Interweaving young romance, survivor guilt, and the supernatural while keeping a firm base of normal, average, US college life, Noser creates a story that provides occult mystery and the travails of love without allowing either to steal the limelight.
Emma Roberts is a responsible student, putting her college essays ahead of partying, volunteering as a tutor, and staying sober; she even puts her education ahead of spending time with Mike, the most handsome frisbee thrower she’s ever seen. But when her sense of responsibility leads her to follow a drunken Mike into the river, she is blamed for his death. Ostracised by former friends and guilt-ridden, she chances across a book of spells left by her former-roommate’s sister, and decides she has nothing to lose. As her ritual reaches its climax, the river gives up the dead – but not the dead man she anticipated.
While this novel is fantasy, it starts with little sign of the paranormal. The opening section deals entirely with Emma’s life at college, tentative almost-relationship with Mike, and other mundane matters. Thus, while the section is a well-written romance and nothing contradicts the existence of the supernatural, readers who are used to the paranormal in paranormal romance stalking arrogantly into the first chapter might find the beginning slow.
However, once Emma decides to perform a ritual the paranormal comes forth in full strength, wet-shirt and all. Those readers who desire the urbanly fantastical are likely to find it well worth their time reading on.
Noser’s premise also offers a fresh twist on both the romance and paranormal aspects: unlike the common plot of one supernatural of exceptional beauty and competence finding a mate while protecting them from a threat, Emma’s leading men are ordinary save for being dead and are tied to her by her sense she is responsible for them. This cast of the returned creates the interesting emotional tension between growing interest in someone who is here now and the knowledge her existing crush, Mike, could return; and provides a similar tension between solving the issues of the individual returnees and finding an answer to the continuing weirdness that assails Emma.
Emma is a well-crafted protagonist. Guilt over Mike’s death pulls her toward helping the returnees, but shame at her part in Mike’s death – however small that might objectively be – both denies her a read y support network and challenges her self-belief. This creates a plausible wavering between dramatic action and paranoid withdrawal.
The supporting cast are similarly interesting. With each returnee having a different age, job, social background, and personality, the college-centric world of the opening is bolstered with people from milieu outside Emma’s experience. As each new circle of characters enters, Noser uses the overlap with existing characters to reveal new aspects to what seemed typical examples of a type; this provides both a sense of Emma’s focus on her own situation, and variety without the need to be contrary.
However, some readers might find some character’s acceptance of the dead returning a touch swift in places. While the brief transitions from thinking something is odd to believing in necromancy do prevent the narrative from bogging down in the doubts of supporting characters, the lack of anyone who clings to rational explanations is noticeable.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. I recommend it to readers seeking a fresh approach to paranormal romance or the classic “must fulfil a final task to move on” ghost story.
I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.