Book Review: The Night Dahlia by R.S. Belcher
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of Nightwise
Publisher: Tor (April 3, 2018)
Length: 368 pages
The Night Dahlia returns to the dark world of Laytham Ballard, a man introduced to us in the first book Nightwise as “a cynical bastard who stopped thinking of himself as the good guy a long time ago.” Fans who enjoyed reading about the jaded, nihilistic perspective of our fallen hero will be glad to know this second installment is just as tantalizingly dark with all its action-packed and emotional twists.
While technically, The Night Dahlia is the beginning of a new mystery and can be read as a standalone without Nightwise as a prerequisite, I still highly recommend reading the books in publication order to get the full impact. There are developments by the end of this book that will make a lot more sense if you have followed the character’s journey from the beginning. This time, Laytham has been charged by the powerful fae mob boss Theo Ankou to track down his daughter Caern, who has been missing since she was 13 years old. As this was almost a decade ago, the trail has long since gone cold, but our protagonist has a reputation for having a number of magical underground connections and a knack for always finding what he needs. Because of this, Ankou is convinced that Laytham will succeed where all his other investigators have failed.
Provided with a near limitless amount of cash as well as an elf bodyguard named Vigil Burris to both protect him and keep him in line, Laytham embarks on his search for Caern, a mission that will take him from the stunning and luxurious islands of Greece to the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles’s nightclubs and porn industry. Along the way, he’ll face the many demons of his past, which includes a few bitter enemies as well as some former friends.
R.S. Belcher continues to be one of the best when it comes to dark and gritty urban fantasy, going places where most authors in this genre only dare dream about. He is bold and unafraid of pushing the boundaries, especially when it comes to his protagonist. As we learned in Nightwise, Laytham Ballard is more than just a conflicted anti-hero; at times he can be downright dastardly and villainous. Just when you think he’s coming around, he’ll show you how wrong you are by defaulting back to the aggressive, selfish and cowardly creature that he is. He’s someone you can never depend upon to keep a promise, someone who would sell out a friend at the drop of a hat if it means saving his own hide. To his credit though, he’s also self-aware enough to know he’s a despicable shitheel which is probably why he intentionally prevents anyone from getting close. You won’t want to get on his bad side either, because he can also be a cruel and vengeful bastard, having been known to go to frightening extremes just to settle a score.
For all that though, Laytham is still a fascinating character to read about, and while his world is a pretty grim and messed up place to be, everything about it piques my curiosity to learn more. The author’s creativity is on full display here as every page is steeped with magic and the paranormal—the kind where the Fae are a powerful drug running crime syndicate, Aztec wizard gangsters rule the streets, and even the infamous serial killer Charles Manson makes an appearance as a lunatic mage who creates monsters out of thoughts and nightmares. The wondrous and the fantastic are everywhere, even in the most hellish and most hopeless scenarios. As such, The Night Dahlia is not always an easy book to read, especially when it portrays situations that are uncomfortably close to some of the awfulness experienced in our own real world. That is immediately evident as the novel opens on a horrific scene of school shooting, in which a nine-year-old boy becomes possessed with the spirt of a psychotic killer and is made to commit mass murder. That enough should tell you the tone of these books. This isn’t merely dark urban fantasy; this is urban fantasy that frequently treads into horror territory.
But while this series may be filled with pain and suffering, there is also growth and a chance at redemption. Laytham knows he’s a terrible person, but perhaps owning up to his flaws and mistakes is the first step to doing better, and being better. His character is the embodiment of that dark place in all our psyches, the part that most of us try to ignore or pretend is not even there. In a way, that makes Laytham feel very genuine and human, so even when he is at his worst, you can’t help but feel for him on some level, even if it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth to admit it. Complex characters like that get to me every time, though, so I never once considered throwing in the towel, even if I personally find it difficult to relate to the protagonist. I was also pleased to see, by the end of the novel, that there may be hope for Laytham Ballard yet.
Perfect for readers of gritty and in-your-face dark urban fantasy with tinges of horror, the Nightwise series will ignite the imaginations and test the mettle of even those who think they’ve seen it all. The Night Dahlia follows marvelously in the tradition of the first book, with R.S. Belcher giving his fans more of what they love.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Nightwise (Book 1)