In this second installment of a new-adult supernatural series, a college student capable of seeing ghosts finds herself linked to a deadly arsonist.
It’s been months since the death of 19-year-old Callie McCayter’s best friend, Izzy Miller. Determined to stay at Astoria College in Oregon, where Izzy died, Callie is ready for the spring semester. But she’s isolating herself from many people, such as Izzy’s parents, who took Callie away from her abusive, alcoholic father and loved her as their own daughter. Callie has been able to see and occasionally communicate with Izzy’s ghost. Lately, however, she’s observing other spirits and having trouble distinguishing them from the living. Callie’s afraid of what her loved ones will think if they catch her interacting with someone only she can see. Unfortunately, trouble is brewing before the semester starts, as Callie’s relationship with her boyfriend, Jay Houghten, isn’t as precisely defined as he would like. Callie, who fears losing someone she loves, as she did her mother to cancer years ago, has been pushing Jay away. Suddenly, transfer student Reid Halsey arrives at Astoria. Sure, he’s arrogant, but Callie can’t deny the inexplicable power between them when the two make physical contact. Meanwhile, Callie is dreaming of “the burning man,” who is leaving fiery destruction in his wake. She soon realizes a string of local cases of arson—with fatalities—has been unfolding in real life. Callie’s abilities put her in a unique position to stop the arsonist, an endeavor that will undoubtedly put her and possibly her friends in danger.
As in her earlier novel, Rosengard (Spooked, 2018) concentrates more on Callie’s real-world drama than paranormal elements. Though ghostly sightings and burning man dreams create an eerie ambiance, they often take a back seat to Callie’s romantic turbulence. Nevertheless, characters are endlessly enthralling. Jay, for example, is transparently envious of Reid and gets maybe too close to one of Astoria’s professors, but his concern for Callie’s well-being is genuine. Additional standout characters are Callie’s pals Noemí Orozco, Bethany Humphries, and especially resident adviser Jenna, who has an uncanny knack for reading people. The dynamic protagonist continues to grow in this installment. She learns that she has other abilities and encounters people who also sense ghosts. And even without supernatural powers, she’s formidable. Though readers witness little of her “self-defense prowess,” her instincts are superb (for example, she figures out that keys are handy as makeshift brass knuckles). Much of this story’s mystery stems from Callie’s messages from Izzy. She rarely hears her ghost friend, who communicates by moving books or tarot cards. But Izzy manages to deliver an ambiguous warning via a dream: “He’s coming.” Surprisingly, identifying the burning man is more or less resolved well before the ending. But this precedes an intense and revealing final act, which includes a plot turn or two that shakes Callie’s world and leaves prime material for another volume to pick up. To offset the generally somber tone, there are dashes of humor: Callie Googles a potential word for her ability, “touched,” and gets websites she isn’t exactly looking for.
A bevy of sublime characters elevates this smashing paranormal tale.