The Soulwood series is probably the most original Urban Fantasy series that I’ve come across.
It shares the same world as Jane Yellowrock and was introduced through a Jane Yellowrock short story but, over the course of the first three books, it has established a strong, independent identity.
Nell Ingrams, the main character in the books, is not human, at least not anymore. Fighting for her freedom from the polygamous church she was born into and from men who wanted to seize the land she inherited when she became a young widow woman, has caused her to draw upon her connection to Soulwood, her land, in ways that have made her less and less human.
She is a now a probationary Special Agent in the part of the FBI set up to deal with parahuman cases. The cases themselves are fascinating but the power of the books comes from Nell’s development as a person, living in a world where she has to make hard choices that will define who she will become.
“Flame In The Dark” sees Nell and the other members of Unit 18, faced with a series of attacks that may be political or parahuman or both but which always include fires at the scene of the attacks and are committed by an attacker who scorches and kills the land he steps on.
Discovering what this is about and trying to bring the bad guys down provides an entertaining, action-packed mystery that is the source of about half the pleasure I got from this book. I didn’t guess where the mystery was going but I did believe the outcome. This is the hallmark of a good mystery for me.
The rest of the pleasure I got from the book was watching Nell grow and change in unique and unpredictable ways while still remaining recognisable as the Nell I met in the first book. In this book, Nell confronts the fact that she is not human and works through what this means. She starts to build closer links to the people in Unit 18 and becomes more confident in her work. She also makes some decisions about the relationship that she will have with her family, especially her younger sister who is the same kind of non-human as Nell, and with the Church she left but cannot fully leave behind. As the book progresses, Nell’s non-human nature becomes more apparent, yet her appeal as a person gets stronger.
I think Faith Hunter has struck gold with this series. I hope she gives us many more opportunities to follow Nell’s path through life.
I recommend listening to the audiobook version of “A Flame In The Dark” which is skillfully narrated by Khristine Hvam.