If Texas Gothic is Scooby-Doo meets Nancy Drew, then the companion novel, Spirit and Dust (Ember, 2013), is Harry Dresden: Girl Detective. As I was reading this YA paranormal romance, I began to realize that it was really similar to Dresden Files #3, Grave Peril. Like, really similar. Like, “let’s weaponize the spirits of the dead in Chicago and then unleash Sue the T. Rex during the book’s climax” similar. (This is not a spoiler; like Chekhov’s gun, if you introduce a dinosaur skeleton in a fantasy novel, at some point that skeleton is going to come to life and wreak havoc.)
What’s it about? Daisy Goodnight, cousin of Amy Goodnight from Texas Gothic, is a teenage psychic who helps the FBI solve crimes. When she’s pulled out of class to help the handsome young Agent Taylor with a tricky case, Daisy is dragged into a complicated caper to track down a missing girl and a fabled object known as the Black Jackal. Along for the ride is Carson, the even more handsome young heir to a mafia empire. As they race against the clock to find the artifact, Daisy finds herself falling for Carson. But can she trust him?
A lot of things worked in Spirit and Dust, but I’m left with the aftertaste of everything that didn’t. Texas Gothic had a gentle self-awareness to it that the companion novel lacks. Instead, we get a fairly bog standard supernatural procedural. I’ve read a whole lot of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, and after a while the familiar beats start to get monotonous:
- First-person narration by a sexy yet snarky heroine who solves crimes with her awesome powers? CHECK
- Troubled yet inexplicably magnetic love interest who pushes said heroine away for her own good? CHECK
- Hunt for a supernatural McGuffin followed by a showdown with a villain bent on world domination? CHECK
- Love triangle? SIGH, CHECK
I get it. There’s a fine line between conforming to the conventions of a genre and pissing off your readers by totally flouting those conventions. Clement-Moore is a very talented wordsmith, and she does an excellent job with the trifecta of character motivation (What does the character want? Why can’t she have it? What will she do about it?). I just wish that she took more risks with her stories. Almost every plot twist was predictable–except the one that wasn’t, which upon further reflection was only unpredictable because it didn’t actually make much sense.
Despite the “Oh Goddess, did I just eat the entire bag of-calorie snacks?” feeling I was left with at the end of the book, Spirit and Dust is a decent, if formulaic, read.
Emperor Cupcake’s Rating System Explained:
1 Star: This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
2 Stars: Not great, Bob.
3 Stars: The emperor is pleased. You may live.
4 Stars: Ooh, shiny!
5 Stars: *Incoherent, high-pitched fan-girling*