To read an interview with C.L. Schneider, please see the July issue of Uncaged Book Reviews.
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.
Fire dripped like rain from my scaled fingers. Gliding past my jean-covered thighs, then boots, the flaming beads breached the puddle beside me with a hiss. A last stubborn burst of light flared bright, illuminating the red pool for a breath before it sputtered out.
The pattern repeated: drip, flare, hiss, sputter, drip, flare, hiss, sputter, as I stood in the abandoned train depot; counting the circles of blood that overran the pockmarks on the fractured concrete floor. Each bloody puddle corresponded to a body hanging upside down from the rafters above my head.
Thick ropes bound their ankles. Their flaccid arms dangled toward me, as if reaching down in hopeless supplication. But their death throe pleas were illusion. The six had died long before they were dragged in, stripped of their clothing and skin, and hung like a side of beef in a slaughterhouse. If they’d died here, I would have felt an imprint of their trauma on the room. Instead, all I sensed was their ripe stench drifting with the breeze as it blew in through the rotted holes in the ceiling.
“Looks like a full hunt,” I said, glancing up with a frown as moisture landed on my head. The color got lost in the red of my hair as the blood slid down into the curls. “And you’re fresh. Dammit…” I muttered, stepping to the left to avoid another drop escaping the corpse above me. I waited then, to see if it would be enough, if one little bead would trigger a flood inside me; ambushing me with the images and emotions of the victim’s last moments.
Not now, I thought. The last thing I needed was an unsolicited, untimely death-glimpse. Experiencing the terror of being skinned alive would definitely lower my guard.
Trying to stave it off, I busied my mind. I studied the dilapidated building, the architecture, and the faded peeling murals that graced the wide walls. I thought back to when it had all looked fresh and new. Opening day, the ticket counters had been bustling, handing out adventure and opportunity with every ticket. So many lives had passed through the front door. All that came through now were the rats.
And the monsters.
Sensing no extraneous rush of emotions, I went back to rooting out my prey. “Guess that means you’re ready to pack up and head home.” I raised my voice higher. “Except you can’t yet, can you? You’re stuck for now. You’re ineffective. Vulnerable.”
Just the way I like it.
Moving farther into the vacant building, swarms of buzzing flies scattered at my intrusion. My low-heeled boots clicked softly on the wooden planks covering a broken section of floor. My steps were leisurely. It was a nice change, not having to run. The creature was in no shape for such dexterous moves. It wouldn’t be for hours. Hiding was another matter. Sentinel City’s original depot had been vacated long ago in favor of a bright, shiny new building on the other end of the train yard. Here, amid the debris of a forgotten time, were cracks and crevices, and lots of shadows.
“You can’t leave this world until you digest,” I said, keeping my voice loud. “Until your pathetically slow stomach consumes all that delicious human skin you’ve been gorging on.”
Getting no response, I pushed the crimson scales out over more of my body. They ran like water beneath my black halter, affording extra protection to my upper half. As they reached my face, I shifted my eyes. Sockets enlarged. Pupils widened and elongated. Their reddish hazel-brown color deepened to warm amber, and my vision amplified. Sweeping the room, I peered into nooks and crannies, studying the fallen beams, broken signs, piles of busted chairs and rows of dusty benches; fallen light fixtures and detached stair railings barely hanging on by a thread.
“You should’ve added some brains to your diet,” I said, scanning for movement as I walked. “Maybe they would have made you smarter. Because I’ve already warned you once—this isn’t a buffet,” I said with force. “There are no free refills here. No all you can eat. The human world is off limits to the del-yun. It’s off limits to everyone.”
His voice came out of the dark. “You have no right,” he blustered, scratchy and dry like sandpaper on a chalkboard. “No authority to enforce the elders’ rules. You no longer hold position in the dragon ranks, pretty shifter. The Guild tossed you out so very, very long ago.”
“Ninety-seven years, two months, and three days. But who’s counting?” Bristling, I tossed back my hair. “And they didn’t fire me. I quit.”
“You ran…like those cowardly small ones with the perfect skin…so soft and supple.”
Understanding him, I frowned. “Children?”
“Yes, you fled like a child.” His laugh was stilted and wobbly. “And now you’re a maid.”
“I prefer the term ‘contract cleaner’. Scrubbing away those stubborn off-world assholes is my specialty.” I lifted a hand. Fire dribbled down the side. “How about I give you a free demo?”
Belligerent, he spat, “You can’t blame me. This world is so beautifully curious, so dangerous. It’s why all the other worlds are drawn here. It’s why we watch. Why we learn to speak their sounds.”
“Why you eat them?”
“No. We eat them because they’re tasty. And their skin comes in so many varieties. It’s not our fault they can’t live without it. It’s a…structural flaw.”
“You’re not a del-yun,” I scoffed, keeping him talking. “You’re a pig. A fat, greedy, gluttonous pig who doesn’t know when to quit.”
“Oh, pretty shifter,” he cooed. “So noble. So brave. So…insulting. I’ve never tasted the skin of a lyrriken before. I imagine it would be tough.”
“I hear it tastes like chicken. Not that you’ll have a chance to know.”
“You assume I can’t kill you,” he chuckled, low and gravely. I followed the sound as his threats continued. “You think I won’t feast on your scales and sell your parts? Everyone wants the dragon pieces, the power they gather. Everyone wants a taste.”
“I’m only part dragon, del-yun. Your buyers might notice the difference.”
“Half…full…you all have worth. And,” the delight in his voice was unmistakable, “smaller bones make such a wonderful snap. You’ll see. I’ll show you soon. Nothing compares to the exquisite sound of peeling flesh from a shattered bone.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
Movement streaked behind the rusted bars of the ticket counter.
A well written, original urban fantasy that is a welcome addition to the genre and a fantastic start to a series. Bad-ass action scenes, great dialog and terrific character and world building. A new super heroine is protecting the streets of Sentinel, and it’s a great ride. The 400+ pages just zipped by and I was engrossed the whole way through. Half human, half dragon Dahlia Nite is slated for execution in her own world and escapes into the human realm. Now she hunts the ones that are killing humans. When she comes in as a consultant for the police for some strange murders, she’ll need every trick in her arsenal to survive and keep her secrets safe.
The author surprised me in a few places in this, which is hard to do as I read heavily in this genre. Looking forward to the next installment. Reviewed by Cyrene
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