JOINT REVIEW: Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh
Janine: I’ve been hankering for Nalini Singh’s Kiss of Snow ever since I realized Hawke would be paired with Sienna, and was so excited to receive the ARC that even though I was in the middle of two other books, I dropped them to read this one the day I got it. When I had finished, I emailed the other DA reviewers to see if anyone wanted to do a joint/conversational review. Happily, Shuzluva jumped at the chance to discuss it with me.
Shuzluva: I’m in the same boat as Janine; I was *trying* to read two other books (one successfully, the other? Not so much) and when I got this ARC I took a deep breath and plunged right in. I’m excited to discuss the book with Janine since we share the same love of the series but have definitely disagreed about certain books and characters.
Janine: But first, a plot summary. Kiss of Snow begins with Hawke, the alpha of the SnowDancer wolf changeling pack chastising two of his young soldiers for getting into a fight while on duty. Maria is contrite but Sienna challenges Hawke’s authority. Hawke disciplines both girls but simmering under the surface is the unwanted sexual tension between Sienna and Hawke.
Longtime readers of Singh’s Psy/Changeling series know that Sienna is a member of the Psy, a race of psychics linked through a neural network called the PsyNet. Through a protocol called Silence, the Psy repress all emotions, but Sienna’s family, the Laurens, defected from the PsyNet when Sienna was deemed by the one of the leaders on the Psy Council to be too powerful.
Rather than watch Sienna and her younger brother Toby and cousin Marlee die, Sienna’s two uncles, Walker and Judd, risked their lives and disengaged from the net, and the family survived by forming its own psychic network and finding asylum with Hawke’s wolf pack.
All that happened when Sienna was sixteen. Now she is nineteen, nearly twenty, and in love with Hawke, a man who once mistrusted all Psy because of the damage they inflicted on his loved ones years before. But Sienna’s fascination with Hawke only hurts her, because Hawke, although powerfully attracted to her, resists his feelings with all his strength.
Between Hawke and Sienna stands more than one conflict. Most prominent is the difference in their ages — Hawke’s age isn’t given in this book, but I believe he is in his thirties, while Sienna is nineteen.
In addition, there is the fact that when Hawke was just ten years old, he suffered an almost unbearable loss — Rissa, the girl who would have become his mate had she lived to adulthood, died. The wolf changelings only mate once in a lifetime, and Hawke knows he cannot mate again.
Finally, Sienna is a cardinal X-Psy, which means she possesses lethal and limitless power. But that very power threatens to consume her and perhaps even those in whose vicinity she lives, including her family and Hawke’s wolf pack. No X-Psy is known to have lived as long as Sienna, and although she herself remains in denial, Judd fears she does not have much time left.
For all those reasons, especially the age difference, Hawke is wary of Sienna’s appeal to him. He tries to tell himself that she is off-limits, but her friendship with the leopard changeling Kit gets under his skin. When Hawke’s sexual hunger begins to affect the teens in his pack, he knows he must sleep with someone, but he does not intend that it be Sienna.
Sienna, angry and hurt after realizing this, decides to move on and goes clubbing with friends. After her dancing nearly incites a fight at the club, Hawke collects her and dances with her in the moonlight. Because he can’t stand to free her to be with someone else, but knows that he cannot give her all she deserves — the profound connection of the mating bond – Hawke sends Sienna mixed signals.
Sienna is torn and confused, but eventually she understands that she needs to fight for Hawke, as she’s seen her packmates do for their mates.
Meanwhile, things are heating up in the war between the members of Pure Psy and the changelings, and the coming battle threatens not just Hawke and Sienna, but all they hold dear.
Interspersed between Sienna and Hawke’s romance is a quieter romantic relationship that unfolds between Sienna’s uncle, Walker Lauren, and Lara, the wolf changelings’ healer. Lara and Walker were close friends until one night a kiss changed that. Walker drew away from Lara and his rejection hurt her, but six months later, the two still miss each other.
Also woven in is a thread about Alice Eldridge, a scientist who wrote a dissertation on the X-Psy over a century earlier, before the implementation of Silence. Alice’s emails to her father appear at the end of some of the chapters, as Alice gets closer and closer to uncovering what may or may not be the solution that could save Sienna’s life.
I’m anxious to hear what you thought of Kiss of Snow, Shuzluva. This book grabbed me by the throat and I spent every free minute reading it, even skipping dinner for hours because the story was so gripping.
Hawke and Sienna’s relationship has been building over the course of the series and this was the culmination not only of their unrequited feelings, but also of the first arc of the Psy/Changeling series itself, with hostilities between the series’ protagonists and the villains finally breaking out into war.
We were also treated to the birth of Luke and Sascha’s baby – and no, I’m not revealing the gender or name of the child in this review! Judd and the mysterious Ghost’s alliance took a very compelling turn, too, with the Ghost conflicted over whether to help Judd save Sienna when she could present a threat to his own plans.
For all those reasons I could hardly put this book down, and I was left reflecting on how well Nalini Singh builds her plot arcs and sets up her emotional payoffs. I think she is one of the genre’s best when it comes to plotting. This book was also, as you mentioned to me in an email, tightly written, and all of that made it a very satisfying read. I think it might be my new favorite in this series.
