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Literature / Ghost Roads

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Phantom prom date
"I hate ghost stories. Too many of them are autobiographical."

Rose Marshall is the Shadow of Sparrow Hill Road. She's the Lady in Green. She's the Phantom Prom Date.

Ghost Roads (previously Ghost Stories) is a series of short stories (later collected into a novel) by Seanan McGuire about a ghost named Rose Marshall, who crashed and burned on Sparrow Hill Road in 1945 and has been hitching the ghostroads ever since as an occasional psychopomp, trying to help wayward souls she meets along the way...and to get revenge for her own murder. Sparrow Hill Road is the First Book in the now titled "Ghost Roads Series." A sequel to "Sparrow Hill Road" titled "The Girl in the Green Silk Gown" was released on July 17, 2018. Book 3, Angel of the Overpass, is expected out on May 11, 2021.

The stories are based on the various Urban Legends about Hitchhiking ghosts and on songs about roads, cars, dates, and broken hearts. Rose also has a lot to say about road culture, car culture, date culture and diner culture along the way.


The series originated as 12 short stories published online at over the course of 2010 as monthly installments:

  1. "Good Girls Go to Heaven"
  2. "Dead Man's Party"
  3. "Tell Laura I Love Her"
  4. "Building a Mystery"
  5. "El Viento Del Diablo"
  6. "Last Dance with Mary Jane"
  7. "Do You Want To Dance?"
  8. "Dead Man's Curve"
  9. "Last Train"
  10. "Bad Moon Rising"
  11. "Faithfully"
  12. "Thunder Road"

It only remained online for one year, though "Good Girls Go to Heaven" is still available at the author's web site as a teaser.

Revised versions of these stories (except "Bad Moon Rising") were collected into a novel, Sparrow Hill Road, which was released in 2014.

As one might suspect from the story titles, music plays an important role in Rose Marshall's story, as Seanan McGuire is also a musician and songwriter. Rose has been the subject of several of her songs, including "Pretty Little Dead Girl.", "Graveyard Rose." "Waxen Wings." "When I Drive." "Counting Crows." "Hanging Tree." and "On Dead Man's Hill." Note that songs mostly represent the Urban Legend version of Rose so they don't correspond exactly with the stories.


Contains examples of:

