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REVIEW: Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh

Dear Ms. Singh,

Your Psy/Changeling series has me hooked. Set in a future and alternate Earth peopled by three races, humans, Psy, and changelings, the books feature dynamic characters, suspenseful plots and subplots, intricate world-building, and a lot of sexual and romantic tension. Though the world is dominated by the Psy, who are connected through a telepathic net, the changelings, who can shift form from animal to human, have slowly been gaining power, and it is they who are the focus of Branded by Fire, the sixth book in the series.

The story begins with a hot encounter between two changelings. Mercy, a sentinel for the DarkRiver leopard changeling pack, walks through the forest feeling the effects of eight months of abstinence. She is now the only one of the sentinels who is still unmated, and she worries she’ll remain that way. Mercy is dominant in her personality, and while she doesn’t want to walk all over a submissive man, she will also never allow someone else to boss her around. It’s a problem that other dominant females have sometimes been unable to resolve, and Mercy fears that even if she finds the right partner, she will resist the mating bond and roam away from him instead of accepting his love.

Just as Mercy is musing out loud that she would settle for a temporary lover to satisfy her physically, Mercy’s nemesis, Riley Kincaid, walks out of the woods. Riley is a wolf changeling whose rank in the wolves’ SnowDancer pack, lieutenant, is equal to Mercy’s leopard sentinel rank. Ever since Mercy’s DarkRiver leopard pack formed an alliance with Riley’s SnowDancer wolf pack, Mercy and Riley have been irritating one another, and now, Riley does not pass up the opportunity to taunt Mercy with his awareness of her physical needs.

A furious, frustrated Mercy attacks Riley and after he tries to subdue her without hurting her, things get sexual. Did I say this scene was hot? Scorching is more accurate. Even in bed (or rather, on the ground) Mercy and Riley vie for the upper hand, and the struggle for power turns them on more than they can stand to admit.

The next day they wake up feeling both satisfied and confused by the events of the previous night. After all, wolf and leopard are different animals. There may now be a truce between their packs, but cats and dogs are each other’s natural enemies. Not only that, Riley has always wanted a mate he could protect and keep safe, as he could not do for his mother or his sister Brenna, and Mercy will never allow any man to turn her into a submissive little wife. So why are they constantly thinking about each other, even on the trail of a rogue lynx changeling and on the search for the lynx’s brother, who has been kidnapped?

Branded by Fire may well be my favorite book in this series, and considering how much I enjoyed Caressed by Ice, that is saying something. I closed Branded by Fire at 11 PM, having skipped making or eating dinner until then so I could finish reading Mercy and Riley’s story. Sexy, intense and riveting, this book was also deeply satisfying. I couldn’t put it down.

I absolutely adore Mercy, who is not only strong and courageous but also loyal and generous. There is a scene in which Riley, after reliving his sister’s kidnapping in a nightmare, turns up outside Mercy’s house in the middle of the night, and she invites him to her bed, not for sex, but so that he can have the comfort of her company, without prying into his pain. The scene spoke volumes about the size of Mercy’s heart. For all that she knows that her toughness is her strength, Mercy also knows how to compromise without losing any of her self-esteem.

The latter is also true of Riley. Because of the hard time he gave Judd in Caressed by Ice, Riley started out with two strikes against him (in my book, anyway). I couldn’t blame Mercy for being annoyed with his taunts, either. But he won me over by making real sacrifices for Mercy, such as restraining his protective and possessive instincts so as not to lose her. By the end of this book, I also felt I understood his actions in Caressed by Ice better. I had forgotten, or maybe not known, that he raised his brother and sister from childhood, so it’s no wonder that what happened to Brenna in Slave to Sensation continued to haunt him even long after it was over.

In addition to Mercy and Riley’s romance, Branded by Fire also contains several intriguing subplots about the Human Alliance, the Psy Council, PsyNet, Lucas and Sascha, and Hawke and Sienna. The deeper into the series I’ve gotten, the more fascinated I’ve become with the complex tapestry you are crafting from these various, interwoven threads. I cannot wait for Hawke and Sienna’s book. I am so hoping these two will end up together. Please don’t make us wait too long to learn how things will turn out for them.

I do have a few minor criticisms. Besides the fact that it took me a little while to warm to Riley, I also felt that the writing wasn’t always smooth. There were POV shifts within scenes, and while I don’t always mind these, a couple of times I was confused as to whose thoughts I was reading. Additionally, toward the end of the book, I was so absorbed in the various plots that I felt somewhat impatient during the last couple of sex scenes, which did not hold my attention as strongly as the earlier ones.