Shuzluva: First, thank you for the fantastic plot summary, Janine. I know I would have probably given something away that shouldn’t be discussed in a review, but my tendency is to overshare when I’m trying to make a point.
Janine: Thanks, but I’ve been known to give away spoilers too. I hope I haven’t done so in this instance.
Shuzluva: Regarding my immediate reaction to Kiss of Snow, I am in the same boat as you. I managed to read this book during every free minute I had and absolutely blew through it. That’s not to say this book is a light read. Things get hot and heavy in a number of ways and the reading is intense on both an intellectual and psychological level.
I actually found myself going back to re-read certain passages that had less to do with the emotional arc of the story and more to do with the nuts-and-bolts of Sienna’s designation, the movement towards open hostilities between the Psy and the Changelings (and humans), and certain tactical interactions between characters just to make sure I didn’t miss anything critical.
As I noted to you, the book is incredibly tight, with the primary story strongly interwoven with the secondary and tertiary plot lines so much so that no event or action seems extraneous or gratuitous.
Janine: Great point about the weaving of the plot lines. I loved the ways they impacted on one another.
Shuzluva: I have been fascinated by the progression of Hawke and Sienna’s relationship from the moment the two of them appeared on the page together way back when. While I don’t think of dogs as sensual creatures the same way as cats (and I’m a dog person, trust me), Hawke always appealed to me on a physical level, and from the very first, his antagonistic relationship with Sienna was a recipe for serious combustion. Their interactions are so hot that there were times I was sure my eyeballs were going to catch fire.
I have been driving myself crazy in terms of trying to figure out who the Ghost is. I have a pretty good idea, but I’m still not convinced. Judd Lauren’s alliance with him and their scenes are totally compelling. This will probably be one of my classic overshares: I cannot wait to see what happens next with the Psy Council and the repercussions it will have on the PsyNet.
One of the reasons this series works so well for me, and this book especially, is that the different characters appear without a hiccup in personality or voice. That is highlighted with the birth of Lucas and Sasha’s baby. The interactions between the SnowDancer and DarkRiver packs (and the reminders that they were once not allied with each other) were superbly done, and the focus shifted smoothly from one character to another and one situation to another. I know I’ve mentioned this before in my reviews of the Psy/Changeling series, but the characters are so well written that they each retain their individual personalities without becoming background wallpaper. With a cast that is now well over 50 characters, of which over half have been written about in significant detail, the ability to continue making all of them integral to the story is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Janine: Agreed, it is very impressive.
Shuzluva: Your use of “emotional payoff” hit the nail on the head. Kiss of Snow is a gripping read due to both the emotional and intellectual payoffs. For me, it’s definitely in the top three of the series.
Janine: It is easily up there for me as well. With regard to criticisms, I can find very few things to complain about. Singh has a tendency to use certain words and phrases a lot, but this is one of the things that give her writing style its vivid and distinctive quality which has grown on me over the course of the series.
Gender roles are a bit on the traditional side in certain regards in these books, too. The male protagonists are almost always dominant and lethal, while the women, though emotionally strong, shy away from killing. We hear about the maternal contributions of submissive females, but the submissive males don’t get much positive attention.
Some of the Psy/Changeling books I’ve liked best have been those where that hero/heroine dynamic is a little less conservative, such as Branded by Fire, with its sexually experienced heroine, or Play of Passion with its older heroine/younger hero matchup. But even though this book doesn’t fit that description, I enjoyed it so tremendously that I was only very slightly bothered by the fact that Hawke outmatched Sienna in many ways. More on the reasons why in a minute.
What about you, Shuzluva? Did this book have any drawbacks for you?
Shuzluva: I agree with you about the traditional gender roles in this series. The lack of a positive submissive male model was highlighted in Play of Passion, and I was definitely bothered by it as well as another plot point that had to do with gender roles in the same book. I know we discussed it in an email exchange, and while I loved Play of Passion, that particular point still sticks in my craw. If anyone would like to discuss it with me (I know I’m being somewhat vague here, but I don’t want to give away plot points that are well into a book) feel free to mention it in the comments.
In this particular book, the gender roles were in no way reversed, but perhaps better balanced due to Sienna’s abilities. You mentioned the males of the series being lethal, but Hawke admits he takes no pleasure in killing, which made that particular aspect of their relationship an easy read for me. I did have a bit of a struggle with the age gap between Hawke and Sienna (even though it’s unclear as to exactly what their age difference is), and frankly I wish that Sienna had just a couple more years on her. I’ll discuss that below.
Janine: Yes, let’s discuss the way Singh handled the age difference. As I read this book I compared it to Julie Anne Long’s What I Did for a Duke, where there was a similar age difference between the characters. The Long book had a more realistic treatment of that type of conflict, with the heroine at first dismissing the hero as much older, and only coming of age during the course of that story. Genevieve’s immaturity was an integral obstacle to the romance in that book.