  • Age Without Youth: Part of Bobby Cross' Deal with the Devil. Getting the youth he has to do on his own.
  • All Guys Want Cheerleaders: Subverted. Gary wanted Rose, and the queens of the school couldn't understand what he saw in the poor girl wearing thrift store clothes.
  • Artistic License – History: Rose supposedly died in 1945 in the original stories but the car culture references are all more appropriate to The '50s. The novel retcons the year of Rose's death to 1952 but still mentions rock and roll music three years too soon.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: On the part of Rose's older brother Arthur, who can't believe things about Bethany without also believing things about Rose.
  • Arc Words: Bobby Cross is coming.
  • At the Crossroads: Where Bobby made his Deal with the Devil, and where Bethany tried to.
  • Beware Of Hitch Hiking Ghosts: Played with. The legends speak of Rose as a malevolent spirit or at least a harbinger of death. The truth is a lot more nuanced.
    • Homecomers, a slightly different permutation of hitchhiking ghosts from Rose, are a straight example. Their fate shows what endlessly trying to get home, never being able to, and finally watching that home inevitably disappear (as time passes, people move, etc) would do to somebody's mind. They basically can't help killing after a certain point.
  • Blessed with Suck: Routewitches are fundamentally nomadic; they get their power from traveling and have a deep need to be on the move. As queen, Apple is immensely strong, eternally young, gifted with extra powers, able to commune directly with their goddess...and can't go anywhere. Well, she could—there's no actual physical barrier or geas preventing her—but things usually go haywire if the monarch leaves the Ocean Lady and she's much too responsible. So, until she steps down, Apple can only experience travel through the tribute of her subjects.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The crossguards guardians aren't evil, they just only care about the interests of the crossroads. Anyone who can pay can play. The crossroads ghosts are supposed to be a check on this, as having once been human they care about the damage bargains can do, but an inexperienced ghost can be taken advantage of. Like Bobby took advantage of Mary Dunlavy.
  • Canon Discontinuity "Bad Moon Rising" a stand alone Halloween story, did not match the tone of rest of the series or fit into Rose's character arc so it was left out of Sparrow Hill Road.
  • Canon Welding: Rose's story takes place in the InCryptid universe. She guest-stars in the Incryptid short story The Ghosts of Bourbon Street (free on the author's website) and later appeared in book seven of the main series Tricks For Free.
  • Car Fu: Bobby Cross' weapon of choice.
  • The Charmer: Bobby Cross, although he's the nightmare version, who now uses it as a weapon. It's in Girl in the Green Silk Gown where you really see it, given he's the main antagonist. Among other things, he talks a young routewitch in killing herself so her blood can be used to damage Rose's protection against him. Then when Rose undergoes a dangerous ritual to restore it, he entraps the daughter of the family running said ritual to blackmail them into becoming his accomplices in hunting Rose.
  • Charm Person: Apple automatically has this effect whenever she takes tribute from someone, because even though she means well, giving up your distance hurts, both physically and once you realize she took all the emotions and most of the memories that went with the miles in the bargain. If routewitch monarchs didn't have this power nobody would ever do it.
  • The Cheerleader: A recurring theme in Ms. McGuire's writing, but particularly prevalent in the Sparrow Hill Road series.
  • Cool Car: Gary the car.
  • Comfort Food: In this case, diner food. Malts, milkshakes, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, golden fries and pie — especially comforting to ghosts who only get to sample the pleasures of the living when wearing a borrowed coat. Food tastes like ashes any other time. Also, at one point Verity Price remarks that Aunt Rose will go a long way for a good beer.
  • Covers Always Lie: Sort of. Rose is shown on the cover with dark hair, jeans, and what looks like a 50's diner uniform's top. In the book, the jeans are the only thing that is correct - her hair was bleached with lemon juice at the time of her death, and her normal attire is either a tank top with jeans or the green silk prom dress she died in. But as a ghost, Rose can alter her clothing, makeup, and hair however she likes as long as it doesn't involve altering her phantom body (no piercings, but clamp earrings mimicking piercings work fine) and seems to prefer having short, brown hair. Word of God is the cover represents Rose as McGuire has always envisioned her.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: the series deals with fatal car crashes. Comes with the territory.
  • Cue the Sun: The borrowed life Rose gets from a borrowed jacket dissipates at sunup.
  • Deal with the Devil: Bobby Cross made one for immortality, and occasionally makes other ones.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The novel irons out some inconsistencies found in the original stories, like the distinction between crossroads guardians and crossroads ghosts.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Everybody hates Bobby Cross, even the crossroads that made him what he is—Rose manages to stun a guardian into silence when she snarkily reminds it who exactly set Bobby loose.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Bobby is a fairly charming individual who speaks in a fairly calm and polite voice but none of that is genuine. Bobby underneath that is a sadist and sociopath who murders so he can selfishly live forever.
  • First-Person Smartass: Rose
