As a child, Scott experienced a traumatic event that no child should ever have to face—his own death. To add insult to injury, his life has become progressively filled with ghosts that are sometimes impossible to ignore and, at times, dangerous. Having his father leave the family, his mother sink into depression and alcoholism, and his brother separate himself from the “freak,” Scott seeks peace in drugs and alcohol, but his only real comfort comes from his steadfastly loyal best friend, Tim. However, when Scott begins to fear that his demons will ruin Tim’s future, he decides he’s caused enough damage to his loved ones and leaves home. Though reluctant to return after a five-year hiatus from seeing ghosts, seeing Tim’s mother’s spirit and her cryptic message that Tim needs him leads Scott back to confront his choices. Soon Scott and Tim are immersed in ghosts and an unexpected destiny that neither man may survive.
The Spirit Key has a very interesting story concept that is hindered a bit by its shaky execution and possibly the reader’s acceptance of/tolerance for many of the choices made by the characters. Overall, The Spirit Key is a bit uneven in its pacing, character actions, and development, which kept me from feeling any real connection to either MC. Overlooking Scott’s completely assholish and selfish decision to never contact his family and let them know that he was at least alive, Scott is a relatable, flawed, and likable character. As the story is told from Scott’s POV, his inner thoughts allow the reader an opportunity to get to know him, whereas Tim can mainly be described as a domineering guard dog. All the other characters mention how nice, charming, and sweet he is and many of his actions are rooted in taking care of Scott, but they are portrayed as so intertwined with his destined role in Scott’s life that it makes Tim feel more like a Shepard dog that fell in love with one of its charges rather than a fully developed character.
This is also not helped by the fact that early on, Tim is prone to sudden fury that at times cannot be distinguished from his perfectly understandable anger, disappointment, etc at Scott’s disappearance or the influence of the spirit attached to Tim, and is indicative of some of the pacing/plot progression issues the story had. The narrative makes quick leaps like this by bringing in characters/emotional moments or revelations and dropping them for large stretches at a time, whereas other aspects “develop” at lightning speed, exemplified by the instant power dynamics in Scott and Tim’s relationship. The first day Scott is back, they end up in bed with Tim dominating Scott, even though this seems a bit dangerous given that Tim is furious with Scott and they can’t have normal angry sex since Tim is housing a ghost that feeds on and amplifies Tim’s negative emotions and can physically harm Scott.
However, because the main action seems to happen within the span of a few days, it’s not terribly distracting or detrimental to the story. My main issue, and where I feel the biggest divide between readers who love the book and those who are frustrated by it, comes in the reason for Scott’s suffering and Tim being susceptible to the ghost in the first place. How the reader feels about some of the choices made and the reasoning behind them by those tasked to care for and protect Scott and Tim when they were at their most vulnerable will definitely color the story. Despite all this, I think that the journey of discovery that Scott and Tim must go on, the history and positive portrayal of Romani characters, and the distinctive take on ghosts and who can see them can make The Spirit Key worth a try.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.