Posted in: AztecLady Reviews, Nalini Singh
Reader beware: In compliance with FTC guidelines, please be aware that I was given a digital ARC of this novel by Ms Singh for the purpose of writing a review. In the end, I bought my own, dead-tree copy of the novel anyway.
Blaze of Memory, by Nalini Singh
Part of Ms Singh’s very successful Psy/Changeling romance series, Blaze of Memory picks up the trail of two characters introduced in the fourth and fifth novels in the series (Mine to Possess and Hostage to Pleasure, respectively): Devraj Santos, apparently human and director of the Shine Foundation, and Ekaterina Haas, psy and erstwhile assistant of Ashaya Aleine in her research for the Council.
While this novel could be read as a stand alone title, I definitely would recommend reading at least the two mentioned. Not only are there a number of secondary characters whose presence in this story will make more sense to a reader familiar with the series, but the relationships between the different human groups are also rather complex at this point in the main story arc. Beyond those two reasons, the intricacies of the psy vs changeling and/or human physiologies will probably be easier to digest to people who already know Ms Singh’s psy/changeling universe.
Here’s the back cover blurb:
Dev Santos discovers her unconscious and battered, with no memory of who she is. All she knows is that she’s dangerous. Charged with protecting his people’s most vulnerable secrets, Dev is duty-bound to eliminate all threats. It’s a task he’s never hesitated to complete… until he finds himself drawn to a woman who might prove to be the enemy’s most insidious weapon yet.
Stripped of her memories by a shadow oppressor and programmed to carry out cold-blooded murder, Katya Haas is fighting desperately for her sanity. Her only hope is Dev. But how can she expect to gain the trust of a man who could very well be her next target? For in this game, one must die…
For once I have no specific complaints about the blurb (yes, I know, shocking—but it does happen. Occasionally) except…
(you knew that was coming, right?)
… that it gives a bit too much away of the latter part of the novel.
The beginning of the novel is excellent; it immediately sets up the conflict between Dev and Katya—a conflict that is inevitable within the parameters of this universe—while presenting them as the protagonists. For readers of the series, this is an important distinction. Ms Singh doesn’t change who these two are but rather, she gives us a new perspective from which to see them.
As director of the Shine Foundation, and after the events narrated in Mine to Possess, Devraj knows very well that both the foundation and he have been marked as targets by the Psy Council. Finding a tortured and unconscious psy on his doorstep doesn’t make him forget this, no matter how much pity he may feel for any creature in pain. Or how attracted he may be to this particular woman’s resilience.
For her part, Ekaterina/Katya’s pain—not only physical, but the loss of self that is the result of the mental and psychic torture she endured for months—is rendered very vividly. As is her fear, for she knows the only reason she could have been allowed to live is as a weapon. Equally well portrayed is her awakening to feeling and sensation. Now that her personality has been literally smashed into nothing, her conditioning to Silence is also gone. Katya is psy, and remembers being Silent in the fragments of her memories that now and then surface in her consciousness, but in this new life, she’s as open to feeling as any human or changeling. And how can she not be intrigued by this man who has taken it upon himself to protect her, even if he can’t trust her?
Contrary to the past several installments of the Psy/Changeling series, Blaze of Memory is driven mostly by the internal conflicts of these two characters, as well as the conflict between them. There are secondary story arcs involving the rest of the psy/changeling world, which help situate this book in the world’s timeline (so to speak), but more than others in the series, this book truly is about the two main characters.
Throughout the first 200 pages or so, everything is progressing logically and consistently, although readers familiar with the series may notice a bit of repetition geared towards the newcomers—i.e., differences between the three subspecies of humans, the reach of the Psy council, etc. (Though I want to commend Ms Singh for keeping these instances to a minimum and not falling prey to the dreaded ‘info-dump’ syndrome that affects too many long-running series, particularly those with complex world-building.)
Up to this point in the narrative, Dev’s position is clear. He cannot trust Katya simply because there is no way to know what has been put in her mind. There may very well be some programming that can be set off at any moment by some unknown trigger. Katya’s position is equally straightforward—as much as she may agree with Dev on the danger she represents for the Foundation at large and for him in particular, she is adamant about following a compulsion to “go north” and find what it is that lies there.
Then, suddenly, whammo! Things change—and I don’t quite see how it happens. Or, more accurately, don’t quite buy why it happens. I’ve read the book three times now in full, and still the transition seems abrupt to me: now Dev is willing to risk his life and (this is the one thing in the novel I struggle most with) put the Shine Foundation and those it protects and helps in danger, by trusting Katya—even though nothing has really changed regarding her potentially lethal hidden programming.
Each of the three times I’ve read Blaze of Memory from cover to cover (there have been partial re-reads, what can I say? I like Ms Singh’s writing), I hit this spot with the same feeling of confusion. It is as if I am missing something that should be glaringly obvious—yet I still can’t see it.
Frustrating doesn’t begin to cover it.
Anyway, once I get past that feeling (i.e., I accept the change and move on), I read without pausing to the end, enjoying pretty much ever moment of it. Two things that I think are brilliantly done in this novel: the first, how the characters from previous stories do not suddenly become different people in order to fit *this* book. Judd Lauren is still Judd Lauren, Psy, Arrow, assassin. Sascha and Lucas are still Sascha, empath, and Lucas, Changeling leader. Equally important to me is that these characters appear here because the story line makes it necessary for them to do so and not simply for the sake of including ‘cameos’ of the previous couples in the series.
The second thing: after that change I mentioned above, there are a number of decisions our protagonists have to make, with the attendant consequences. Some of the best writing of the novel is found in those chapters (particularly chapters 52 and 53). There are some deeply emotional moments there, and while there is one twist almost at the end that seemed a bit too pat and tidy, I feel that wrench of connection to the characters each time I read the book.
Blaze of Memory gets a 7.75 out of 10, and I’m definitely on tenterhooks waiting for the next novel, Bonds of Justice (out in July sometime—I cannot wait!).
Reading order and links to my reviews: