Review: Scratching in the Dirt (Written by the Birds #1) by S.M. Henley

Hello, fellow urban fantasy fans. Today, I’m sharing my thoughts about Scratching in the Dirt by S.M. Henley. The first book in her dark urban fantasy trilogy, Written by Birds.

2021 Update: Since reading the eBook and writing this review, Sue has given her trilogy a make-over. The story’s the same but the books have new titles and cover designs.

  • Fighting Spirit: A Supernatural Thriller (Dark Urban Rising #1)
  • Hero Worship: A Supernatural Thriller (Dark Urban Rising #2)
  • Raw Deal: A Supernatural Thriller (Dark Urban Rising #3)

Flora Reviews…

Scratching in the Dirt (Written by Birds #1) by S.M. Henley

Read: 19th – 22nd August 2017

Format: Kindle

My Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars

So, before we get into what I thought about this book, I want you to know that I given a digital version of this book for free from the author (S.M. Henley) via in exchange for signing up to her newsletter.

What’s Scratching in the Dirt about?

book cover for Written by Birds Trilogy #1 - Scratching in the Dirt by S.M. Henley

Scratching in the Dirt (approx 248 pages) is the first book in the trilogy Written by Birds; an adult urban fantasy world on the darker side of the genre with blood and gritty drama, that also ‘dips its toes’ into the dystopian genre too. Ms Henley has set her trilogy against the backdrop of our own modern world but with a fantastic new twist to the supernatural creatures that populate it with us; she describes the trilogy as:

The heat is rising. Cities are falling. As demons claw their way above ground to take control of a billion human souls, a renegade angel is plotting her own bid for power. Three dare to defy her: Tazia, a half-vampire girl, Billy, a millionaire playboy and Soren, an ex-soldier turned demon assassin. They each have their own desolate paths to follow. But, in the face of ultimate evil, can they come together to stop the angel’s victory? And what of the birds who stalk their every move? Isn’t it time they picked a side?

If you’ve read any of my reviews before, you’ll know that I don’t post spoilers of any kind or reveal any plot twists in my book reviews. Therefore, here’s the official blurb

Scratching in the Dirt:

A father in Hell, a dead lover, and a demon gangster on her tail. Today is the best day of Tazia’s life.

Demons are taking savage control of the disillusioned and down-at-heel. Half-vampire, Tazia, wants no part in it. She’s embracing her first taste of freedom in one hundred and fifty years. But liberty doesn’t come easily. When her celebrations are interrupted by a psychopathic angel, she is forced into a distasteful alliance to save the demon who was once her jailer.

Assisted by her best friend, a sex-addicted technomancer called Billy, she struggles to free herself from the angel’s evil plan. No easy task, when faced with resistance from a demonic terrorist, and pursued by her ex-lover—a human mercenary now out for her blood. If she fails, will Tazia ever regain her freedom or will she be forced back into a life of tortuous incarceration?

Scratching in the Dirt is the first in the Written by Birds trilogy, and is an adult urban fantasy novel set on the streets of modern-day Turin, London, and Detroit. It treads lightly in the darkness, with not a small amount of blood and gritty humor. Just ask the birds.

I just want to say that although there is no life or death situation type cliffhanger at the end of this book (*Phew* you know how I HATE those), as the first in a trilogy, the background story arc has only just begun and as such you need to continue reading to discover the fate of our heroes and the entire human world.

 …So, what did I like about Scratching in the Dirt?

SM Henley is a new-to-me author and I found her writing style very easy to read; I became quickly caught up due to her engaging world-building and the various species of demons she created added new and unexpected twists to old favourites. I loved the way Ms Henley weaved her plot; it was complex enough to keep me intrigued without being convoluted messy or getting me lost. The fact that this story felt psychologically driven even though it was a fantasy paranormal tale was fantastic.

I appreciated the fact that none of the characters in this book are stereotypically “good.”

Ms Henley wrote her characters with the complexities that we’d see in those around us, that they had a good balance of strengths and insecurities to make them feel real. Our main character, Tazia, for example, is intelligent and resourceful but a bit impatient and gung-ho. I also loved the fact that the secondary characters were developed just as deeply as our main cast of characters and had strong, memorable personalities; they weren’t just filling the page.

Scratching in the Dirt managed to surprise me a couple of times, had me reaching for the tissues *sniff*, recoiling in horror at the brutality and chuckling out loud. Throughout this book, I found myself desperate to find out what would happen next, staying up late to finish just one more chapter, in other words I was gripped!

Was there anything that niggled?

Hey, I guess not – 5 stars!

…So, basically what I’m saying is…

I really enjoyed this book; I like the way it’s written, our main character is a complex, multifaceted contradiction and I liked her a lot. The story is full of mystery, intrigue, lots of fighting and a fair amount of blood and violence.

Due to the violent content, I’d recommend this book for adults only – it’s definitely brutal at times – who are fans of relationship and action stories that feature some darker themes.

This book surprised me and well exceeded my expectations (c’mon, I’m sure you’re like me, never high expectations from free fiction) I enjoyed this so much that I have already added Taking to the Sky (book 2) and Pecking at the Bones (book 3) to my Amazon wish list and can’t wait to get stuck in.

So, has my review of SCRATCHING IN THE DIRT (WRITTEN BY BIRDS #1) encouraged you to find out more? Just click on any of the links below to check out the book yourself or to find out more about the author. To see the other books I’ve read, take a look at my profile on Goodreads.

About S.M. Henley

Author - S.M. Henley

S.M. Henley was brought up in an English seaside town singing to Echo and the Bunnymen and worshipping Siouxsie Sioux. Sue now lives in rural Alberta, Canada, with more pets than people, where everyone is friendly, winters are long, cheese is bright orange, and the occasional moose wanders through her yard.

Her writing spans Urban Fantasy through Horror. The UF is darker than average. It dips a toe into Dystopia and splashes blood freely. The Horror is a little darker; still paranormally themed, characters run from flawed to freaky, blood is optional.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts about SCRATCHING IN THE DIRT. I really appreciate it. Chatting to fellow bookworms about our reads is one of the best bits about being a book blogger. Drop me a comment below.

signature graphic. Happy reading from flora image sitting on books

I loved this book so much that I’ve already added S.M. Henley to my favourite author list. Before you go, check out who else is on there – Amazing Authors: A to Z.

Bye for now,

Flora x

About Me

I'm in my late forties, my interests are varied but since menopause hit a few years ago, I find myself becoming a "grumpy old woman" all too frequently - where has my infinite patience gone!?! Lol!
I bought a Kindle in the summer of 2013 and haven't stopped reading since. If you want to know more about me, check out my blog -

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