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Nite Fire: Flash Point by C. L. Schneider – SPFBO Review

Flash Point (cover)Slated for execution, shapeshifting assassin, Dahlia Nite, flees her world to hide in the human realm. As payment for the shelter they unknowingly provide, Dahlia dedicates herself to protecting humans from what truly lives in the shadows. Moving from town to town, she hunts the creatures that threaten an unsuspecting human race; burying the truth that could destroy them all.

But the shadows are shifting. The lies are adding up. And when Sentinel City is threatened by a series of bizarre brutal murders, light is shed on what should never be seen. The secrets that have kept humanity in the dark for centuries are in danger of being exposed.

Wrestling with a lifetime of her own deceptions, Dahlia investigates the killings while simultaneously working to conceal their circumstances. But with each new murder, the little bit of peace she has found in this world begins to crumble. Each new clue leads her to the one place she thought to never go again. Home.

Like its protagonist, Flash Point is not what it appears to be. On the surface, it’s an urban fantasy murder mystery with paranormal and portal elements, but within its layers hides an epic story involving a universe ruled by dragons and a creeping threat to existence. Also wrapped within the homicide investigation that launches the story is a mystery about the novel’s first-person narrator, Dahlia Nite.

As the story begins, Dahlia has been on a path of redemption for ninety-seven years. A lyrriken—the offspring of a human mother and dragon father—Dahlia was once the favorite royal assassin and executioner of Queen Naalish, ruler of the dragon world of Drimera. After being sentenced to death for failing to complete a mission with sufficient ruthlessness, Dahlia flees her own realm through a portal into a fictional version of our world.

Nearly a century later, we find Dahlia working as a covert operative for a Drimeran organization that eliminates evidence of incursions from other worlds, sort of like a fantasy version of Men in Black. Dahlia’s status with her home world is uncertain. For reasons unknown to Dahlia, the queen’s agents stopped hunting her several decades ago, but Dahlia still maintains a low profile. Her few friends include an aging gym owner who believes Dahlia is a friendly vampire, because she hasn’t aged a day while he’s known her since he was a baby, and a police officer who becomes her self-described sidekick after Dahlia uses her dragon powers to save his life.

The core of the novel revolves around a serious of grisly murders in which the victims were burned in a bizarre manner. The police call upon Dahlia as an arson expert, but her true mission is to cover up the involvement of lyrriken in the crimes. As the body count mounts, however, it becomes harder and harder to cover the tracks of her kind, especially as the danger comes closer and closer to Dahlia herself, particularly as her police colleagues begin to suspect she’s connected to the murderers, if not the victims.

In Flash Point, C. L. Schneider has created a spectacular start to the Nite Fire trilogy, with intense action, engaging characters, and slow, nuanced, and nicely layered worldbuilding with complexity that unfolds along with the story. Dahlia is a badass, snarky, never-give-up protagonist whose hard-boiled narration is a perfect fit for this noir tale of underworld murders and wise-cracking cops. Balancing the boy wonder cop who volunteers for sidekick duty is the Fox Mulder-type detective assigned as her partner in the case. His unrelenting suspicion keeps her on her toes, while she does everything she can to keep her fellow lyrriken—both the criminals she’s pursuing and her Drimeran handlers—from murdering her human compatriots. Along with the characterizations, the pacing is excellent. Schneider does an expert job ratcheting up the tension; each chapter ends with a plot-thickening hook that draws the reader deeper into the story.

We do have few criticisms. Schneider’s writing is mostly clean, although the occasional dangling modifier and misused irregular verb can boot one out of the story from time to time. The story doesn’t really sink its hooks into the reader until the murder plot begins. Although the prologue and opening chapter turn out to be quite important to the overall story, the connection isn’t clear at first, and this failed to hook some of our judges.

For these reasons, when the scores were averaged, Flash Point came in third out of our thirty books. Nevertheless, for fans of urban fantasy, shifters, dragons, and murder mysteries, Nite Fire: Flash Point will check all the boxes.

Check back Friday to see our finalist pick!

This review was written by A. M. Justice and Lynn Kempner.

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