Reviewed by: Jo
Rating (out of 5): 4.5 stars
Set amid the bootleggers and speakeasies of 1920s San Francisco, Bitter Spirits delves straight into the action. Spiritual medium Aida Palmer is summoned to the aid of Winter Magnusson. One of the premier suppliers of alcohol to the city’s finest establishments, Winter finds himself in dire need to her services, chiefly those of the exorcism persuasion. Never one to previously believe in such things, he finds himself haunted by not one but two ghosts and is desperate enough to try just about anything.
Seeking her out at the Gris-Gris club where she performs, he doesn’t expect to find himself quite so enamoured with the freckled medium. Despite Aida’s talents being in fact very real, Winter discovers his haunting are far from over. With an empire as lucrative as his, (and less than legal in this prohibition age), enemies lurk around every corner. Aida and Winter set out to uncover just who is behind the black magic before it turns deadly, a search that takes them deep into rival gang territory and closer to each other than either were expecting.
I’ve read quite a few Regency and Victorian set fictions but this is my first venture into the twenties, and in fact a historical set in the United States. I loved seeing how society had progressed, the relative newness of technology and splendid cars, yet still with hits of the old social etiquettes. The writing style made it easy for me to imagine the opulent hotels and glittering fashions, as well as the smoked filled jazz clubs.
With Aida and Winter working as partners, the romance and mystery work together to push the plot forward, moving between steamy interludes and bursts of action, toward a chilling climax. The supernatural elements are seamlessly integrated with these, not only through Aida’s talents during and outside of her performances but with the added inclusion of ancient Chinese and Voodoo mythology as well.
Aida is very independent and I loved the fact she was initially the rescuer, confidently wielding her abilities. It’s always fun watching a commanding (and somewhat intimating) character like Winter in his element but even more so to see him put on the back foot. Not to be out done though, he takes every opportunity to gain the upper hand in the flirting, tempting Aida to act on her attraction.
There was a great sense of humor in the dialogue between them and, while they have their doubt fueled moments, I really felt like I was watching this couple fall in love. It grows in a genuine way, with teasing and arguing, each complimenting and unnerving the other. Both have difficult pasts that have affected the way they think their lives will pan out and I loved watching these barriers fall as they become closer. There was also a colorful cast of secondary characters, there to give them a helpful push, should their stubbornness get in the way; characters I very much look forward to getting to know better.
After this first installment, I am beyond excited about this series. Bitter Spirits combines incredibly likeable characters with a richly detailed paranormal period world, both of which have plenty of scope for growth in future books. It left my heart warm and my curiosity well and truly piqued. Oh yes, more of this please!
Sexual content: Graphic sex