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REVIEW: Blaze of Memory by Nalini Singh

Dear Ms. Singh,

0425231119.01.LZZZZZZZBlaze of Memory begins shortly after Devraj Santos finds an unknown woman unconscious on his doorstep. Dev is the director of the Shine Foundation, an organization that assists the Forgotten and protects their children from those who would exploit their psychic powers.

For those who haven’t read the earlier books in the Psy/Changeling series, the Forgotten are the descendants of Psy who dropped out of the net that psychically links the members of that race. Those Psy intermarried with humans, and their descendants manifest psychic gifts that are frequently different from those of the Psy. Some of the high ranking Psy view the Forgotten as a threat, which is why they persecute them.

As director of the Shine Foundation, it is Dev’s role to put the Forgotten first at all times, and to do whatever is necessary to keep them from harm. Dev has a cold and ruthless side to his personality partly because of that, and partly because of his psy ability, which remains shrouded in mystery for much of the book but is said to involve metal. But despite his hard edges, Dev feels protective of anyone who has been abused, and the woman he finds on his doorstep clearly qualifies.

When she wakes up, the mystery woman does not remember anything, even her own name. She is also malnourished, and her amnesia appears to have been brought about by psychic tampering. But she is quickly identified as Ekaterina Haas, a former colleague of Ashaya, the heroine of Hostage to Pleasure.

Katya, as she renames herself, begins to remember bits and pieces of the psychic violation that has altered her and left her able to experience emotions. The visions come to her in nightmares, and she is not always able to retain the memories. One such nightmare reveals to the reader, but not to Dev or to Katya, that Katya is a sleeper agent whose mission is to infiltrate Shine and gather information on the children of the Forgotten and their abilities. After she has done so or attempted to do so, she is to kill Dev.

But although neither of them knows the exact details of her mission, both Katya and Dev are keenly aware that she may be programmed to do something treacherous. Katya asks Dev to kill her before he allows that to happen, and Dev agrees. It is in fact something he has already planned on, but Katya’s courage earns his admiration and makes the prospect of killing her even more painful.

Once Katya is well enough to leave her hospital bed, Dev insists that she come with him to his house in Vermont, since he can’t trust her not to harm the children he has sworn to protect. Although Katya knows that she may in fact be a sleeper agent, she feels a compulsion to head north. Katya is angry at finding herself an effective hostage when Dev denies her the freedom to leave. She is also offended by the fact that Dev distrusts her even when she is being completely honest.

But despite the tension between them, Dev and Katya can’t completely resist their growing attraction to one another, especially when Katya’s nightmare memories leave her in need of Dev’s comfort. They are uncertain about what the future holds for either of them, and everyone who observes them feels that their love is doomed.

Katya and Dev’s storylines are interspersed with hundred-year old letters written by a mother with Psy powers and addressed to her young son, Matthew. The letters chronicle the lives of the writer’s family through the implementation of Silence, the protocol that keeps the Psy from experiencing emotions but also prevents them from committing horrific crimes.

Also interspersed are logs from a place called Sunshine Station, where something bad happened, and scenes that involve the members of the Psy Council, some of which are becoming aware of a dark patch forming in the PsyNet, something that may prove dangerous to all the Psy.

The first third of the book was slow to engage me for the following reasons. First and foremost, Katya and Dev’s story felt a bit repetitive early on since their budding relationship keeps running into the wall of Dev’s justifiable distrust. I felt that in that section of the book, they were essentially arguing in circles.

Secondly, much of the information in the letters to Matthew is about the inception and early implementation of Silence, and this terrain has already been covered in earlier books in the series, albeit not from this perspective. I realize that some readers won’t have read the earlier books leading up to Blaze of Memory, but for the reader who has, there isn’t much that is new in the epistolary storyline.

Third, like the main plot, the subplot about the Sunshine Station takes a while to kick into higher gear. And lastly, we don’t visit much with the changeling characters until later on in the book. I have grown attached to those characters, and before they appeared, I missed seeing them.

However, in the second half the book really gathers momentum. Since to go into the details would involve spoilers, I’ll just say that the Sunshine Station subplot eventually grabbed this reader by the throat, changeling characters from previous books play a significant role in the second half, and most importantly, Katya and Dev’s relationship turns around. Their arduous, star-crossed path to a happy ending makes their relationship richer and deeper, and that makes reading about it very satisfying.

The ending of the book is very emotional, and although I’ve begun to detect a pattern in the endings of your last three books, it still got to me viscerally. I think I may have cried harder toward the end of this book than I ever have while reading your books.

While this book isn’t up there with my favorites in the series, Caressed by Ice and Branded by Fire, I still felt it was worth reading and would not hesitate to recommend it to readers. B for this one.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony on November 3.

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.

13 Comments

  1. Lisa J
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 09:41:00

    I’m in the middle of this book now and so far I am enjoying it. I’m waiting to understand the letters to Matthew and the Sunshine Station bits, but I know it will get there.

  2. KMont
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 10:05:45

    *Secondly, much of the information in the letters to Matthew is about the inception and early implementation of Silence, and this terrain has already been covered in earlier books in the series, albeit not from this perspective. I realize that some readers won't have read the earlier books leading up to Blaze of Memory, but for the reader who has, there isn't much that is new in the epistolary storyline.*

    See now, I loved those letters, and I’ve read the whole series through this one. Normally I loath chapter-starters like those letters, but these I found to be the perfect way to get a feel not only for the Forgotten, but the pre-Silence Psy as well, as well as the reasons for implementing Silence. I felt this book did that the best, despite anything we’ve gotten about the Psy previously.

    The romance felt out-of-the-blue at first, but then settles into a nicely developing pace. This one isn’t my favorite either (Mercy and Riley -rowwwrrrr), but definitely felt it advanced the series in a good way.

  3. Janine
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 13:20:47

    Lisa, yes, it gets there. Glad you are enjoying it!

    See now, I loved those letters, and I've read the whole series through this one. Normally I loath chapter-starters like those letters, but these I found to be the perfect way to get a feel not only for the Forgotten, but the pre-Silence Psy as well, as well as the reasons for implementing Silence. I felt this book did that the best, despite anything we've gotten about the Psy previously.

    I agree that the letters to Matthew gave us a better feel for all the things you mentioned than the earlier books did. But I still had a strong enough feel for these things before reading the letters that when I read them I felt some “but I already know this” impatience.

    The romance felt out-of-the-blue at first, but then settles into a nicely developing pace. This one isn't my favorite either (Mercy and Riley -rowwwrrrr), but definitely felt it advanced the series in a good way.

    I liked this book quite well overall too. What did you think about the ending?

    SPOILER
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    A bit similar to the endings of Branded by Fire and Angels’ Blood in terms of what happens to the heroine there, but it still affected me deeply.

  4. Lisa J
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 16:22:50

    It’s not that I don’t like the letters, it just takes me a little out of the story. Not enough to make me stop reading because I love these books. It’s more of a cadence thing for me.

    For me, Nalini Singh could write the phone book and I would read it to see how she makes the ending happy. Her books always affect me and I find myself rereading them often.

  5. Janine
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 16:27:43

    @Lisa J: I agree about the letters. At least for me, it also affected the rhythm and took me out of the story a little bit, because I would be absorbed in wanting to know what happens next, and then I’d get to the letter telling stuff whose outcome I mostly already knew, so it seemed slower than the other portions of the story.

    But I agree that Singh is a very strong writer. I love the way her books grab a hold of me.

  6. Heike M.
    Nov 04, 2009 @ 09:28:16

    Blaze of Memory arrived on my doorstep yesterday and finished it today in spite of my workload, so I can’t say I wasn’t compelled to gobble it up. I liked the fast pace of the storyline and the progress in the world building *but* it didn’t work for me emotionally as all the other books in the series did. The romance left a ‘so what?’ feeling, and I don’t want to re-read the book anytime soon (a first for a book from Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, since I tend to re-read books I like repeatedly).

    The thing is, I can’t really pin down, why the h/h left me this uninterested and detached. One point may be that Dev is described and acts like a Changeling cat, but isn’t one (which just sounds weird to me and doesn’t make him unique), another that the bonding is very similar to a mating with changelings involved. With these aspects Nalini Singh, IMO, passes up the opportunity to explore the development of the relationship of this pairing of a Psy and a member of the Forgotten and goes in a formulaic direction with the romance part of the story. A second point may be the repetitiveness in the relationship you mentioned.

    BTW, my favourites in the series, and re-read innumerable times, also are Branded By Fire and Caressed by Ice.

  7. Janine
    Nov 04, 2009 @ 14:03:40

    @Heike M.: Heike, I’m sorry the book didn’t work well for you. It’s been a while since I read the ARC of this book, but from what I recall, I felt that Dev was colder than the changelings in his willingness to kill Katya if necessary. I do agree that there were some similarities, though.

    For me in the series, this book ranks above Slave to Sensation and Hostage to Pleasure, but not as high as Caressed by Ice, Mine to Possess or Branded by Fire. About on par with Visions of Heat, I would say. But I get that for you it was the weakest, and I’m sorry that my recommendation didn’t work out for you.

