This review is brought to you by the letters “T,” “S,” “T,” and “L.” Wraith is a textbook example of an Idiot Plot. The story is set in motion when the heroine does something stupid, and this sets the tone for the entire novel. Almost every plot development in Wraith is triggered by Zoë doing something stupid.
Zoë Martinique has the ability to leave her body and travel astrally. She has built a career on this talent, offering a sort of black-market PI service on eBay. She does some astral snooping, and then reports back to her clients with the information she finds out. As the novel begins, Zoë has taken a commission from some poor schmuck worried about losing his job. Her mission: to spy on his bosses as they attend a musical and learn whether they’re plotting to fire him. But Zoë gets bored and wanders off into another building, where she stumbles upon the real plot (more on that later), then later reports back to her client that his bosses weren’t discussing anything business-related. I kept waiting for this to come back and bite her in the butt. I’d have been tickled if this guy had called her later in the book, irate that he’d been fired despite Zoë’s assurances. This never happens, alas.
So, Zoë skips out on her job and witnesses a murder. The victim is a prominent executive; the killer is someone who’s not quite a physical being but not quite a spirit either. She gives herself away by swearing and gets into a heap of trouble.
This happens multiple times. In Phaedra Weldon’s universe, astral travelers can’t be seen by most people, but they can be heard if they speak aloud. It doesn’t quite make sense, since the traveler doesn’t have physical vocal cords, but them’s the rules. Zoë has been doing this for years. She knows this. Yet time after time, she opens her big mouth while spying and gets caught. This goes on until some other plot developments result in the loss of her voice. She keeps doing other dumb things, though. How about deciding to astral travel while she’s so injured and exhausted she can barely stand? Without telling anyone where she’s going? And locking her own unconscious body in her car trunk? Nope, can’t imagine any way that could go wrong! There would literally be no plot in this book if Zoë started using her brain.
Also problematic is the way Weldon handles the issue of rape. Zoë was raped some years ago, and that night was the first time she traveled astrally. The incident also adds some pathos to her character. But her mother tells her it made her stronger, and Zoë blames herself for what happened because she had disobeyed her mother, and it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. She also doesn’t react in ways I’d find realistic for a rape survivor; when a villainous character forces a kiss upon her, she doesn’t freak out or get angry but instead (SPOILER) gets turned on and has what seems to be consensual sex with him.
The style of narration doesn’t quite work, either. There are a few funny moments, but mostly Zoë comes off as flippant and immature. Add in confusing metaphysics (especially at the climax) and a final scene that has no point whatsoever.
I did not enjoy Wraith and do not recommend it.