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Rose, who has met some of the divine creatures that hang out on the ghostroads, but refuses to believe just the same. She considers any beings that call themselves gods to be questionably sane and quite full of themselves.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Routewitch HQ looks like whatever the viewer associates with a stop for weary travelers, at least on the outside — it settles on a diner for Rose.
  • For Want of a Nail: Bobby Cross's cursed car keeps him young by outrunning mortality. Staying in one place too long would allow mortality to catch up. Finding a way to stop his car would literally result in A Fate Worse Than Death for Bobby, who cannot be harmed by ordinary means.
  • God of the Dead: The afterlife and spirits that end up there are managed by various deities, each ruling over their own version based on what mythology they come from.
  • Good Bad Girl: Rose thoroughly enjoys fast food, alcohol and is even perfectly fine with sex as a way to repay people for rides or meals that she receives. She's also a genuinely good person who does mean well and strives to do the right thing usually.
  • Greek Chorus: The Rosettes in "Pretty Little Dead Girl" get a series of asides about how their various boyfriends' character traits led them to fatal encounters with Rose Marshall, culminating in "Harry... was an idiot." with no further elaboration.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Thanks to the urban legends, Rose is typically blamed for all the deaths that either happen while she is present or that she's actively trying to prevent. In reality, the worst she's done to an innocent driver is run away when she sensed Bobby Cross coming for him (which she still feels bad about).
  • Hitchhiker Heroes: Played with. Rose doesn't really build a quest party, but she's on a hero's journey nonetheless.
  • I Gave My Word: In the twilight, your word is your bond, and lying to other dead inevitably leads to bad consequences. Breaking a crossroads bargain is worse: even cheating on it a little entails great risks. The dead owe no truth to the living, however.
  • Image Song: Rose has two:
    • "Pretty Little Dead Girl" tells the urban legend (or as McGuire puts it, the "filthy libel") version of Rose's story.
    • "Graveyard Rose" tells the flipside of Rose's legend as the "Lady in the Diner"/truckdriver's psychopomp.
  • Immortality Immorality: Played straight with Bobby Cross, but inverted with Routewitches and Ambulomancers, who get long life in return for the jobs they do on the highways and the ghostroads.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Played with. Rose appears in the green silk prom dress she died in unless she concentrates otherwise and/or is wearing a borrowed coat. Her preferred appearance is the white tank top she once borrowed from Gary and the blue jeans her mother didn't like her to wear, and short brown hair. She reverts to the prom dress under stress, which is invariably means in the worst possible situations.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Rose, as a first person smartass narrator, does this constantly. Particularly in regards to her appearance, which reverts to a teenage girl in a prom dress at the most inconvenient times.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Bethany is Rose's great grand niece.
  • Loophole Abuse: Bobby Cross is supposed to only be able to hunt drivers. This doesn't stop him locking onto pedestrians when he thinks the crossroads isn't watching—after all, they're on the road even if they're not in cars, right?
  • Love Transcends Spacetime: Rose and Gary forever, to the point of the latter spending sixty years pining for her, and then magicking himself into a ghost car to be with her in the ghostroads.
  • Magical Gesture: When Rose returns to Buckley, she walks widdershins around the gym checking for trouble.
  • The Mourning After: Gary never gets over Rose. In fact, he figures out a way to be reunited with her in the afterlife - as a car.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The King of the North America Routewitches helped Bobby get to the crossroads and witnessed his bargain. After seeing what Bobby became, he abdicated, voluntarily exiling himself and cutting himself off from magic. Also applies to Mary Dunlavy, the dead witness at that bargain, who was too inexperienced to swing it into more reasonable territory.
  • A Mythology Is True: Rose's story neatly ties together some common variations of the hitchhiking ghost and phantom prom date urban legends, and provides an explanation for the borrowed coat that shows up in so many of them.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Rose's self appointed duties as a Psychopomp has given her the reputation of a rapacious, malicious reaper of the unwary.
  • Older Than They Look: Routewitches who spend enough time in the twilight will age much more slowly, although they do eventually die. Apple, the Queen, looks about Rose's age, and has since she escaped from Manzanar.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: The bean sidhe seem to be the only ones that turn up in the series.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different:
    • Rose can be brought back to life, temporarily, by borrowing a sweater, jacket or coat. Only then can she enjoy a meal, a good cup of coffee, sex, etc. and only if those things are freely given to her by another.
    • Routewitches usually end up as ghosts after their deaths.
    • Roads and diners and cars, if loved and traveled and thought of enough, can become ghosts too.
    • There are various specific kinds of ghost. Road ghosts include hitchers, homecomers, and white ladies, and there are non-road ghosts as well.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Bobby Cross' car is powered by road ghosts like Rose, and he needs a constant supply to keep him young and able to drive the ghostroads. And he's perfectly happy to kill people to get them.
