The first in Juliet Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mystery series, Secondhand Spirits reminded me a lot of a cluttered antique shop–appropriate since the main character runs a vintage clothing store in San Francisco. There were a few quality pieces, a couple of unexpected treasures, and a whole lot of random crap that it made it difficult to find what I was looking for.
What’s it about? Lily Ivory (I just can’t with that name) is a powerful witch with a troubled and lonely past. After years of running, she’s finally decided to make a home for herself in San Francisco, where she runs a vintage clothing shop on the corner of Haight and Ashbury. In her quest for the best vintage fashion, Lily gets tangled up with a murder, a missing child, and the legend of La Llorona.
Where to begin with this one? I think there was a decent book in here somewhere, but if I’d been editing it, I would have recommended cutting it back by about 20%. Too many characters, too many conflicting plotlines and red herrings. However, I think that some of my frustration with this book stems from coming in with the wrong set of expectations. I approached it like I would a paranormal romance, but it’s actually a cozy mystery. That’s an entirely different beast (complete with the requisite “animal that helps the sleuth unravel the mystery”–in this case, a familiar named Oscar that can shapeshift into a pot-bellied pig).
Blackwell tries to do a lot in this book. She establishes Lily’s backstory, including the hint that her father is someone both powerful and scary, and sets up a number of possible suitors–among them Max the skeptic, Aidan the irresistible but dangerous leader of the magical community. There’s also a mystery involving a murder, a kidnapping, and some good ol’ fashioned voodoo. Oh, and about fifty pages devoted to vintage clothing, and another fifty of exhaustive details about witchcraft and herbalism. It’s clear that Blackwell did her homework when it comes to the witchcraft side of things as well as the technical details about fashion and the preservation of vintage clothing. However, the actual plot felt buried beneath all the extras. Aidan, in particular, felt like he was only there to set up a conflict later down the road.
Ultimately, Secondhand Spirits fell flat for me. However, my local library has the whole series available as eBooks, and I feel strangely compelled to read the next one. If the sequel feels like an improvement, there’s enough potential here to keep me reading, but consider this series on notice.
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*