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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nalini Singh: PSY-CHANGELING SERIES

Author:  Nalini Singh 
Series: PSY-CHANGELING SERIES
Publisher and Titles: Berkley
  .5  "Whisper of Sin" in Burning Up (novella, 10/10)
 1      Slave to Sensation (novel, 9/06)
 1.3    "The Cannibal Princess" (free short story)
 1.5  "The Shower" (deleted scene from "Beat of Temptation"
 2      Visions of Heat (novel, 3/07)
 3      Caressed by Ice (novel, 9/07)
 3.2  "Miss Leozandra's (deleted scene from Caressed by Ice)
 3.5  "Movie Night" (free short story)
 3.7  “Stroke of Enticement” (novella in The Magical Christmas Cat & Wild Invitation)
 4      Mine to Possess (novel, 2/08)
 4.5   "A Conversation" (free short story)
 5      Hostage to Pleasure (novel, 9/08)
 5.5  "A Gift for Kit" (free short story)
 6      Branded by Fire (novel, 7/09)
 6.5  "The Party" (deleted scenes from Branded by Fire)
 7     Blaze of Memory (novel, 11/09)
 8     Bonds of Justice (novel, 7/10)
 9      Play of Passion (novel, 11/10)
 9.5  "Wolf School" (freedeleted scene from Play of Passion)
10     Kiss of Snow (novel, 2011)
11     Tangle of Need (novel, 2012)
11.5  Wild Invitation (novella collection, 3/13)
12     Heart of Obsidian (2013)
13     Shield of Winter (novel, 2014)
13.5  "Secrets at Midnight" in Night Shift (novella, 11/2014)
14     Shards of Hope (novel, 2015) 
15     Allegiance of Honor (novel, 6/2016)
15.5  "Secrets at Midnight" (novella, 8/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 7/15/16 to include a review of Allegiance of Honor, the 15th novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 10 through 14and the four novellas in Wild Invitation.

                          NOVEL 15: Allegiance of Honor                           
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     A staggering transformation has put the Psy, humans, and changelings at a crossroads. The Trinity Accord promises a new era of cooperation between disparate races and groups. It is a beacon of hope held together by many hands: old enemies, new allies, wary loners. 

     But a century of distrust and suspicion can’t be so easily forgotten, and it threatens to shatter Trinity from within at any moment. As rival members vie for dominance, chaos and evil gather in the shadows and a kidnapped woman’s cry for help washes up in San Francisco, while the Consortium turns its murderous gaze toward a child who is the embodiment of change, of love, of piercing hope: a child who is both Psy…and changeling. 

     To find the lost and protect the vulnerable—and to save Trinity—no one can stand alone. This is a time of loyalty across divisions, of bonds woven into the heart and the soul, of heroes known and unknown standing back to back and holding the line. But is an allegiance of honor even possible with traitors lurking in their midst?

MY REVIEW: 
    Nalini Singh begins this novel with an "Author's Note" in which she explains a major shift in the series: "Shards of Hope closed what I think of as the first arc, or season one of the series, while also opening season two. Before we dive fully into the next arc, however, I want to take a look back and see how far the world and its characters have come since Slave to Sensation. Not only that, but I want to explore the myriad connections that bind these disparate characters together…So this book, while continuing the Psy-Changeling storyline…is also a walk through the interconnected lives of many of the characters who've become important to us over the past books and novellas." Basically, then, Allegiance of Honor provides updates on the lives of just about every character who was featured in the preceding books. This is a lengthy book (478 pages in the hardcover format) that proceeds at a leisurely pace that moves back and forth among the disparate groups and individuals of this world: Psy, changelings, humans, and the Forgotten. Singh emphasizes the complex relationships among the groups, particularly through the examination of the important interconnections among key characters. 

     Singh provides a detailed review of the current situation in the post-war world, including an explanation of how peace is affecting various interest groups. For example, the rise of the empaths has turned the Psy world upside down, because empaths had always been viewed as useless and disposable, but now they are the only thing keeping the PsyNet alive. On the other hand, the pro-Silence faction still can't come to grips with the empaths' new power. In another example, powerful family organizations specializing in the manufacture of weapons and pharmaceuticals are now adrift because without war, the demand for weapons has dropped precipitously, and without Silence the demand for drugs designed to ravage and cripple the minds of designated people (like empaths) has also ended (except for underground trafficking among dissidents).