But on the balance, I thought Branded by Fire was a deeply rewarding book. I don’t know you, but while reading Branded by Fire, I had the feeling that you weren’t holding anything back. There is a passion to your writing, and I don’t mean just the sex scenes — the whole book feels like it is written from a place of deep investment. I am now looking forward to November’s Blaze of Memory. B+/A- for Branded by Fire.



This book can be purchased at Amazon on July 3, 2009, or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers on that same date (will update when link is available).

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.


  1. Jennie
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 17:36:37

    Thanks for the review – I’m looking forward to this one. I plan to start it right after I finish the latest Alisa Scheckley, Moonburn (though I may need a palate cleanser in between because I don’t really like paranormals so much that I want to read them one after the other). I’m looking forward to getting caught up with the world that Singh has created here.

  2. Janine
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 17:48:21

    I hope you enjoy Branded by Fire, Jennie. I think it may be my favorite in this series, even though it’s not the angstiest (as you know I am fan of angsty books), mainly because I loved Mercy. Jane and I exchanged a few emails after I read the book and we both agreed that Mercy was a fabulous heroine.

    I look forward to finding out what you thought of Moonburn.

  3. Tina
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 19:46:40

    I LOVED this book. Like you, I think Mercy is a fabulous heroine and I think she might be my favorite in the Psy-Changeling series. Overall, I thought of it as an A and I can’t wait till Blaze of Memory comes out.


  4. Amy
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 20:12:37

    I can’t wait to read this book. I went around to various bookstores in town today to see if anyone accidentally stocked the book a day early, but no luck. :( I told DH that I plan to download the ebook tonight at midnight and buy a hardcopy later (since I have all the other books in the series in print form). He thinks I’m nuts, particularly given that I plan to stay up to read the ebook tonight. This is the only paranormal series that I still follow. Even though I have some issues with certain plot lines in some of the books, on the whole Nalini Singh has managed to continue to keep me entertained with her world building, interesting and different characters (instead of the same male/female characters recycled over and over), and hot romances. I know Booksonboard releases new books at midnight Central Time. Does anyone know whether Fictionwise or the Sony bookstore release earlier than Central Time?

  5. joanne
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 20:22:59

    I’m definitely a Singh fan-person, her writing just pulls me in every time.

    I was fortunate to find a copy out before the release date and I moved out of that store like a thief in the night. This wasn’t my favorite so far in the series but I think that’s because I’m not a fan of the ‘we can’t be together because….’ trope. That’s just a personal preference and I never put the book down once I started to read. I also like that she keeps us updated on how the previous couples are doing.

    I’m always reading for the romance and Ms Singh has a wonderful way with placing the hearts & flowers among the murder and mayhem.

  6. Kat
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 22:06:29

    I loved Mercy, too. I think Singh gets the balance of strength and vulnerability just right with her. I’d say this is my second favourite after Slave to Sensation, and I think that says a lot considering it’s the 6th book.

  7. Elyssa Papa
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 22:44:41

    This looks great. I’ve missed the last two . . . Will I be lost if I pick this up?

  8. anita chax
    Jul 06, 2009 @ 23:11:32

    Thanks Janine so much for the review! I can’t wait to read it… actually I’m keeping away from buying the book because I have a big project with a life-threatening deadline and my one big weakness is a good PNR (namely a new book by Ms. Singh and Ms. Cole). Darn Nalini Singh to bring this latest out at the most inconvenient time!!!!!

  9. Janine
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 00:03:49

    Tina and Joanne — I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the book!

    Amy — I hope you enjoy it too.

    Anita — I hope you enjoy it too (After you finish your project).

    @Elyssa Papa:

    This looks great. I've missed the last two . . . Will I be lost if I pick this up?

    While I don’t think you would have any trouble following the Mercy and Riley storyline even if you skip books four and five, I think the subplots which continue from book to book may be a little confusing and less satisfying if you read out of order. Personally I prefer reading them in order, but then I’m anal about that kind of thing, so maybe I’m not the best person to ask.

  10. Elyssa Papa
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 00:49:44

    That’s really good to know, Janine. Thanks!

  11. Janine
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 00:56:14

    You’re welcome, Elyssa.

    Also, @Amy:

    Does anyone know whether Fictionwise or the Sony bookstore release earlier than Central Time?

    No clue. But since it’s nearly midnight Pacific time, I expect you are reading already! Please do let me know what you thought when you come up for air.

  12. Joanne
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 01:26:10

    I pre-ordered my copy from Books on Board so that when I got up this morning the book would be ready to download (I’m in the UK). No such luck, the bloody site is down and my bookshelf is blank. So much for thinking ahead and trying to save time!

