, Kaleb has been obsessively trying to find a woman throughout the series and have been doing things for her.
The Ghost does not have a tattoo (Ghost chat), but is this just semantics? Kaleb has a mark on his arm that is branded on him (Mine to Possess, 293). It is never mentioned whether or not Vasic has a tattoo, but he does have a computronic gauntlet fused to his left arm (Tangle of Need, 41).
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So, if you’ve also read the Psy-Changeling series, who do you think the Ghost is? Kaleb? Vasic? Someone else? As Singh’s world building and characterization has been extremely consistent so far, I would tend toward the logical choice. But you never know. I’d love to hear from fellow fans who think I’ve missed a clue or two.