  8. CourtneyLee
    Nov 04, 2009 @ 15:20:18

    I finished this today and I found the letters to be one of the things that affected me most. That’s probably due to more personal reasons, though, as I have been reflecting a lot on maternal love recently (I have two kids, the younger just six months, and I have several pregnant friends. I think their hormones may be contagious.) and the letters just shined with that for me. I liked seeing one person’s perspective on the inception of Silence as we have not had a first-person, present-tense account of that before.

    Something that struck me, too, is that in the beginning of the series, things were quite black and white for the reader with regards to Silence. It was bad and that was that. In every book since then, the author has expanded the issue and revealed its complexity. I love how skillfully Nalini is fully exploring the reasons for Silence, not just telling us about it, and why it will soon crumble (because that has to be the peak of the story arc she’s on). I feel that the letters contributed to this greatly.

    As for the romance in this book, initially I wasn’t as invested in Dev and Katya’s HEA as I wanted to be and, like Janine, I notably missed previous characters. However, the last half of the book swept me up, as well, and I do appreciate Nalini not pulling in previous characters merely to satisfy readers. Each time we see a hero or heroine from a previous book, it’s for a reason relevent to the present action and often their growth from that book plays a part, too. I think I fell in love with Judd even more in this book. :)

    The ending, though it did have similarities to previous endings, struck me because, while not completely expected, managed not to come out of left field. I like Nalini’s endings because they build on established facts or reasons that make sense, not deus ex machina. She has brilliant consistency in her writing and doesn’t rely on crutches or shortcuts. I’d read a grocery list if Nalini Singh wrote it. :)

  9. Heike M.
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 04:16:37

    @Janine: Yes, for me it was the weakest, *not* in writing, story arc or world building, but in the romance and character building. It just irritates me that I can’t define why, and that I can’t really account for my opinion sufficiently.

    This actually is one of the situations in which I read a lot of reviews, because often a reviewer formulates clearly what has only been a gut feeling for me. I do like it when all falls into place, and my thoughts about a book align with my feelings :-) And I think you do have a point concerning the “mistrust circles”. So thank you very much for this review!

    As to Dev being colder, I’m not so sure (compared to Dorian and Clay in the beginnings of their respective book?), what irked me here was that the metaphors/the descriptions read “purely cat changeling” to me, while the – quite interesting – metal aspect of his personality/Psy ability was more told than shown.

    Anyhow, it just may be a case of high expectations not completely met. Nalini Singh still stays on my auto-buy list…

  10. Polly
    Jan 05, 2010 @ 22:45:51

    I kind of felt like the ending (spoiler alert)

    with the magical sparkly healing was too magically sparkly. I don’t like it when we keep getting new special powers (even when there’s a backdoor left for why there are new powers) that conveniently do exactly what needs to be done. Too deus ex machina.

    I have to admit that this is the first Singh book that left me more or less unengaged. They’re starting to feel too repetitive. I liked Mercy and Riley’s book (though again, there was a bit of deus ex machina at the end), and I’m really looking forward to Hawke’s book, but too many of the couples’ stories feel the same. Don’t go down that path, Nalini!

  11. Janine
    Jan 06, 2010 @ 00:43:31

    I agree the ending was a little (spoiler alert) deus ex machina but that only bothered me a little. What bothered me a bit more was…

    BIG SPOILERS for Singh’s last three books
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    … that the last three Nalini Singh books I have read — Angels’ Blood, Branded by Fire and Blaze of Memory, all ended with the heroine awakening from a comatose state. That is getting a bit repetitive, so I hope to see different endings to Archangel’s Kiss and Bonds of Justice.

  12. Polly
    Jan 06, 2010 @ 13:14:26

    SPOILER alert:

    Hmm. I hadn’t thought about the comatose thing, but you’re right (though it bothers me less with Angels’ Blood since that was a new series and you get to pull a rabbit out of a hat at least once a series). I was definitely more hung up on the very convenient special powers. That, and how in so many of the books the women seem to be the ones required to give up major parts of themselves/risk scary injuries or death to be with the hero. There’s always a reason, it’s never out of the blue, yet it keeps happening. For me, that’s part of what made the Brenna/Judd book so compelling–for once, no one thought she was a sleeper agent, she didn’t have to even consider giving up her place in the pack, etc to be with Judd (and he was already out of the psynet, so no worries about him dropping out and dying). The conflict was more internal and for me, more compelling.

  13. cheap r4 dsi
    Feb 01, 2010 @ 12:29:19

    I've been trying to psych myself up for this one since I love Nalini but also wanted a changeling! I hope I am also plesantly surprised by this. Side note, re: this series – IF I'M PUTTING IN THE TIME, HAWKE'S STORY BETTER BE THE BOOK TO END ALL BOOKS.

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