  13. Edie
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 01:27:06

    I want this book!! wwaaaahhhhhhhh

  14. Kat
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 02:25:34

    This is my second favourite book in the series (after Slave to Sensation), which is pretty good considering it’s #6. I loved Mercy, too. I think Singh conveyed the perfect balance between strength and vulnerability.

  15. cate
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 05:49:29

    I loved this book, & really I can’t see myself falling out of love with this series, as Nalini Singh keeps an ongoing development of both her characters & her world.
    Personally I’m desparate for Hawk’s story & The Ghost’s story.
    Do not walk, but run to the bookshop & get this book. It’s certainly one of my books for summer

  16. Tabitha
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 05:50:28

    Borders had BBF out on shelves early so I gobbled this book in one day. Love Mercy, love Mercy and Riley together, and I can’t wait for Hawke and Sienna to get together. Please do let them get together!

  17. Janine
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 10:38:16

    @Joanne: What a bummer.

    @Edie: I believe it’s in stores today.

    @Kat: I totally agree that Singh struck a perfect balance between strength and vulnerability in Mercy’s character. Right now there is a thread on AAR about tough-as-nails heroines that are difficult to relate to. Mercy was tough, but she was also easy to relate to and like.

    @cate: I so agree about the ongoing development of both world and characters in this series. And I agree about being desperate for Hawke’s story as well. I am interested in The Ghost’s story as well, but not as much as I am in Sienna and Hawke’s. I also would love a book about Faith’s father Anthony.

    @Tabitha: I too can’t wait for Hawke and Sienna to get together! There has been so much build up that I may be disappointed if they are paired with other people. And I’m dying to know more about Sienna’s psy ability now.

  18. marga
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 18:50:46

    i’m so jealous of you all that have managed to read this book…
    my copy is only arriving in 12 hours (hopefully) and i’m too excited to sleep….

  19. Reader
    Jul 07, 2009 @ 19:20:50

    I really liked this book; I’m hooked on the series as well! Carressed by Ice is still my favorite but this book was definitely the hottest and steamiest of the entire series. I CAN NOT wait for Hawke and Sienna’s book and I hope they end up together….I must admit, while reading this, I kept wanting more and more of Hawke and Sienna- it was so frustrating! It will be really interesting to see how that relationship (hopefully) develops because didn’t Hawke lose his mate? And if Hawke and Sienna are mates…wouldn’t they have felt the bond already? I WANT TO READ THEIR BOOK!!! It sucks that we’ll probably have to wait a few years!! :((((((((((((((((((

  20. orannia
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 02:35:26

    Thank you Janine! I finished reading this book last night and loved it! As a matter of fact I love the whole series. Nalini balances her all the various threads in her stories so well! And the connections between the characters – the familial relationships – there is such a sense of belonging :)

    Right now there is a thread on AAR about tough-as-nails heroines that are difficult to relate to.

    I need to read this thread :)

  21. Amy
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 02:36:22

    I am exhausted (from staying up late) but I loved the story! I agree the transition to various points of view seem choppy at times, but those issues were minor for me. I remain hooked on this series and can’t wait for the next book. My favorite remains Slave to Sensations; this and Caressed by Ice probably tie for my second favorite in the series. I must admit that I’ve reached a point where I cannot recall all the the character details/plot/sub-plot lines mentioned in previous books. I think I need to start over from the beginning and read each book back-to-back. As for Hawke and Sienna, I’m not a fan of love triangles and the hint of a triangle developing makes me wary. Also, I’m not fond of big age gaps between the male/female leads; I can deal with such a romance only if the younger (female) is at least in the mid to late-twenties. Since Sienna is only 18, I actually hope Hawke and Sienna’s story (assuming that is where Singh is heading) will not get written for several more years!

  22. Juliana Stone
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 18:59:50

    Okay, I need to pull these from my TBR pile like now, ……I met nalini last year at nationals and she is a sweet, sweet lady in person. tiny and cute!

  23. anita chax
    Jul 08, 2009 @ 21:40:47

    Ok I’m soooo weak! I went and bummed a copy off a friend and spent an entire night reading it (project be damned)! Man, can Singh write! Loved Mercy. Loved Riley. But when I began to re-read my fave bits I discovered most of them had Sienna and Hawke. What a combustible combination S and H made and what a brilliant set up. There’s something really endearing and enduring about a story when the h/H have to overcome insurmountable odds. And the odds are certainly stacked up against Hawke and Sienna far more than Riley and Mercy. Ah, the baggage of the past (in Hawke’s case) does give a story such intense drama. In contrast, M and R seemed to have less to work towards and much less to come to terms with and much less grovelling to do. It seems to me they were bonded much earlier than they did.