     Along with the "life updates," Singh inserts three subplots related to the series villains: the Consortium, Ming Bon, and the mysterious Architect. All three are plotting and scheming to turn the newly allied groups against one another and to kill their leaders:
>> The first is a threat against Lucas and Sasha's one-year-old daughter, Naya, who is the very first Psy-Changeling child to have ever been born. The purists of the Consortium want to kill her, but others are determined to kidnap her and use her to force her father to bend to their will. This storyline plays out during the first half of the book and is mostly resolved, although the ultimate puppet master has yet to be unequivocally identified.
>> Ming Bon is certain that the changelings and the humans are so unintelligent that he can set them against one another through various economic shenanigans, but Lucas and his advisors manage to scuttle his plans by outmaneuvering him. At the end of the book, he is skulking around dreaming up new schemes.
>> A kidnapped BlackSea woman manages to send a desperate message in a bottle that washes up on the California coast and is found by the changelings, who team up with their allies among the Psy and the Human Alliance to find and rescue her.
Two additional story lines focus on problems that involve keeping the Alliance together and solving some scientific and technological problems:
>> Lucas and his allies must keep the Trinity Alliance going so that eventually it will lead to a United Earth Federation (UEF). Lucas and his allies want the Alliance to be inclusive, but they have to figure out how to allow suspicious entities (like Ming Bon) to join without endangering their fragile union. They also have to root out all of the spies who are feeding information to their enemies. 
>> Psy scientists Ashaya Aleine and her twin sister developed brain implants that protect humans from invasive mental probes by the Psy. But now the twins have discovered that the implants are failing and that some of the humans are past the point that their implants can be removed without traumatic brain damage. Without the implants, the humans are at the mercy of the Psy.
>> Although the Empath Collective is keeping the PsyNet up and running, Kaleb discovers that "the rot, the disease, was spreading…the fine threads of the Net were literally coming apart stand by strand below the surface." Kaleb and the Collective eventually figure out what the problem is, but they have no idea how to solve it.
In addition to the story-arc subplots, there is plenty of romance in this book.
>> In a story that appears in stand-alone chapters throughout the book, Father Xavier (human best friend of Judd and Kaleb) is on a solo sojourn to South America in search of Nina, his lost love. We keep up with his story through a series of one-page letters that tell his tragic story and describe his friendship with his two Psy friends.
>> Another love story that is interwoven throughout the book is that of Riley and Mercy, who are expecting the very first known wolf-leopard changeling baby. As the story begins, Mercy is nearing the end of her pregnancy, so you know that a birth (actually, a multiple birth) will definitely occur before the book ends. 
>> There are many, many updates of the love stories of the characters we have met in previous books, each of them providing a brief review of the given relationship and at least one sexy bedroom scene for all of you who enjoy the erotic side of this series.
   As the book ends, Lucas summarizes his tasks for the immediate future: "Hold Trinity together, defeat the Consortium, help the Psy save the PsyNet, and help the humans figure out a way to block psychic intrusion, and finally, set up the UEF…Let's do it." But in the background, the anonymous Architect is plotting to go even further than Ming Bon in the quest to stop Lucas from reaching his goals. He/She has a kill list that includes some very important members of the Alliance, including Lucas himself.

     Although it was nice to check in with characters from past books, the HUGE cast of characters in this book is overwhelming at times. Luckily for the reader, Singh includes a character list at the beginning of the book that is quite helpful as a "who's who" data source. I consider this to be mostly a transitional novel in which the only subplots that are important to the series story arc are the four that are mentioned in Lucas' end-of-book summation: keeping the Alliance strong, beating back the Consortium, solving the PsyNet problem, and helping the humans with their psychic blocks. The remaining story lines are there primarily to reinforce Singh's exploration of the increasing interconnectedness and interdependence among the diverse groups of her wonderful world. As usual, the changelings are always happy, the children are always adorable, the Psy are cold but semi-friendly, and the villains are rotten to the core.

     This is one of my favorite series because Singh has created a magnificent world inhabited by a great group of characters who react intelligently and passionately to the conflicts in their lives. If you are a fan of the series, you'll enjoy reading this book because it's like going to a family reunion (although this "family" still has some major problems to solve). 

     To read or listen to an excerpt from Allegiance of Honor, click HERE to go to the novel's Amazon.com page and then click either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                                   WORLD-BUILDING                                   
   Set in an alternate San Francisco in the 2070s and 2080s, the series tells the soul-mate romance (SMR) stories of couples from the following racial groups, listed in order of their power.
The Psy: They appear to be human, but are not. They have a variety of powerful psychic talents (e.g., healing, empathy, teleportation, telekinesis) and must always be connected to the PsyNet, an interconnection of the minds of all Psy, or they die. They are led by the Psy Council, which is a cynical, corrupt and power-hungry group that connects through the PsyNet.

Changelings: These are the shape shifters, mostly leopards and wolves, but also falcons and rats. They are connected by the Web, an inter-connection of the minds of the top members (alphas and sentinels) within each changeling group. They are led by their alphas (Hawke—SnowDancer wolves—and Lucas—DarkRiver leopards.

Humans:  This is the weakest group, generally at the mercy of the Psy. They are led by the Human Alliance, a mysterious and violent group that works tirelessly for human domination.
  
