REVIEW: Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh
Dear Ms. Singh:
Book four was a bump in the road for my love of this Psy/Changeling series. While the worldbuilding was strong as usual, the relationship arc didn’t work for me. Despite that, I was still looking forward to reading this entry but I admittedly worried about the setup of the Psy woman with the Changeling man because we’ve read about that dynamic twice before.
Ashaya Aleine has been secreted in a lab formulating a secret Psy chemical that could make a radical change in the world. But Ashaya is no ordinary Psy. Psy’s have mind powers. I think the idea of the Psy is that they are able to tap in at varying degrees of success to the unused power of the brain. Physiologically speaking they are the same as humans, but mentally much more powerful. Each Psy has a special gift that has differing skill levels. Some might be empathetic. Some might be able to foretell the future. The Psy are all connected to the PsyNet which is like a computer server that links all these other minds together. If you go out into the Psynet, like if you could tunnel into the computer and see the connections between the Psynet and everyone else, you would be able to see the light of each and every Psy.
On the other end of the spectrum are Changelings. Changelings are shapeshifters who rely mostly on sensation through touch, smell, vision. Where the Psy are devotees of the mind, the Changelings focus on physicality. They are exceptionally powerful, able to heal quickly, and enjoy physical interaction.
All Psy’s are deemed to be emotion free and go through a rigorous brain washing scheme from the earliest age possible until all emotions are drummed out. Those who do exhibit emotions are considered to be flawed and removed to asylums. Ashaya does experience emotion but has been able to hide it because she has a secret link to her sister. Through this conduit the twins have exchanged emotional responses under the watchful eye of the Psy governing body. They are both brilliant scientists and brilliant deceivers. They’ve used their personal link to further their own plans. Ashaya’s plans are to get her son out of the Psy network to safety. The plans of Amara, the twin, are not so benevolent.
Dorian, the changeling, had suffered a terrible loss at the hands of the Psy and he is predisposed to hating them all, including Ashaya. Dorian’s healing process has taken place over several books and comes to a conclusion in this one. I didn’t find Dorian to be as compelling as previous Singh heroes and that may be, in part, that I didn’t find him to be differentiated in attitude or personality from the other Changeling men. This was the greatest weakness in the book for me.
While the relationship arc of Ashaya and Dorian is strong, romantic and satisfying, it is all of the other parts of the story that make this series so compelling for me. As DA reviewer, Jennie, noted (although she didn’t really enjoy this book), the twinship between Ashaya and Amara was intriguing. Amara’s character was a bit hazy. She was, on the one hand, sympathetic as someone who had been tormented by the Psy into being emotionaless. She also presented the danger, the dark side of the Psy conditioning programs, but it wasn’t quite clear how Ashaya had been able to fight clear of the dark pyschosis that held Amara.
The suspense aspect was quite strong as well. Would the Psy Council discover Ashaya’s betrayal before she could escape? Would Amara sell out Ashaya if Ashaya tried to break away from her? Could Ashaya and her son ever truly be free of the Psy and safe?
I don’t mean to give short shrift to the love story between Ashaya and Dorian and I don’t think that the story ignored that element for the sake of the overall series plot arc or the secondary characters but I do know that it is those latter two elements which I found most fascinating in Hostage to Pleasure. The future of the series isn’t propelled by sequel bait, but instead by the advancement of the Psy rebellion and the changing landscape of the Psy/Changeling/human interaction. I also found that this entry tried to nuance the Silence more showing that it was acceptable and perhaps even necessary for some. There are few in the romance genre that are writing such strong paranormal fiction and I can tell how much thought you’ve put into not just the characters, but the overall series. B