"The Night Dahlia" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Tor Books
Written by R.S. Belcher
2018, 368 pages, Fiction
Released on April 3rd, 2018
I’ve been a fan of R.S. Belcher’s work for a while. On one hand, his novels are always intricate narratives that deserve to be called epic in depth and scope. However, what truly draws me to his storytelling is the fact that he manages to deliver 400-page books that are never boring, never feel bogged down, and never cease to have a cinematic feel to them. The Night Dahlia, his latest effort, is no different.
The Night Dahlia follows Laytham Ballard, a mage who once protected humanity as part of the Nightwise, a group whose main purpose is ensuring that dark supernatural forces don’t take over the world. Unfortunately, a series of ritual murders shook Laytham to the core and changed everything he thought he knew. Now a powerful faerie mob boss has hired Laytham. His job is to find his daughter, who has been missing for a few years. Although the job seems simple, following the trail of the lost daughter soon throws Laytham into a maelstrom of violence, magic, and secret agendas where humans, mages, mythological creatures, and everything in between come together in the underbelly of Los Angeles. What follows is a fast-paced tale that bridges the gap between fantasy and noir.
The first thing readers should know about this one is that, although it can be read on its own, they would benefit from having read its predecessor, Nightwise. Belcher made sure that the narrative stood on its own feet and gave enough details about what came before it to ensure that those picking this up wouldn’t be lost, but there are many characters and backstories at play that are easier to digest if you have read the previous book. The second thing is that this is one of those fast, dynamic narratives that is as engrossing as it is entertaining, but it requires time to be fully enjoyed. The plethora of storylines, characters, settings, and action passages work best if the reader is reading carefully and paying attention to what came before and why everything is happening. In that regard, it behaves more like an epic fantasy novel that’s part of a series than a noir about a guy working a cold case.
The opening of the novel feels very timely, and there are some passages along the way that will show readers Belcher was concerned with creating a unique story that also tied in to contemporary concerns. Pulling that off is one of the reasons he is a household name and why he keeps getting rave reviews. Furthermore, there is also a strange, welcome balance between the story he’s telling inside the world he has created and the real world. For example, there are a few motherfuckers dropped here and there and Charles Bronson is someone’s patron saint. These small details, which are akin to the rough comedy of classic action films, are rarely found in fantasy novels, so they feel fresh and new when read here.
I cannot talk enough about the way The Night Dahlia walks a fine line between genres. There is magic and strangeness, sure, but this is truly an L.A. novel. There are gangs like the Crips and MS-13 in there. There are dirty streets and bad people doing bad things. In other words, this is also a crime novel, guns, bad guys, and secure cell phones included. If you want to explore the interstitial space between two genres that should meet more often, this is a wonderful place to start.