     One hundred years ago, the Psy Council found itself faced with a growing number of killers, driven insane by their inability to live a normal life while trying to control their powerful psychic abilities. The Council decided to strip Psy citizens of all emotions (the Silence), allowing them to use their talents without harming their minds. As the series begins, an ever-growing number of Psy are revolting against both the Silence and the Council itself. The changelings have always hated the supremacy of the Psy, but a successful business alliance has evolved between the two groups so that they have, on the surface, a relatively civil relationship. The humans also hate the Psy, and their leaders have begun trying to take down the Psy Council. As the series advances, the Psy rebellion grows in strength, but the powerful Psy purists fight back. Eventually, the Psy-Net itself becomes degraded and parts of it begin to fail.

     The series story line involves growing revolutionary movements that threaten to upset the balance of power. Each soul-mate couple crosses species lines (e.g., Psy-changeling, leopard-wolf, human-changeling), and one series theme is the contrast between the ever-growing Psy-Web of the changelings and the dying Net of the Psy. Because each couple must overcome great personal difficulties before mating, the scenes with the highest sensuality come in the final third of most of the books, with the exception of book 6, which has scenes of graphic sex scattered throughout. The underlying message of the series is that emotions are a necessary and valuable part of life and love.

     Click HERE to go to Singh's "Behind the Scenes" web page, which includes FAQs and a reading order list. Click HERE to go to a page with a PSY-CHANGELING character list and time line. Click HERE for free short stories set in the PSY-CHANGELING world. Click HERE to read deleted scenes from some of the novels. Click HERE to read Nalini Singh's blog. 

SERIES TIME LINE (from a page that was formerly on Singh's blog): 
  > 1969: program put in place to condition all negative emotion from the Psy
  > 1970: Alice Eldridge begins study of X-Psy designation
  > 1975: supposed death of author Alice Eldridge
  > 1979: Silence protocol changed to stop Psy from feeling all emotion
  > 2019: Psy attempt to ban Christmas
  > 2059: ShadowWalker pack attack kill Lucas Hunter’s parents
  > 2060: train accident injuring Annie Kildaire; Sophia Russo disowned by family; Clay Bennett kills Orrin Hendersen
  > 2061: "Beat of Temptation"
  > 2063: Nathan becomes a Sentinel
  > 2067: Mercy Smith crowned Miss Bikini Babe
  > 2068: Lucas Hunter becomes DarkRiver Alpha
  > 2069: death of Iliana Aleine
  > 2070: death of Lachlan, former DarkRiver Alpha
  > 2072: "Whisper of Sin"
  > 2073: disappearance of Sahara, 16-year-old cousin of Faith NightStar
  > 2075: death of Riena Duncan, making Nikita official head of Duncan family
  > 2077: Kylie Christensen murdered by Enrique Santano
  > 2078: Slave to SensationVisions of Heat
  > 2079: Caressed by Ice
  > 2080: "Stroke of Enticement," Mine to PossessHostage to PleasureBranded by FireBlaze of Memory
  > 2081: Bonds of JusticePlay of PassionKiss of Snow, discovery of cytogenetically frozen Alice Eldridge, Tangle of Need
  > 2082: Heart of Obsidian; return of Sahara Kyriakus; the fall of Silence
  > 2082: Shards of Hope; four months since the fall of Silence; a new enemy surfaces
  > 2082: Allegiance of Honor; the Trinity Accord is holding, but there are traitors hiding in its ranks; Ming LeBon, the Consortium, and the mysterious Architect are separately trying to destroy the Trinity Accord and all it stands for. 

                          NOVEL 10: Kiss of Snow                           
     In this book, we FINALLY get the love story of Hawke, the SnowDancer alpha, and Sienna, a Psy defector with extremely powerful psychic skills. Sienna is known as a cardinal, and if she does not control her powers, they can literally burn up everything and everyone in their path. Sienna is facing certain death in just a few years. because no cardinal has ever lived past the age of 25, and Sienna is now 19. The relationship between Hawke and Sienna has been simmering ever since she arrived as a defector asking for amnesty. From the first time they set eyes on each other, both have known deep down that they were meant for one another. Hawke has tried to fight off the attraction in many previous books, but we have always known that he would fail. Sienna has always been extremely attracted to Hawke, but she is furious that he seems to see her as a child—not a woman. Well, let me tell you, Sienna is not a child in this book, and she makes sure that Hawke notices that fact. 

     We also get the love story of Lara (the SnowDancer healer) and Walker (Sienna's uncle) in this book. Along with the two love stories, the plot also includes more shenanigans by the avaricious Henry Scott. Henry wants to wipe out all of San Francisco, including Nikita (a rival Psy Council member), and all of the changelings. The ending leaves a number of unresolved issues, but the war is definitely on at this point. The next book will begin right in the midst of the conflict.