    Mind you, this is a very good book, a very re-readable book, a keeper, but Hawke and Sienna overshadowed Riley and Mercy’s journey for me even though they appeared in just a few paras.

    Oh, there’s far too much about other characters who’ve already had their HEAs.

    So there. My penny’s worth. Back to my project.

  24. Pearl
    Jul 09, 2009 @ 23:16:27

    I got this book yesterday and can’t wait to read it thanks to all the great reviews and tidbits.

    One thing I’ve noticed about all the reviews and conversations about this book is that readers are commenting on Hawke and Sienna as much as Mercy and Riley, who are the main characters. If Singh does write Hawke and Sienna’s tale, she’ll have a lot of readers for it because everyone’s rooting for them.

  25. Janine
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 00:27:49

    @marga: I hope you enjoy(ed) it!


    It will be really interesting to see how that relationship (hopefully) develops because didn't Hawke lose his mate? And if Hawke and Sienna are mates…wouldn't they have felt the bond already?

    I don’t think Hawke and Sienna are mates yet. And if I recall correctly, it was stated in BBF that Hawke loved a girl who would have been his mate had she lived to grow up. So yes, his love died, but I think she wasn’t actually his mate yet.

    @orannia: Not thanks necessary — pimping great books is the best part of this gig. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And the AAR thread on tough heroines in the paranormal genre is here.

    @Amy: I’m glad my recommendation worked out for you. Thanks for letting me know.

    Also, I'm not fond of big age gaps between the male/female leads; I can deal with such a romance only if the younger (female) is at least in the mid to late-twenties. Since Sienna is only 18, I actually hope Hawke and Sienna's story (assuming that is where Singh is heading) will not get written for several more years!

    I think Tamsyn was only nineteen and Nate much older in the novella with their story (I’m drawing a blank on this story — I think it’s in the anthology An Enchanted Season). Therefore I’m not sure Singh will wait for Sienna to be much older when she writes their story. I actually hope she doesn’t, because I don’t think I can stand to wait that long.

  26. Janine
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 00:36:22

    @Juliana Stone: I hope you enjoy them! Please feel welcome to post your thoughts here when you read them.

    @anita chax: I agree there was probably a little too much about characters who already have their HEAs. I’m not sure how it would read to someone who hadn’t read any of the other books. And Hawke and Sienna are combustible, indeed. I can’t wait for their story. Still, I didn’t feel they overshadowed Mercy and Riley. Maybe it’s just because I adored Mercy so! And the cat/wolf opening sex scene was so hot!!! Their romance still felt intense to me, even with Sienna and Hawke’s scenes in their book.

    @Pearl: It’s true we are commenting on Hawke and Sienna a lot. That’s because some really intriguing details were revealed in the book, I think. And I agree that after this, readers will be clamoring for these to to get together.

    I hope you enjoy Branded by Fire. Let me know what you thought if you feel so inclined.

  27. cate
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 06:55:41

    I’ll stick my head on the block here & say that I disagree about the time spent with returning HEA’s.
    Part of the reason that I love this series (apart from the fab storytelling) is that NS is continually showing us the growth of the Changeling/Psy community. Which is a brand new entity in this world of her’s .
    One of the prime causes of loosing faith with long running series, like those of Katie MacAllister’s & Charlaine Harris is, that there is a stagnation in the series, a repetitiousness which NS seems to be successfully avoiding.
    I think this is due to the attention paid to previous characters & their evolution in successive novels.
    P.S …..I don’t think Hawke & Sienna will be a couple. Feel free to throw chocolate if I’m wrong !

  28. Caitie
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 13:46:16

    I really liked Branded by Fire, but it wasn’t my favorite in the series, that’s still “Hostage to Pleasure.” Can’t wait for more with Hawk and Sienna either! I thought that Nalini had said that the two of them will have a book/be a couple one day. I could be wrong here, but I think I read something like that on her blog at one point. They aren’t the main characters in either of the next 2 books in the series (Blaze of Memory or the one following), but I’m keeping my fingers crossed #9 will be about them!

  29. Anita Chax
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 21:31:24

    @ Janine and cate
    I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon of characters who’ve had their HEAs reappearing in the later books. I don’t mind cameo appearances because I too love to know how they’ve fared. I also love bits where former h/Hs and current h/Hs have a bit of a run in with each other. (It’s usually the heroes but NS did an interesting version with her psy heroines in an earlier book when one was unwelcoming to the other and then repenting her hostility. That fleshed out their characters for me.)

