Friday, November 24, 2017

Flame in the Dark (Soulwood #3) by Faith Hunter

Nell continues to work with PsyLED, the supernatural crime fighting organisation. And more and more she is drifting away from her insular church routes, leaving behind its thinking and training. Her magic is also growing as her insight and power is becoming more and more of an asset to PsyLED

But when they become embroiled in a supernatural murder case that involves a United States Senator, Nell may have to draw on her power more deeply than ever before: with the risk she may lose all of the new freedom and experiences she has discovered

I do like more of Nell’s self-growth and awareness this book; her acknowledgement and clear labelling of her experiences as abuse and how that has changed her. How this affects her views of current relationships, how it has scarred her and how it colours her interactions in real life.

I also like how she’s even applying this to the “saviour narrative” that she learned and is more and more challenging. Like she acknowledges her family tried to save her from abuse and that marrying John saved her from a far worse fate. But she equally can see how her relationship with John was abusive and twisted her own experiences and expectations of relationships. Just as she loves her family and knows they tried to help her, equally she has little faith in them keeping her little sister safe against the church. Her whole complicated relationship with her family is fascinating- her love and faith in her family tempered with her deep, wary awareness of what they’re part of. And even the family recognises that - the confines they live in that they can’t seem to break: they rely on Nell with her outsider ways to do things they will

Then there’s the love triangle - and for once a love triangle I actually like: because of what it recognises for Nell. The conflict of old versus new, safety and familiarity over what could be and, ultimately, who Nell is and who she has become

Equally I love how Nell is both fiercely confronting anyone else who would treat her in a patronising or sexist manner, and challenging her own church instilled attitudes while also realising that not everything that’s happening around her fits in that lens: especially with the wereanimals and other supernaturals.

Nell is the gem of this story: her growth her, experiences, her interactions with the others really makes this series. And on top of that we have her unique supernatural nature, how her powers control and lure her, the dangers of them, the alienness all add up to something quite unique.

On top of this we have an excellent world setting with some intriguing supernaturals that do not occur in many other places - but at the same time the plurality and breadth of the world doesn’t impose on the story. The focus is far more on the current unknown than the hugeness all around and it is an excellent setting to have a the police investigation, with a lot of grunt work, following evidence, dead ends, red herrings, more grunt work and general, despite all the woo-woo, a very realistic look at an actual investigation

On top of this I like that Nell actually lives in between her investigation. She is concerned with food, she cooks, he has family commitments, she gets stuck in traffic, she commutes. She sleeps.

Which also brings in the supernatural and the complexities that came from this revelation, including conflict within Psyled and the difficult questions about what to do with dangerous and potentially hostile supernaturals: can you even judge an entire species? I like this, I like it a lot. But… yes, there are moments when I stopped and thought “hey, wait, what just happened? Who is this? Why? What?”. Sometimes I did get lost in the cast of characters.

We do have some diversity as well - in addition to Nell’s battle against partriarchal norms, she has a number of women around her: 3 members of Psyled are women, including the second in command of the unit, JoJo, a Black woman (who is, interestingly, the only member of of the group who isn’t a supernatural. Her usefulness to the group isn’t special powers - but intelligence and accomplishment and education. This is particular noteworthy because her value is one that is literally based on her own achievement rather than the special magical woo-woo she happened to luck into and it’s a wonderful subversion of the POC-as-source-of-woo-woo trope), the ultimate head of Psyled Soul, a witch and Nell herself. We have a female Asian vampire who doesn’t play a major role but is definitely an influential force because of what she represents

There are a number of POC and women in smaller roles as well and nice moments of awareness - including Nell’s Black pastor being conscious of Nell being law enforcement and the implications of that or Nell and Jojo noting that the voice recognition programs they have does not recognise either Black American accents or Nell’s rural Tennessee accent.

There are no LGBTQ people in this books

With every new book in this series, I’m increasingly loving this world, Nell’s growth and insight and the way Psyled works together. The investigation, the new revelations and the nicely complex yet mundane investigations that explore the supernatural without being overwhelmed by it all make for an excellent balanced and fun story to read. I like this series, and always look forward to more - More Nell! More Psyled! More mysteries!