     If you enjoy solid, well-told paranormal romance with ├╝ber-alphas, sassy heroines, humorous dialogue, and lots of action, you'll enjoy this series. If you haven't been reading the series, don't start with this book. In order to understand the struggle within the Psy and between the Psy and the changelings, you really should start at the beginning. Otherwise, you won't understand much about the plot thread that involves the Psy attacks, and you won't fully understand Sienna's psychic predicament.

                          NOVEL 11: Tangle of Need                         

    After Hawke and Sienna's turbulent love story in book 10, the romance in this book seems almost calm. That's not to say that there isn't plenty of angst, though. This time around, it's Riaz Delgado and Adria Morgan who stumble along the rocky road to their eventual HEA. Riaz is a dominant wolf who has recently returned to the SnowDancer den after a stint in Europe, where he found his true mate only to discover she is happily married to someone else. Now he's in an agonized rebound state, sure that he is doomed to be a lone wolf forever. Then, he meets Adria, also a dominant, who has her own tangled romantic past. She thought that she had found true love with Martin, a less dominant male, but although they lived together for years, the relationship gradually failed and they parted on bitter terms. Now Adria is sure that she will never find her true mate. When she is attracted to Riaz, she fights it, but (as expected) that doesn't work, and the two become involved in some sexual fireworks that gradually grow into real love. 

     The love affair plays out against the Psy war that is building in strength, with the Purists threatening the PsyNet, rebellious Arrow warriors fighting on the side of the changelings (aka shifters), and Psy Council members coming down on both sides of the fight. Meanwhile, the changelings try once again for an alliance with the humans and are surprised to hear that the aquatic changeling conclave (BlackSea) also wants to ally with them. So...the changeling empire is growing, the Psy empire is crumbling, and love goes on in the midst of it all.

     This book is typical of the series, with plenty of steamy sex, a Psy attack or two, and way too many lovey-dovey scenes among the happily married/mated changeling couples, particularly Hawke and Sienna. In this world, before a couple mates, they fight like cats and dogs, but after the mating they spend all their time billing and cooing like lovebirds. It's a simplistic take on love and life, but it's been working for eleven books, so why change it now, I guess. Another problem is the huge number of characters and events that make their way into this book. As part of the series story arc, the romance chapters alternate with chapters that follow various Psy, changelings, and humans, including the Purists, the Arrow rebels, a comatose human scientist and her handlers, and nasty old Ming, who still is out to get Sienna. 

     Singh includes a lengthy character list at the beginning of the book, and you may need it to figure out who is on what team. This book feels transitional in nature, moving the reader toward the climax of the Psy rebellion. We don't get resolution of any of the Psy problems (with the exception of one important assassination), and the tension is still stretched tight at the end. It's definitely not a stand-alone book.


                     NOVELLA COLLECTION: Wild Invitation                    

    This is a collection of four novellas set in the PSY-CHANGELING world. The first two are reprints of stories that have appeared previously in anthologies, but the last two are brand new. The first two (the reprints) feature DarkRiver leopard couples, and the final two (the new stories) feature SnowDancer wolves. 

     I enjoyed re-reading "Beat of Temptation" just because it is set so early in the series and offers glimpses of the characters in their much-younger days. The fourth story, "Texture of Intimacy," was (for me, at least) the best. After watching the Walker-Lara relationship develop so very slowly and painfully in previous books, it's nice to see them finally together. That novella also is the only one that includes a substantial story line involving the Psy. Here is a brief summary of each novella:

"Beat of Temptation": This one was first printed in the 2007 anthology, An Enchanted Season. It is set very early in series time
in 2061, just a few years after the terrible attack by the ShadowWalker pack that decimated the ranks of the leopard shape shifters. Tamsyn ("Tammy") Mahaire, the DarkRiver leopard pack's young healer, had to take over full-time after the previous healer was killed in that war. As the story opens, she is nineteen years old and has known for three years that her future mate is Nathan ("Nate") Ryder, a 29-year-old soldier who will soon be promoted to sentinel. Tammy wants to get on with the mating process, but Nate keeps holding her off, telling her that she is too young to be tied down for life. The story follows the development of their romance as Tammy schemes to get Nate to bond with her. It's interesting to see these characters in their much-younger days before they became the mature stalwarts we see in most of the novels. At this point, Lucas has not taken over as the DarkRiver alpha, and the leopards have not yet developed into the strong, disciplined pack that they eventually become. The DarkRiver and SnowDancer packs have not yet united against the Psy, so DarkRiver is essentially on its owna weakened pack in the early stages of recovery. This story is all about the romance, with little to say about the series mythology, except for a very brief sub-plot about DarkRiver's easy defeat of a Psy who tries to take some of their land.

"Stroke of Enticement": This novella was initially published in the 2008 anthology, Magical Christmas Cat. Set shortly after the epilogue of the first novella, this love story follows the swift development of romance between Angelica "Annie" Kildaire, a human teacher with a crippled leg, and Zach Quinn, a sexy DarkRiver soldier. The major obstacle to their romance is Annie's fear that the initial passion of their relationship will die out, leaving her with a loveless marriage like that of her parents. This story is 100% romance, from the first flirts to the eventual sexual athletics. The only reference to the world-building is a passing reference to the fact that the DarkRiver pack is now allied with the SnowDancer pack.