    I however seem to resent in particular the alpha’s mate/queen/chieftan’s partner in PNRs having so much page space and importance and power in a book that is not hers. Intellectually I understand it’s the hierarchy of the clan structure and all that jazz but it doesn’t work for me in a romance.

    Kresley Cole does a brilliant job of circumventing this. In each of her books, the h/H has some of the most powerful villain(s) of the lore to overcome. And in each of her books, the h/H are special and unique and definitely not second to the King/Queen. And it’s ok in her world if former protagonists and current protagonists do not like each other.

  30. Anita Chax
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 21:47:15

    Oh, I loved the opening sequence in BBF too! Is it the hottest NS scene so far or what?

  31. marga
    Jul 10, 2009 @ 22:12:45

    @ Janine
    I Loved this book as much as i loved the whole series… I like how NS makes her stories a bit romantic without taking out the adventure, or letting the adventure drown the romance…
    I loved Mercy, but i really like Riley too, ’cause he is strong but not so strong that he needs not ‘front’ with those he loves.
    I felt that she had a good development on Hawke and Sienna, but that has been going on for a while now… i feel that Hawke despite the age difference might be a better match for her than Kit simply because by virtue of her powers Sienna has never really been a child, and therefore she needs someone strong beside her…
    I laughed at how Hawke kept on telling people how he didnt touch Sienna…and also at how much Mercy teased Riley (it takes a lot of self confidence to come back from some of the stuff she said)…
    All in all I’m buying a copy and sending it to my good friend in Kazakhstan…she doesnt read romance, but she is following this series…Guess that says a lot about Ms Singh’s talent!

  32. Kat
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 05:27:02

    I laughed at how Hawke kept on telling people how he didnt touch Sienna…

    @marga: One of the things I love about Pack rules is how the alpha, although absolute leader, is still answerable to his Sentinels if they feel s/he’s done something that violates the, I guess, moral code of the the Pack. So I also loved that they were very protective of Sienna.

    I think Tamsyn was only nineteen and Nate much older in the novella with their story (I'm drawing a blank on this story -‘ I think it's in the anthology An Enchanted Season). Therefore I'm not sure Singh will wait for Sienna to be much older when she writes their story. I actually hope she doesn't, because I don't think I can stand to wait that long.

    @Janine: I so agree with you here. I think Beat of Temptation was a good precursor to Sienna/Hawke. As I recall it was Tamsyn felt that Nate was being unfair in not accepting the mating bond because he thought she was too young. I’m usually not a fan of huge age gaps, either, but I think this is one of those cases where I can accept the circumstances.

  33. Janine
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 01:46:59

    Cate, Caitie, Anita, Marga and Kat,

    I wish I had the time to respond to your posts with the thoughtfulness they deserve. But since I am getting ready for RWA Nationals (my first time ever attending) I don’t have many free minutes right now. If I don’t find the time to reply before I leave, I hope I remember to respond after I get back home on the week of the 20th.

  34. chu6216067
    Jul 14, 2009 @ 08:28:33

    i also agree with Janine, in this series, this one is my favorite, NS do her best jobs.
    i like Riley and Mercy.

  35. Vinny
    Jul 14, 2009 @ 21:49:44

    I absolutely adored this book, my favourite of the series, if only because the chemistry between Riley and Mercy was so hot (in defense, it was more built up over one or two books). I love Riley. He’s a more realistic kinda character, as much as you can be in a paranomal world. I haven’t really been a fan of any of the heroes, maybe Dorian or Judd, but I couldn’t click with their heroines. But Mercy’s my favourite 2009 heroine so far. So, there you go. But, I can be objective, sorta, and admit that in terms of the actual plot/book itself, it’s not on the level of some of the others in the series (like Caressed).

    I love that Singh fleshes the world in each subsequent book (read in order everyone :x) and the overarching story makes for a stronger series. It’s complex in a way that I think Singh has got it planned out neatly (ahem, Anita Blake). I can’t wait for some of the cliffhangers to resolve themselves (I mean, um, Tatiana?! really?!). And if Singh ever wants to write a Kaleb book, I’m very firmly a member of Camp Kaleb. I think a Councillor book would be interesting.

  36. Fancy
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 14:57:27

    I liked this book, but I expected a lot more of Dorian. I mean he was supposed to be MErcy’s best friend and is completely MIA in this book.

  37. Janine
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 18:38:40

    @Fancy: That didn’t bother me because the book takes place almost immediately after Dorian’s wedding. I figured he was honeymooning with Ashaya.

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