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Nalini-Singh

REVIEW: Lord of the Abyss by Nalini Singh

REVIEW: Lord of the Abyss by Nalini Singh

Dear Ms. Singh:

This is the fourth book in a connected series with the three other stories written by three other authors. I haven’t read the other three and I don’t feel like my reading experience was impaired in any way.  The prologue lays the table.  A long lived people leaved peacefully and prosperously in the land of Elden until they were attacked by a Blood Sorcerer.  In a last ditch effort to save her children, the Queen of Elden cast a spell to fling her children far away from Elden so that they would survive and come to reclaim their birthrights.

Lord of the Abyss by Nalini SinghMicah, the youngest, became the Guardian of the Abyss, Lord of the Black Castle, and within his castle sits the gateway to the Abyss, “where the servants of evil were banished after death to suffer eternal torment at the hands of the basilisks and the serpents, and he was the guardian of that terrible place.”  He was encased in a full armor of impenetrable black and there were razors over his knuckles and bladed claws at the ends of his fingers.

Liliana is the daughter of the Blood Sorcerer. She has been practicing her own magic, secretly, as she is viewed as a disgusting failure by her father.  She is working to defeat her father and the prophecy requires the return of all four of the heirs of the Elden kingdom.  Micah, however, has not been found until now. Her magic brings her to the feet of the Lord of the Black Castle whereupon she is whisked off to the dungeons.

Micah has no memory of Elden but Liliana intrigues him. There has never been an intruder in the Black Castle and while her appearance is not “prepossessing”, she looks him in the eye which no one ever has the courage to do.  What’s even more remarkable is that Liliana is truly a different looking heroine:

She was…mismatched, he thought. Though her skin was a smooth golden brown that reminded him of honey from the redblossom tree, her eyes were tiny dots a peculiar sort of nowhere color and her mouth much too big, her hooked nose overwhelming every other feature. Her hair stuck out in a stiff mass akin to the straw in the stables, and she limped when she walked, as if one leg was shorter than the other.

A hook nosed, tiny eyed, big mouthed, limping heroine? Later it is further revealed that her breasts are tiny and her butt is huge not to mention one leg being smaller than the other.  Matched with a hero that looks like a god?  I’m all in.  And the story doesn’t disappoint.

The Black Castle is full of misfits from the Brownie, Jissa, to the factotum, Bard, and it’s master, Micah.

“You will fit in very well here, yes, you will,” Jissa said with a sudden smile that gave her a quixotic charm.

“For he is the only creature of beauty, and even he turns into a monster.”

Micah has no memory of his past.  He is only Guardian of the Abyss.  Cleverly, Liliana gets a position as cook and uses delicacies from Elden to jog Micah’s memory, hoping that in doing so he will break the curse and return to Elden in time to fulfill the prophecy and defeat the Blood Sorcerer. Her cooking leads to stories of Elden.

Liliana may be ugly and Micah may be beautiful but they are both lonely and unhappy. Micah lives the next day just as he did the last, surrounded by a few loyal servants and spending the night hunting the worst kind of souls and hurtling them into the Abyss. As the Guardian of the Abyss, Micah feels dirty and ugly as well. Liliana has spent her days avoiding her father whenever she could, learning to avoid shows of affection for anything from animals to people as her father always used those as weapons against her.

They grow to love each other. It matters not what Liliana looks like or how Micah has no experience with women. Together, these two fit each other in a carefully constructed romance in a shorter space (category length). For those readers who have found a Singh hero a bit too alpha for their taste, I think this would be a better fit. Micah’s sexual awakening is sweet infused with the trademark Singh heat.

The ending, however, was a huge disappointment. I believe someone told me that Lord of the Abyss is suppposed to be a fairy tale (or fairy tale like). Viewed through this lense, I suppose the ending made sense but I was ultimately disappointed because I felt it was unnecessary and would have been unconventional and fresh not to have chosen the ending that was included.  It diminished my pleasure in the story and I felt that after having so much of the book moving outside the boundaries, this just dragged me squarely back into romance central.  B

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW: Angels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook, Sharon Shinn, and Nalini Singh

REVIEW: Angels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook, Sharon Shinn,...

Dear Mss. Andrews, Brook, Shinn, and Singh,

Are angels the new vampires in romance novels? It seems like the number of books starring angels continues to expand exponentially. When choosing to write about angels (or winged beings, in the case of the Guardians), authors invite introspection from readers about the nature of good and evil and the balance of power.

Angels of Darkness Nalini Singh Vampires are predators and humans their prey. When pairing a vampire and human in a romance the power imbalance that writes must address is one of prey and predator. With angels the power imbalance is fundamentally different. Angels inspire awe but their otherness isn’t necessarily predatory so much as inhuman and powerful. An angel-human relationship isn’t about resolving the prey-predator dynamic but rather about protector and powerless. Angels are a like Knight-protectors (though without the horse and armor) and they are often portrayed as protectors of humanity (think guardian angel, the arch angel protector of women and children, etc.). How does this affect how we approach books starring these mysterious not-human beings?

These were the thoughts swirling in my head as I picked up the ARC of Angels of Darkness. I had read books and short stories by Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook, and Nalini Singh; Sharon Shinn was a new-to-me writer.

Angel’s Wolf by Nalini Singh

The anthology opens with Nalini Singh’s story, Angel’s Wolf set the world of Raphael and Elena where all-powerful angels rule the world, create vampires to serve them, and humans live their brief lives much like we do. The angel Nimra serves Raphael and oversees New Orleans and its environs. Noel, a vampire recently healed from vicious attack that left him as little more than pulped flesh, is sent by Raphael to work for her. In Singh’s world angels are cold, uncanny beings of power beyond the comprehension of most humans.

