Posted in: AztecLady Reviews, Nalini Singh, reviews
Tags:Nalini Singh, paranormal romance, Psy/Changeling
A couple of years ago I started reviewing every book in Ms Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, in order of publication. What with one thing and another, the last such review I posted was of Blaze of Memory1 Now that I’m awaiting the imminent release of the latest book, A Tangle of Need, I embarked on a re-read of the whole series. (Yes, I know I’m a bit obsessive, thanks.) Since I’m reading them, why not review them? And here we are.
Sensuality rating: Steamy.
The eight installment in Ms Singh’s successful Psy/Changeling series, this is the first one where a changeling—or even a human member of a changeling pack—isn’t a protagonist. With this novel, Ms Singh shifts the focus to humans in a very different manner than she did with the secondary plot in Branded by Fire.
But first a disclaimer: if you haven’t read any of these novels, you will probably be lost. Not only are a number of characters from as far back as Slave to Sensation mentioned, several have key (if minor, page count-wise) rôles in this novel. Beyond that, there is an overarching plot thread noted in a number of passages (some of them one paragraph chapters) that will make a new-to-the-series reader go, “Huh?” repeatedly. So, if I were you, I would just start at the beginning.
With that out of the way, here is the back cover blurb:
Max Shannon is a good cop, one of the best in New York Enforcement. Born with a natural shield that protects him against Psy mental invasions, he knows he has little chance of advancement within the Psy-dominated power structure. The last case he expects to be assigned is that of a murderer targeting a Psy Councilor’s closest advisors. And the last woman he expects to compel him in the most sensual of ways is a Psy of a verge of catastrophic mental fracture…
Sophia Russo is a Justice Psy, cursed with the ability to retrieve memories from men and women so twisted that even veteran cops keep their distance. Appointed as Max’s liaison with the Psy, she finds herself fascinated by this human, her frozen heart threatening to thaw with forbidden emotion. But, her mind filled with other people’s nightmares, other people’s evil, she’s standing on the border between sanity and a silken darkness that urges her to take justice into her own hands, to become judge, jury…and executioner.2
Max, our hero, had been introduced further back in the series, as a friend of Clay Bennett’s mate, Talin McKade, during Mine to Possess (see? Told you it’d be better if you started at the beginning). From that novel we know that he has unbreakable natural shields—he can’t be coerced or manipulated by telepaths—and that he is a man of integrity. This effectively cripples his career but, as he Max himself tells his boss early in the novel, it also means that neither he nor anyone else will ever doubt whether he has been led to a particular conclusion in an investigation. For Nikita Duncan, Psy Councilor, these two traits are invaluable assets.
As far as our heroine… One of the best things about the Psy/Changeling series is the continuity. Ms Singh doesn’t take chances, nor plays around with her readers—whatever new development in her world, it has certainly been foreshadowed, often from the very beginning of the series. And so, even though this is the first time we deal with a J-Psy, their existence and rasion d’être has already been explained as far back as Hostage to Pleasure. It’s rare, in my experience, to see this close attention to detail in the development of a long running series.
So when we are introduced to Sophia, we already know what she is supposed to be and what she is supposed to do. Both the readers and Max know, upon seeing her interaction with Gerard Bonner aka The Butcher of Park Avenue that she is efficient, calculating, cold: utterly Psy. And also that she is not quite what she appears to be. Or rather, not only who she appears to be.
Pretty early in the story we learn that J’s, due to her constant contact not just with humans at large but particularly violent criminals, are at a higher risk for mental degradation than most other Psy designations. In a short exchange between Sophia and a prison warden, he remarks how she becomes almost human in between re-conditioning treatment (“We actually had a conversation” pg 19), while she realizes that each time her conditioning degrades faster.
As an aside: personally, I like very much how the backstory for most of the characters in the series is revealed, little by little, peeling off a corner here and then another there, giving little hints of who each one of the players are. In the later books—I actually think this starts with Dorian’s story, the aforementioned Hostage to Pleasure—Ms Singh uses short notes as chapter headings to further these revelations. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, often dark, these little snippets provide clues to the careful reader.