By contrast, Singh chose to present Sienna very differently. Despite her youth and her sexual inexperience, Sienna lived through some horrors in childhood, and those things forced her to grow up early so that she is in some ways as strong and emotionally mature as Hawke.
I think it is perhaps a less true-to-life depiction because I believe that in real life someone who lived through the kind of abuse Sienna endured as a child would come out more damaged, and not necessarily strong enough to handle Hawke with all his possessiveness, dominant instincts.
But putting aside that caveat, I have to say that I really enjoyed the relationship between the two of them and didn’t care much that it wasn’t entirely realistic.
I loved that Sienna was vulnerable, but not as much as she was when she first arrived on SnowDancer land. I loved that she was mature enough to understand what was driving Hawke, while still being young enough to go clubbing in sexy jeans and dance on top of the bar when she thought he’d be sleeping with someone else.
And I loved that Hawke was so thrown by his feelings for her, so conflicted as to acting on them. I know that there are many readers who dislike big age differences, and often I do too. I also feel Singh walked a tightrope here, because Hawke would probably be too much for most thirty year old women, let alone a nineteen year old.
But ultimately this aspect of the book worked for me because Hawke wasn’t waiting for Sienna to grow up so he could jump her bones – he struggled as hard as he could to stay away from her, and only gave in when he realized how impossible that was for both of them.
Hawke’s internal struggle made it clear that his control over the situation had shattered, and in a strange way that shifted the balance of power between him and Sienna, so that despite the age and rank difference, to say nothing of his dominant alpha personality and greater sexual experience, there was a feeling of the two of them being on equal ground. He was in some ways just as powerless in the face of his need for Sienna as she felt with him early on in the book.
Shuzluva: You laid out Sienna and Hawke’s issues beautifully here. I think my greatest struggle was reconciling the Sienna I was reading on the page with her chronological age. On an emotional level she didn’t read like a 19 year old, especially a 19 year old that had been Silent for the majority of her life. I definitely had some trouble with this, and I realize that some of it has to do with my own view of age differences and maturity. And it bothered me as well that we don’t know how old Hawke is. I think it’s another indication of “it shouldn’t matter”, but it must for me because I’m thinking about it.
Janine: We agree on both these points. I wished Hawke’s age had been given in the book because I wanted to know exactly how many years separated him from Sienna’s, and I also felt that Sienna’s maturity wasn’t entirely realistic. But despite these issues, I enjoyed the conflicted, combustive chemistry between the main characters so much that I was willing to throw my reservations to the wind and fly with the story.
Shuzluva: What saved this for me was Sienna’s very age-appropriate reactions to Hawke (read: going clubbing in sexy gear to get him jealous) and her ability to slice down to the heart of the matter whether it was dealing with her own fears and feelings or Hawke’s. Sienna’s direct approach to the deepest emotional conflict was refreshing and her down and dirty confrontation with Hawke rang so true that I could almost hear the bells going off.
Janine: Terrific points about Sienna. How did you feel about Lara and Walker? That subplot didn’t grab my attention right away because at first their dynamic seemed a bit too similar to Hawke and Sienna’s, with Walker sending Lara push-pull signals and Lara being hurt by them, but once Walker started to open up to Lara, that relationship developed in a different direction from the Hawke and Sienna storyline and I started caring about them too.
Shuzluva: From Walker and Lara’s first interaction I knew we were going to be treated to a secondary romantic subplot. I admit that I mentally groaned when Walker began with the hot/cold crap and Lara acted wounded by his withdrawal. But I was curious about the one Lauren family member that seemed to be the least well drawn. I am thankful that Walker and Lara’s relationship went very differently than I had assumed (damn assumptions) and am now a huge Walker fan.
Janine: On another note, I really enjoyed the interactions between Judd and the Ghost. The Ghost remains as enigmatic as ever, and his actions in this book have made me even more interested in him than I was before. I hope he gets his own book eventually, and the same goes for Vasic and Aden from Judd’s Arrow squad.
Shuzluva: I mentioned my fascination with the Ghost above, and the confusion behind his loyalties and actions. With Hawke finishing his romantic arc, I find that I’m hopeful we will get another Psy-driven book (*cough* Kaleb *cough*) versus another SnowDancer / DarkRiver one.
Janine: Sounds good to me. There are some falcon changelings waiting for their turn, too.
It’s time to grade Kiss of Snow. I very rarely give A range grades to books unless I love the prose as much as I do the characters, and while I care about plot, which is one of Singh’s greatest strengths as a writer, it isn’t usually my highest priority as a reader or a reviewer.
Still, this book was such a roller coaster ride — with great pacing, emotional scenes that made me cry, happy moments that brought a goofy smile to my face, and scorching hot love scenes — that I can’t give it less than an A-.
Shuzluva: I am on the opposite end of the spectrum. If a book has an amazing plot and characters that are only likeable, I’m likely to give it a higher grade than if the reverse were true.
Beyond plot, I feel that a lot of components seamlessly came together in Kiss of Snow and the book provides emotional as well as intellectual rewards that are not solely dependent upon the main characters. And all the sexin’ didn’t suck either. Kiss of Snow gets an A from me.