"Declaration of Courtship": In this all-new romantic novella, two SnowDancer wolves stumble along love's rocky road. The central characters are Cooper, a super-dominant lieutenant, and Grace, an extremely submissive engineer. Cooper is determined to win Grace over, while Grace fears that she is much too submissive for such a dominant wolf. The story follows Cooper's very patient (and sometimes humorous) courtship as he struggles to win Grace over while he deals with horrible nightmares about his parents' deaths. Once again, the Psy mythology plays no part in the plot.


"Texture of Intimacy": The final story is also brand new, and it is a continuation of the love story of Walker Lauren (Psy telepath) and Lara (SnowDancer healer), that was told in Tangle of Need. As the story opens, the couple has just bonded, and they are deliriously happy, except for Lara's fear that Walker will revert to his Psy ways of Silence and shut her out of their bond. Walker has always been a fascinating character in previous books as he fought hard against the Psy Silence and rescued himself and his family from the grip of the Psy Council. Singh includes a family tree at the beginning of the story so that readers can refresh their memories as to the relationships among the characters. This novella includes quite a bit of background information on the Psy, the Psy-Net, and the Psy Silence.


                          NOVEL 12: Heart of Obsidian                         

     Ah...we finally get the long-awaited story of the dark and twisted Kaleb Krychek and his soul mate, Sahara Kyriakus. Kaleb has been a long-standing, mysterious player in the series, particularly in the more recent books. He has always been portrayed as an enigmatic and dangerous man who involves himself in deadly serious political games, often playing one side against the other for his own benefit. In this book, we look deep into his past and examine his damaged psyche.

     As the story begins, Kaleb has rescued Sahara Kyriakus from her seven-year-long imprisonment by an (at first) unknown perpetratorone whom Kaleb is determined to find and punish (which he does). During the past seven years, Kaleb has been sinking deeper and deeper into darkness as he has divided his energies between his political gamesmanship and his desperate search for Sahara. Meanwhile, Sahara was suffering horrific mental and physical torture at the hands of her kidnappers and their thugs. To protect herself, Sahara retreated into a mental labyrinth that repelled her abductors' attempts to invade her mind, but put her into a catatonic state. The first half of the book follows Kaleb and Sahara as he tries to win her confidence and she attempts to regain her mental faculties. 
FAIR WARNING: I recommend that you avoid reading Sahara's and Kaleb's character description sections on Singh's web site because they contain many spoilers for this book.
     Both Kaleb and Sahara are powerful Psys. He is a cardinal telekineticthe most powerful in the world. He can teleport across impossibly long distances in an instant and can use his telekinesis to create earthquakes, destroy buildings, and crack every bone in a human body with just a fleeting thought. Kaleb was taken from his family when he was a young child and raised by the psychotic Santano Enrique (a monstrous villain in previous books), who forced him to witness and participate in many brutal torture-murders and who mind-controlled Kaleb all of his life. Santano also subjected Kaleb to constant physical and mental torture with the goal of destroying his will. Kaleb overcame these childhood experiences to a certain extent and became a Councilor when he was 27. In previous books, his motives were always uncertain.

     At the beginning of the book, we are told that, officially, Sahara has the ability of Backsight, but she also has a dangerous power that is the reason she was abducted. That power is described as extremely powerful and rare, but is not revealed until the last quarter of the book. Sahara is the daughter of Leon Kyriakus and the niece of Anthony Kyriakus, head of the PsyClan NightStar. 

     Although we don't get any details until the end of the book, it is clear from the very beginning that Kaleb and Sahara had a close connection in the past that ended very badly. Kaleb is obviously devoted to Sahara, and Sahara feels a connection with Kaleb even before her memories return. The romance plot follows the couple as their relationship develops, with Sahara determined to break down Kaleb's "obsidian" mental walls and Kaleb determined to keep Sahara with him forevernever again to lose her.

     The action plot has two story threads. Most important is the one involving the Pure Psy, who are determined to force Silence on all Psy and to use violence to achieve worldwide domination. The secondary story line concerns the fact that the PsyNet is rotting from within, putting all Psy at risk of eventual madness. Kaleb is a key player in both of these crises as he zips around the world putting out fires, rescuing victims, and trying to keep the PsyNet up and running. As the plot advances, Kaleb gathers his allies and takes a forceful stand against the Pure Psy, while the Psys' self-imposed Silence begins its inevitable disintegration, which has long been foreshadowed.

