Reviewed by: Margaret
Rating (out of 5): 4 stars
Note: While this review will be spoiler free, it does make reference to previous books. If you haven’t started this series yet, check out VBC’s review of book 1, Blood of the Earth.
In their latest case, Nell Ingram and her team at Psy-LED find themselves in a supporting role for the FBI and Secret Service who are investigating an attack on a local Senator. The team knows the assailant is supernatural, but it will take some time for them to prove it so they can take over the case. The mystery is slow moving with lots of dead ends, though I’m wondering if some of them will come up later in one of Hunter’s series. In the end, what they find is a really unique take on a rarely seen supernatural type.
One of my favorite things about this series is the Unit Eighteen team, this sort of band of misfits that welcomes Nell with open arms. In Flame in the Dark she continues the progress she made in the previous book toward feeling like part of the team and also feeling like a “normal person,” as opposed to a “church woman.” The two worlds collide in her love life when her family tries to set her up with a man from the church. Meanwhile, Nell is trying to come to terms with her feelings for her teammate Occam. I love them together, but they have some awkward moments while she tries to figure things out.
I also enjoy watching Nell explore her powers but, perhaps because we still don’t know exactly what she is or what she can do, I can’t help thinking that Nell’s magic is just weird—dark and interesting and wholly original, but still weird. To be fair, I think that about Jane Yellowrock’s magic sometimes too. Like Jane, learning as she goes doesn’t always go well for Nell. She makes mistakes and has to figure out how to fix them. But she’s finally gained enough confidence in her abilities that she decides to mentor her sister Mud, which I love. And I like the way Nell, and the series in general, tries to balance the belief that not everything about the church she grew up in is bad with the idea that Mud needs to be rescued. (I’ll bet Hunter didn’t expect talk of child brides to be quite so topical.)
But in that decision to train her sister, there’s also a sense that Nell is defective and doesn’t want Mud to turn out like her. When combined with what’s happening with another character at the end, I felt like this book is telling me that it’s not okay to be broken. After Nell’s worked so hard to accept her powers and her past, that feels wrong. As much as I enjoyed the mystery and the romance, I was left feeling uncomfortable at the end of the book.
Events in the most recent Jane Yellowrock book, Cold Reign, are also mentioned in Flame in the Dark. It’s not enough that you’d be confused if you aren’t reading Jane’s series but if you are, I’d be sure you were caught up before starting this one.
Sexual content: kissing, references to rape and child marriage