  • Power Incontinence: If Rose hadn't died, she'd have grown up to be a routewitch. Routewitches get their power from travel. Combine Rose suddenly being made alive, having an anti-magic charm washed out of her system, and having traveled thousands and thousands of miles throughout the continental US, and you get nearly every road in the country shouting in her head at the same time. Ouch.
  • Power Tattoo: The Queen of the Routewitches gives one to Rose to protect her from Bobby.
  • Psychopomp: Rose has ended up in this role more than once.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Bethany makes up for trying to sell Rose out to Bobby Cross by becoming a crossroads ghost who makes sure he sticks to the terms of his deal. Likewise, Laura Moorhead makes up for the same thing (Bobby gets around) by making her last act fulfilling the ritual to make Rose a hitcher again.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Rose and several of the other ghosts and supernatural creatures she meets along the ghost roads. Rose has been 16 since 1945.
  • Retcon: Sparrow Hill Road resets Rose's death to 1952
  • Shout-Out:
    • Ghostbusters: Rose encounters some college students looking to catch ghosts. Specifically The Ghost At The Diner.
    • A Christmas Carol: Rose opines Scrooge was right about most spectral visitations being indigestion.
    • Stephen King (which doubles as Creator In-Joke because Seanan McGuire is a huge fan of his).
    • The stories are all named after popular songs. "Tell Laura I Love Her" is notable because it's an example of the "lost my baby in a car wreck" genre that was popular in the late 50's to early 60's; "Dead Man's Curve" because it's about a wreck similar to the one that claimed Rose.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Rose is legendary in-story, but most of the stories about her contain a small kernel of the truth at best or are libelous at worst.
  • The Sociopath: Bobby Cross is a very charismatic individual but is described as a man who'd murder the world if he got to live a little longer. In order to keep himself immortal, he's destroyed the various ghosts he's met over the decades by feeding them to his car in order to outrun mortality itself. He is also devoid of any remorse for this and is a manipulative killer who's willing to dispose of anyone who is not of use to him.
  • Soul Jar: Methods of catching ghosts.
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: Gary the car.
  • Spirit Advisor: Emma is Rose's, and Rose is, however briefly, one to the souls she helps along.
  • Spotting the Thread: Bethany gets Rose a wrap for her dress, so she'll have a "coat" that won't stand out at the dance. She says she was able to match the color from the yearbook picture. Thing is, though, Rose died before she made it to prom, so there aren't any pictures of her in her dress. This is an early clue that Bethany is working with Bobby Cross.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Bethany, although Rose kind of understands it and is reluctantly sympathetic to a point.
  • Thicker Than Water: Nope. Not in the least. At least not in the Marshall family.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The college age ghost hunters put up by an enemy of Rose's. Know enough to get themselves in danger, but not enough to keep themselves alive.
  • Valkyries: They show up as cheerleaders.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Hitchhiker ghosts can only receive favors freely given, and sex is the only way Rose has to repay people for rides or meals. She doesn't particularly mind because there can be no consequencesnote  and it's an experience she wished she'd had in life. She's also not above using "a trip to the woods" to delay someone long enough to miss their appointment with death. As a "hitcher"-type ghost Rose is fueled by "borrowed life" and describes herself addicted to things she can only really experience while wearing a borrowed coat - cheeseburgers, coffee, and sex, though sex seems to be more something she enjoys in passing than craves.
  • Urban Legend: Rose is based on the well-known "vanishing hitchhiker" ghost story, and her story (as well as the stories told about her in the book) tie together several of the more popular variations of the legend. Other legends are referenced as well
  • Whatever Mancy: Ambulomancers, Routewitches, and Trainspotters all garner past, present, and future information by interfacing with their respective travel means.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Where Rose grew up. Couldn't afford bleach to blonde her hair, so had to make do with lemon juice. So many other things she couldn't afford.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: At the end of The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, Bobby murders the woman he's manipulated into helping him because he thinks she's done what he needed her for and he wants another ghost for his tank. Only he doesn't quite kill her, and his betrayal means she turns on him and helps Rose at the last second.
  • You Must Be Cold: Rose frequently takes advantage of this to get loaned jackets and other outerwear - she can ask but cannot just take, they must be freely given - but it's also true: Rose is always cold, except when she's wearing a borrowed coat or sweater.
  • Your Soul is Mine!: Bobby Cross in order to keep his immortality going which is directly linked to his ability to outrun mortality with his car, captures the souls of ghosts and feeds them to his car to act as fuel. This destroys said souls in the process.

Alternative Title(s): Sparrow Hill Road, Ghost Stories


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