     Readers who love the Changelings may be disappointed to discover that they don't show up until the second half of the book and then only as minor characters. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first novel in the series to feature two Psy soul mates. This story is definitely all Psy, all the way through, so if you're not fascinated by this cold and complicated race of people, you might not enjoy this book as much as some of the Changeling-centric books. At first, I had a bit of trouble remembering all of the details of the Psy world (e.g., the meaning of the alphabetic designations of the various Psy powers), but really all you need to understand is the Silence and its long-term devastating effects on the Psy people. For an example of the Psy jargon, here is the Psy profile for Sahara's parents: "custodial parent Leon KyriakusGradient 7.7 M-Psy with recessive F genes. Biological mother Daniela Garcia, Gradient 8.2 telepath...also possesses markers for recessive F abilities." (p. 34) By the end of the book, most of the conflict in the PsyNet story arc is resolved (including the true identity of "the Ghost"), but some problems arise as the Psy begin to deal with their emotional new world.

     Singh knows how to tell a story, and for the most part she doesn't disappoint in this novel. The action plot is compelling, with lots of violent action by the Pure Psy and plenty of revenge for the good guys. Pacing, though, is a problem as the romance stumbles along slowly and painfully, constantly being interrupted by hyper-kinetic scenes of violence in which Kaleb essentially turns into a superman-type rescuer who risks his own life to save others—definitely not his usual persona. There is also a problem with the level of suspense regarding the key event in the Kaleb-Sahara relationship, which is foreshadowed to death by way too many cryptic, but repetitive, hints from Kaleb about the romantic devastation that will occur when Sahara finally gets her memory back. Then, when she does remember (in the second-to-last chapter), the brief scene between the two feels anti-climactic (although it is beautifully written and quite emotional). The strength of the book lies in its conflict resolution for the on-going series story arc, and in that sense, it succeeds. This is not a stand-alone due to the heavy use of references to past characters and events.

           NOVEL 13: Shield of Winter          

     On Singh's blog, she has a post entitled "What's Next for the Psy-Changeling Series?" in which she discusses the status of the series at this point and answers the question, "Will the 14th book be the final one?" According to that post, Singh views books 1 through 12 as the "Silence Arc," and books 13, 14, and (perhaps) 15 as the "Immediate Aftermath of Silence Arc." At that point, a new Arc will begin, one that will deal with the long-term effects of the end of Silence and will include new characters as well as some of the old ones. Click HERE to read her full discussion.

FAIR WARNING: If you have not read Heart of Obsidian, don't read this review because it has spoilers.


     Now, on to Shield of Winter: The Psy are reeling from the effects of the fall of Silence, which occurred a month ago "in a crash of violence brutally leashed by the furious abilities of the most powerful Psy in the Net. With the fall comes a hush across the world, as the Psy race seeks to understand who they are in this new reality where emotion isn't a crime punishable by a vicious psychic brain-wipe, and the heart is no longer an organ simply used to pump blood. For though Silence was a deeply flawed construct, it existed for a reason." (p. 1) Before Silence was imposed, the world had to deal with murderous aggression dealt by the Psythe most intelligent, and, potentially, the most vicious and sadistic race in the world. What will happen now that Silence now longer keeps their emotions in check? Will murder and mayhem reign once again? Or will Kaleb Krychek and his supporters be able to keep things under controlthat is, once they actually gain that control. The major problem the Psy are facing is an insidious and virulent infection in the Psy-Net to which they are all attachedan infection that is growing more and more widespread and is causing an increasing number of violent outbreaks across the world as groups of Psy become mindless murderers once the infection reaches their brains.


     Krychek believes that the Empaths (aka Es, aka E-Psy) are the key to stopping the infection. Previously, Es had always been stifled because there was no place for emotion under Silence. For decades, Es were erased from the Net and were systematically eliminated from the gene pool because their emotion-linked abilities were contrary to the Silence Protocol. The Council always knew that there was a relationship between the E-Psy and the level of insanity in the general Psy population, but they never investigated the connection. Rather, they tried to keep a lid on the E-Psy population. Unfortunately, the Es have never been trained to use their empathic abilities, so if they are truly the key to eliminating the threat of the infection, they will need to be awakened and, somehow, trained. Krychek and Aden have selected a group of 10 high-gradient Es and a matching team of Arrows. The Arrows will try to convince the Es to participate voluntarily in a group experiment to determine the effect of the Es on the infection. Aden (leader of the Arrows) puts Vasic in charge of the test group and assigns him one of the Empaths, Ivy Jane, who turns out to be his soul mate. 