The plot of the novel is somewhat complicated by the fact that we have one main story arc—Max and Sophie are basically tasked with finding out who is behind the deaths of several of Nikita Duncan’s highest ranked people—which is actually the visible consequence of one of the main series’ story arcs: the artificial separation of the three races of humans, plus the internal fracturing of the Psy (and the PsyNet) as a consequence of the flaws inherent to the Silence Protocol. Then there is a somewhat-but-not-quite secondary plot involving the psychopath mentioned earlier, the continued search for the remains of his suspected victims, and his attraction to Sophia.
It speaks for Ms Singh’s skill that I never felt that Sophia and Max’s character and/or relationship development got short-changed in favor of the main, external, story arc. Indeed, because of her incredibly careful world building, both of story lines feed on and off each other, with characters and events rolling inexorably towards the end.
This being a romance novel, it’s a given that, as Max and Sophia work closely together to solve Nikita’s issue, as well as to try and pry information from Bonner, they will discover more and more about each other, fanning the embers of attraction they both felt upon meeting. But there are enough obstacles between them, and these are realistic enough, to make the story worth reading.
For example, Sophia craves touch—yet hasn’t dared touch anyone in years, for fear her already frayed shields will finally disintegrate, leaving her open to the thoughts of every mind in her vicinity. Beyond this, she is afraid that touching Max will mean knowing him “without ever knowing him, all his secrets, all his yesterdays an endless roar inside her skull.”(pg 83) And Max, after surviving a truly horrific, harrowing childhood, is afraid he is intrinsically unlovable.
So seeing them reach for each other is very sweet.
Not having to roll my eyes at world building inconsistencies designed at the very last minute to allow them to do just that? Just awesome.
And then there is the progress to the overall series story arc. On the Psy side of things, we hear from the Council at large, from Nikita, from Kaleb. Thanks to Max’s link to Talin, we hear from the Dark River changelings. Brief and somewhat cryptic references are made to parallel storylines—Hawke, the role of empaths, the true nature and significance of violence in the PsyNet, Kaleb, the Ghost. Not so much as to drown the main story, but more than enough to whet the series’ fans thirst for more.
With that said…
(This next bit may be a bit spoilerish, I fear)
There is a climax to the story, quite dramatic and action packed (and we see quite a bit of one of my favorite antiheroes, the deliciously mysterious Kaleb Krychek). One of the mayor stumbling blocks in the way of our protagonists’ HEA has been removed—and again, many kudos to Ms Singh for making it logical and believable—when…
BAM! Second crisis, second climax, second resolution.
Mind you, it’s well written and has plenty of impact—and the implications of several factors of this second big scene are felt long after the end of this particular novel (if you have read Kiss of Snow, you know what I mean)—but still, it felt a bit…I don’t know. Anticlimactic, I guess, compared to the previous one.
And then there is the—mercifully brief—epilogue. It’s sweet without being cloying, but the surprise in it felt telegraphed several chapters back. I would have liked more something a bit less…concrete, I guess.
Still, I am very much convinced these two kids will make it, and that’s the most important bit when reading a romance, so…
Bonds of Justice gets 8.25 out of 10.
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1 Yes, I still think this is the lowest point of the series so far, by the way.
2 A quick tangent: It has been said—and I wish I could remember who, so I could link—that it’s weird how often romance readers forgive the hero for killing—so long as there is some sort of justification or rationalization attached to it. See how often there are SEAL and other military, or police, heroes in romance. Even in historicals, we often have retired military men (or spies, let’s not forgive the spies) who have killed. It’s been remarked that heroines too often forgive (or even ignore) the heroes’ violent tendencies. I applaud Ms Singh for, in this novel, it’s the hero who must come to terms with the heroine’s violent nature. And yes, the author takes pains to ensure we know these are no gratuitous killings—as a J, Sophia is witness to whatever her victims did to others, from the point of view of the perpetrator. There is no doubt, reasonable or not—what she knows are the actual facts of the matter. Still, it’s a nice change.
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Reading order (link will take you to reviews):