Nimra is the most interesting angel I’ve encountered in Singh’s world. She has a horrific power that can take the violence and badness inside of a person and morph it into that individual’s own suffering and anguish. The meaner you are, the more Nimra can hurt you, which means the most powerful angels—all of whom commit acts of violence, have the most to fear from her. But Nimra herself isn’t mean-spirited or vengeful. Underneath her powerful crust she has a deep compassion which is seen through her love of her pet cats and her affection for her elderly human steward, Fen.

Throughout the story Nimra and Noel are on opposite trajectories. Nimra is slowly revealed to the reader as kinder and more compassionate than her merciless reputation and Noel is revealed as more powerful and capable than his broken victim status. They arrive at an equilibrium where Nimra remains the feared ruler of this territory and Noel rises to become her fear-inducing enforcer.

 

Alphas: Origins by Ilona Andrews

Ilona Andrews’ story, Alphas: Origins is set in the world of the Alphas. This was my first foray into this world that feels post-apocalyptic though it’s not. This is an alien story. Or more accurately, we are all subspecies created by aliens and left to battle until only one remains. At least I think that’s what going on. Most of the story is set in a parallel dimension that has portals into our dimension. I read this Alphas slowly and closely because the world is very complex and I kept trying sort out if I’d missed something. A lot of the time I did not understand what was going on. I was at least as clue-less as the heroine and this confusion created an empathy with her character. (Since finishing the story I’ve wondered if this was a deliberate construct by Ms. Andrews.)

So here’s what I think I know about the story: there is a battle between two factions of mixed subspecies. The “good” side—the one with our hero and heroine—are fighting to get to another dimension in their world while the other faction is trying to kill them. Some beings have more power than others, and fighting, pain, and death are commonplace.

I wouldn’t really call this story a romance. The “hero”, Lucas, is a shifter who turns into a fur covered monster that needs to drink Karina’s blood. Karina is a human who has some genetic link to the original subspecies making her blood food to fuel the hero

I find Ms. Andrews’ world building intriguing, but this such a complex world to introduce in a short story and I became focused on trying to piece together the world-building which distracted me from the character development. The romance, such as it is between Lucas and Katrina isn’t very romantic. They come together out of mutual need—he for her blood, she for her life—and an emotional bond begins to develop. But it the bond stems from the Katrina’s lack of other options—did I mention the leader of Lucas’ faction is holding Katrina’s daughter hostage? I would like to read more about this Alpha world, but as a stand-alone story this one was a tough read.

I should add that when I first saw this anthology was coming and that it was about angels, I hoped that Ms. Andrews was going to write a story about Thanatos, the angel in the Kate Daniels series. I was a disappointed when I found out this wasn’t a story about him and this may have contributed to my dissatisfaction with this story—I wanted one thing and got another.

 

Nocturne by Sharon Shinn

Sharon Shinn’s story, Nocturne, is set in the world of the Samaria series. This is a story of redemption, forgiveness and hope. Moriah has been running from events in her past and the angel Corban is mired in depression and refuses to face his future after an accident blinded him.

Moriah is abrasive and canny, hardened by a tough life and hiding from events in her past. It’s her skeptical attitude and lack of awe for angels that are what Corban needs to shake off the mantel of depression and hopelessness that cling to him two years after his accident. In each other they each find their paths to redemption and the hope for a happy future.

This story is told in the first person and it took me a while to begin to appreciate Moriah; during the first half of Nocturne I had to force myself to keep reading. Shinn peaked my curiosity about the monster (Corban) in the forbidden house, but that was the only thing that kept me reading. I wonder if readers of the Samaria series will feel differently. Would knowing this world have made the story more compelling to me from the start? I’m glad I finished it, but I don’t know if I’ll seek out the other Samaria books.

 

Ascension by Meljean Brook

Meljean Brook’s story, Ascension, is set in her Guardian world. Marc is a Guardian trying to identify and remove a demon who is spreading malice and discontent in his territory. Radha a fellow Guardian and Marc’s former lover, has arrived under the pretense of taking a vacation and offers to help Marc in his search.

As they investigate several murders and follow the trail of clues they rehash their past. More than 100 years ago, while in Guardian training, Marc took a vow of celibacy, but he couldn’t resist his powerful attraction to Radha and he broke that vow. She heard him beg God for forgiveness for sleeping with an unclean woman and took offense (Imagine getting out of bed after a hot and steamy night and finding your partner praying for fornicating with your slutty self. Ugh.).

I think Ms. Brook is a particularly fine short story writer. She deftly delivers subtle character development and emotional arc while weaving the investigative elements that reveal, layer by layer, information about the town and its inhabitants. The evil in this story was sown by a demon, but it was enacted by humans. I found the happy ending to the romance was more poignant after learning the identity of the murderer. The years lost between Marc and Radha as they each battled their inner demons were reflected in the choices of the murder. All of them made choices that led to unhappiness. Marc and Radha got a chance at redemption (and love) all these years later. Who knows, maybe the murder will receive the same, in time.

Each story in this anthology complicated my ideas about angels and reinforced my belief that good and evil are on a continuum with no clear lines demarking where you are on that continuum. As philosophical ideas I found each story offered something compelling; as entertainment I found the stories uneven and on that basis I give the collection a B-.

Cheers,

Jaclyn

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