     So…the lead lovers are Vasic, the icy, emotionless Arrow, and Ivy Jane, the openly emotional Empath. If you are a reader of this series, you know that the Arrows are (or were) the assassins used by the Psy Council to enforce the Silence by killing designated people and covering up all kinds of messy situations. Vasic views himself as "a machine trained to mete out death." At the Arrow training school at which his biological father dumped him when he was just four years old, Vasic (at first) defied his trainers, which resulted in having his leg broken, being deliberately burned, suffering electrical shocks, being locked naked in a freezing room until his extremities froze and then being put into overwhelming heat to further abuse his nerve endings. "Vasic's brain was now hardwired to equate emotion with pain….A perfect loop that had been programmed to end in death should the subject…defy the conditioning." This brutal trained was designed to turn him into a perfect assassin who would eliminate any person who challenged the Council's Protocol. Unfortunately for Vasic's mental health, his spirit was never completely broken, and to this day, he continues to feel deep guilt over the many, many deaths for which he is personally responsible. 


     The Psy-Council never trusted the Empaths because the Council members didn't understand how empathy could possibly work under the Silence, so in many cases, Es weren't told that they were Es and many were reconditioned. That's what happened to Ivy. As a child, she was having trouble controlling her emotions and maintaining Silence, so she and her parents agreed to her reconditioning, which was done in a brutal and harmful manner by an incompetent technician who left her with a malfunctioning emotional locka lock that is now beginning to malfunction. Ivy and her parents have been living on a farm in in North Dakota for a number of years, trying to keep themselves as inconspicuous as possible. Although Ivy's malfunctioning lock is causing some physical problems (mostly nosebleeds), that problem is solved in a paragraph or two and from that point on, she comes across as a normal, not-very-interesting young womanjust another stereotypically feisty, but tender-hearted, paranormal romance heroine.


     The romance part of the plot follows the relatively smooth path that Vasic and Ivy take toward their inevitable HEA. Given the fact that both suffered such horrific mental and physical torture earlier in their lives, particularly Vasic, you would think that it would be difficult for them to connect, but no…that is not the case. Once Ivy sets her mind to the task of winning Vasic's love, she and Rabbit, her cute little doggy, break open his emotional lock-down very quickly and easily, and midway through the book, they are well on their way to happiness togetherwith one major obstacle: the fact that Vasic's gauntlet (a computer-like piece of technology that is wired into his brain and nervous system) is failing. Once the gauntlet dies, so does Vasic. So…part of the romance plot deals with that problem. Vasic's mostly smooth transition from wintry warrior to passionate lover is completely different from the romantic paths of other Psy (like Judd) when they broke away from the Silence. In fact, it is so painless that it lacks drama and depth and was, for me, the least interesting part of the book. The most interesting piece of trivia about Vasic is that his rare telekinesis designation (Tk-V) is so powerful that rather than being born the usual way, he teleported from his mother's womb. Wow! Didn't see that coming (and neither did the midwife)! Much more interesting is the relationship between Vasic and Aden. The two have been close friends and allies ever since they were boys together in the Arrow training school, where they protected one another and trusted only each other.


     The most heart-breaking parts of the story are the scenes in which non-infected Psy are rescued during the violent outbreaks caused by the infection. In many cases, the Arrows save these survivors from attacks by their own friends and/or family members who have succumbed to the Psy-Net infection and lost their minds. Also interesting is the painstaking process through which Ivy and Sahara figure out how the Es can stop the carnage. What is puzzling is that Sasha Duncan plays such a minimal role in the E-Psy test program. After all, she is probably the world's most powerful cardinal E-Psy, but she actually appears very few times in this story and doesn't play much of a part in figuring out the final solution to overcoming the Psy-Net infection.


     The plot sometimes seems overstuffed because it also includes thin story threads involving the Pure Psy and the Silent Voices, both of whom hate and fear the E-Psy and oppose the fall of Silence. Then, there's another fringe group of Psy who want to ally with the good guys. Although the diabolical Ming Lebon is mentioned as a threat early on, that story thread flares up only once and then dies out. I'm sure that we'll see more of Ming in the next book because at this point, he's still skulking around as he continues to build his power base.


     Although the action part of the plot is engaging, the romance is so angst-free that it tends to feel repetitious and tame—words I never though I would use for a PSY-CHANGELING romance. I recommend that if you have not been keeping up with this series, you shouldn't start with this book because it relies heavily on events and personalities from previous books. If you are keeping up with the series, this is a must-read simply because it resolves the problem with the Psy-Net. Click HERE to read two excerpts from Shield of Winter: the first chapter and the scene in which Ivy and Vasic first meet.


     Singh will tell Aden's love story in the next novel, but in between, there will be a novella that takes us back to the Changelings to tell Bastien's story in an anthology entitled Night Shift. Click HERE to read my review of all of the novellas in Night Shift.


                        NOVEL 14: Shards of Hope                           
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     Awakening wounded in a darkened cell, their psychic abilities blocked, Aden and Zaira know they must escape. But when the lethal soldiers break free from their mysterious prison, they find themselves in a harsh, inhospitable landscape far from civilization. Their only hope for survival is to make it to the hidden home of a predatory changeling pack that doesn’t welcome outsiders.

