Series: Scarlett Bernard, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 297 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Amazon.com through the Amazon Vine program. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Strong Second Book in an Entertaining Series
It's good to be home again. For about five seconds, anyway.
She's fresh off a plane and back in LA after a long trip to New York, but magic null and Old World cleaner Scarlett Bernard doesn't even make it out of the airport before LAPD Detective Jesse Cruz is dropping a new case in her lap and glaring at her like she caused it all. Dragging her out to the crime scene, questioning her as if she hadn't just gotten back in the state, the gorgeous detective definitely seems to still have an issue with Scarlett's occupation and her connection to the vampires, werewolves, and witches who comprise the Old World presence in Los Angeles.
Though that's not really a surprise, given how their single date had gone prior to her trip.
Unfortunately, Jesse is also correct about his take on the crime scene. It definitely looks like it has been cleaned, indicating at least some Old World connection. Scarlett just hasn't been back in town long enough to know what sort.
Pressed into investigating a crime she didn't commit...again...doesn't exactly thrill her, but Scarlett soon realizes she's got bigger concerns. Two witches are already dead, and two humans with an eerie connection to Scarlett's past are killed. That's more than enough carnage to let Scarlett know her formerly dead (now undead) mentor Olivia has decided three months of reprieve is long enough. She's coming for Scarlett, and leaving a trail of blood and death in her wake.
If Scarlett can't figure out what game Olivia is playing and stop it quickly, everyone she cares about could fall victim to the same batshit-crazy psychopath who killed her parents.
I liked Olson's series debut Dead Spots. By the end of that book I felt optimistic about the potential for this series and pleased with the world and the characters. Trail of Dead furthers that potential by taking several more strides in the right direction. I think it was a slightly stronger book all around, with a more personally significant external conflict for our heroine, and some of my more minor issues with the first book didn't carry over into this one.
With all her apathy, moral ambiguity, and emotional immaturity intact, Scarlett is back in LA just in time to land herself in trouble once again. There are still moments in the book when I didn't like her. She's a young twenty-three in a lot of ways, and suffers from an appalling amount of emotional immaturity too often to be consistently appealing at this point in the series, but I do still think she's a very unique heroine.
Her lack of a strong moral compass and her questionable ethics make her interesting. It never occurs to Scarlett to do the right thing just because it's the right thing, or out of some inherent sense of honor or concern for the community at large. She's just not that sort of heroine. That's more Jesse's style, and I love that contrast between their characters. Scarlett does only what she needs to do to stay alive in a deadly world and be moderately comfortable while doing so. No more, no less.
She's been living in an emotional vacuum since the death of her parents, torn apart by (misplaced) guilt and barricaded against any and all emotional vulnerability, but that's been slowly changing since Jesse came into her life. Olson is keeping the evolution of her character very slow so far, but it has seemed very organic given the situations in which Scarlett has become embroiled. Sure, sometimes it's frustrating - like when I would prefer Scarlett be a nicer, more mature person in general - but I can't fault the evolution itself.
Jesse, as he was in the first book, is a bright spot in this read and the perfect complement to Scarlett. I like him both as a character and as a man in Scarlett's life. He's the good, decent, kind, honorable sort...and sometimes I just want to gobble him up with a spoon. I'm so happy that Olson maintained the fluid shifts in points of view between Scarlett's first person narration and Jesse's third person. Olson does that exceptionally well and her transitions are flawless. The unique style also allows for more depth and definition for Jesse's character beyond his interactions with Scarlett, increasing his presence in the story. I really love it.
Eli, on the other hand, is just as much a non-entity for me in this book as he was in the first. For all the relationship angst between him and Scarlett, I just don't think his character has been around enough, or has a large enough role, to really impact my feelings about him one way or another. I found his character to be far more effective as a source of conflict and catastrophe late in this book than he's ever been as a love interest or supporting character. Which, frankly, disappoints me, because I think I'd like him - even root for him - if I just got to know him a little better.
Not that I want to perpetuate the love triangle between Scarlet and Jesse and Eli. I don't. I hate love triangles, and think they are agonizingly overused in the genre.
I loved the plot arc of the conflict with Olivia in this book, though more so in the second half, when the crises really started to go critical and puzzle pieces started to lock into place. It was a far more personal conflict for Scarlet than that of the previous book, and that added emotional impact in several tense, gripping scenes. I can't say all the pieces of the puzzle fit together for me, and I was left with a few question marks about Olivia's actions and motivations, as well as confusion about the intended end game for the other Big Bad, but overall, I found it very satisfying.
I did start to question the timeline in some of the backstory though, and I'm not entirely sure some plot points didn't contradict established history. Scarlett has been adamant about blaming herself for her parents death (I won't even get started on how I feel about that nonsense this time), and I could have sworn it was established that her guilt was what impacted her relationship with her brother since their parents' death five years ago. But Scarlett only found out Olivia killed her parents the week before Olivia "died," which was less than a year prior to the events of the first book and about a year before this one.
Because of that appearance of contradiction, as well as some other confusing timeline issues later in the story, some crucial scenes didn't track as well for me as they might have. I also had a hard time buying the purported timeline of Olivia's partnership with the other Big Bad in the story, and elements of the external conflict strained my ability to suspend disbelief during the climax and resolution because of it. I just couldn't completely believe everything we're told given Olivia's mental instability and her obsessive relationship with Scarlett.
Honestly, though, those were more minor grievances than true stumbling blocks for me. As a whole, this was a great installment for the series. I liked it even more than I did its predecessor, and would rate it four and a quarter stars if I could. I'm in love with the world and I adore Jesse. If Scarlett continues to evolve into a more consistently appealing heroine in future books, I can easily see myself falling absolutely in love with this series.