Monday, 16 December 2013

The Skeleton Key by Tara Moss

The Skeleton Key by Tara Moss is the third Pandora English novel. I have previously read and reviewed (and enjoyed!) the first two books, The Blood Countess and The Spider Goddess. This review has only very minor spoilers for the earlier books.
In the third Pandora English mystery, Pandora is still negotiating her double life as a lowly assistant at a New York fashion magazine with the reality that she has great supernatural powers and responsibilities.

With the full moon set to rise once again, Pandora has a very special date looming. Her beautiful spirit guide, Civil War soldier Lieutenant Luke, will be a flesh-and-blood man, if only for the night, and she hasn't been able to stop thinking about it. But a chance encounter with playboy Jay Rockwell sees that very human attraction start all over again – even though Jay doesn't remember their previous relationship, or the fact that Pandora saved him from a gang of ill-tempered undead supermodels.

Meanwhile, Pandora – with her special skeleton key – is slowly unlocking the mysteries of the haunted mansion where she lives with her great aunt Celia. What sinister experiments did the architect Dr Edmund Barrett conduct there before he died? Where is his laboratory? And what are the strange noises emanating from the basement?

On the centenary of the mysterious fire that supposedly killed Dr Barrett, he returns to the mansion. He has a message for Pandora. But he has brought with him a dark force that threatens to tear apart the delicate balance between the worlds of the dead and living...
It's been more than a year since I read the first two books, so I may be misremembering, but I think The Skeleton Key is a little darker than its predecessors. The gist of it is much the same — Pandora dealing with New York, her fashion job, and weird supernatural things — but I thought the evil supernatural threat was a bit darker and more serious this time around. Saving the world on a larger scale, but still not too heavy a read.

Although the blurb implies a love triangle, I wouldn't say it's the kind of contrived and increasingly irritating love triangle we've come to expect from YA. (Also, this isn't YA. I'd call it "new adult" although I think the first ones were published before that was much of a thing and also my opinion of "new adult" isn't terribly high.) The crux of Pandora's love life, really, is that one guy is a ghost, and the other has no memory of their first date. Really it's more logistical, in both cases, rather than a case of "oh golly, which should I choose?" So I liked that.

Being the third in the series (although not the final, as far as I can tell/hope) is, I think, the reason the climax is rather more dramatic than the earlier books. Pandora's abilities and the trouble she gets into and has to get out of (trouble which, I should emphasise, is never her fault) has been building book by books. I think it was in book two that we learnt that Pandora is a Chosen One and it's brought up a lot in The Skeleton Key and is part of the reason (sort of) for things escalating. But I get the feeling they can escalate more, so I look forward to the next book, whenever that's written (I couldn't easily find any info on Moss's website).

I highly recommend this series to fans of not-too-heavy urban fantasy. Although I've said The Skeleton Key is darker than its predecessors, it's still on the lighter side of the urban fantasy genre, in my opinion. It builds on the earlier books more than The Spider Goddess did, so I don't recommend reading it before the others. But all in all, an enjoyable read, particularly in a week when I needed something relaxing to take my mind off business.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, Pan Macmillan (AU)
Series: Pandora English, book 3 of ? (three so far)
Format read: eBook
Source: Purchased from iBooks
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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