     And they must survive. A shadowy enemy has put a target on the back of the Arrow squad, an enemy that cannot be permitted to succeed in its deadly campaign. Aden will cross any line to keep his people safe for this new future, where even an assassin might have hope of a life beyond blood and death and pain. Zaira has no such hope. She knows she’s too damaged to return from the abyss. Her driving goal is to protect Aden, protect the only person who has ever come back for her no matter what.

     This time, even Aden’s passionate determination may not be enough—because the emotionless chill of Silence existed for a reason. For the violent, and the insane, and the irreparably broken…like Zaira. 


MY REVIEW: 
    This fast-paced, jam-packed novel begins just four months after the fall of the Silence, and the three racesPsy, Changeling, and Humanare still settling into their new roles. As usual, there are two primary story lines, a romance and a new entry in the over-arching series plot.

     This time around, the lead lovers are Aden Kai and Zaira Neve, who have known one another for more than 20 years when they first met at the Arrows' training camp. Both had horrific childhoods and suffered at the hands of cruel Psy parents. Zaira is a telepath whose parents locked her up in a cage and tortured her to crush her spirit and tame her violent power until she finally killed them—beat them to death with an iron bar. She is filled with such deep and violent rage that she is certain that she is a psychopath, doomed to live alone without love until she goes completely mad and is executed. Zaira tells Aden, "I'm broken too badly to fix." She views Aden as a white knight and sees herself as the black sword who has his back.


     Aden's parents sent him off to the Arrows as a spy. They have always belittled him because he is merely a weak telepath with a slight medical affinity. "To them, he had always been the child who was a pale shadow of the one they wanted." (Note: They are completely wrong about Aden's powers, as you will learn in this book.) Aden's mother reminds me of Leonard Hofstadter's mother (played by Christine Baranski in The Big Bang Theory: cold, detached, and unemotional. 


     Although it is obvious that the two love one another, they are Psy, and that's always a problem when emotions are involved. As their romance blossoms, Zaira can't shake the fear that she may harm or even kill Aden (or one of the Arrows) in one of her uncontrollable rages, while Aden tries to convince her that she is a good person who will never harm him or any other innocent. As the love scenes between these two emotionally challenged Psy get hotter and hotter, the couple begins relying on tips from a sex manual originally written by Judd (in Caressed by Ice) and then augmented by Vasic (in Shield of Winter), which adds some humor to their sexy bedroom scenes. 


     Meanwhile, Aden is now the head of the Arrows, and in the midst of dealing with his new Arrow responsibilities and his new love affair, he is confronted with a new enemy. That insidious villain (or villains) is at the heart of the action plot, which involves an ongoing series of similar events in which someone tries to turn various groups and subgroups against one another: Psy against Changeling; Changeling against Human Alliance; Human Alliance against Changeling; Changeling against Psy; one Psy group against another Psy group. At first, the injured parties fall for the treacherous deceptions, but Aden gets everyone talking to one another and as the story advances, he is more and more convinced that someone is trying to throw the new world order into chaos so that he or she or they can step in and take over. This story line follows the trajectory of the ongoing sabotage and then shows how the good guys figure out what's going on. In addition to kidnapping Aden and Zaira, the mercenaries hired by the villain(s) also kidnap a Changeling child and repeatedly try to kill Aden.


     Early in the book, we meet a new feline Changeling group (mostly leopards) named RainFire, who live in the Smoky Mountains. The RainFire alpha is Remington (Remi) Denier (a friend of Lucas Hunter), who saves Aden and Zaira's lives when both are severely wounded during their escape from their kidnappers early in the story. Remi plays an important role in showing Aden how create his own Arrow family/pack by teaching the younger Arrows how to deal with their emotions as they come out of the Silence—how to play and smile and touch and love. Those parts of the story are particularly tender and heartbreaking. At one point, Aden laments to Zaira: "How can we teach Arrow children about love if we don't understand it?" By the end of the book, the other Changeling packs are also helping Aden socialize the young Arrows—and even some of the older ones. Aden has a lot of responsibilities on his shoulders in this book, but his drive to create an Arrow family is at the top of his to-do list.


     This is a lengthy book (483 pages in the hardcover edition), but in general, the story moves along at a brisk pace. Some of Zaira's interior monologues about her monstrous rage can get a bit draggy, but the two lovers are both interesting characters, so I didn't mind that too much. The single story line that seems to be padding rather than plot is the one involving a traitorous Arrow who goes rogue; that one could have been eliminated without disturbing the primary plot. 


     If you are a regular reader of this series, this is a must-read book because it contains a new branch of the story arc. Also included are some hints that we can expect more trouble from the evil Ming LeBon (who stills plans to dispose of Aden and Sienna Lauren and then take back the Arrows). Also, there are hints about several future love stories.


     Singh includes a character list at the beginning of the book, which is quite helpful because a number of characters from previous books pop up from time to time in the story. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Shards of Hope.

1 comment:

  1. Book 12 is scheduled for sometime in 2012.

    ReplyDelete