Series: PSY-CHANGELING SERIES
Branded by Fire (7/09)
"The Party" (free—deleted scenes from Branded by Fire)
"Declaration of Courtship" in Wild Invitation)
Kiss of Snow (hardcover & e-book—5/2011; paperback—11/11)
"Texture of Intimacy" (novella in Wild Invitation)
Tangle of Need (hardcover & e-book—5/12; paperback-12/12)
Heart of Obsidian (hardcover & e-book—6/13; paperback—11/13)
"Secrets at Midnight" in Night Shift anthology (11/2014)
This post was revised and updated on 6/21/14 to include a review of Shield of Winter, the 13th novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of novels 10-12 and the four novellas in Wild Invitation.
NOVEL 13: Shield of Winter
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 Psy—the 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 control—that 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 attached—an 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 lock—a lock which 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 woman—just 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 together—with 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 was puzzling was the small part that Sasha Duncan played 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.
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.
NOVEL 10: Kiss of Snow
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.
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.
"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 own—a 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
As the story begins, Kaleb has rescued Sahara Kyriakus from her seven-year-long imprisonment by an (at first) unknown perpetrator—one 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.
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.
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 forever—never 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.