JOINT REVIEW: Allegiance of Honor by Nalini Singh
Janine and I have done joint reviews of two previous books in the series, Tangle of Need and Shield of Winter, and when she suggested doing a joint review of the newest book, I was more than game. — Jennie
Jennie: Allegiance of Honor marks the 15th (!) book in the Psy/Changeling series, and the first book that does not feature a central romance. That is to say, it does not introduce any new hero/heroine pairings; instead, it revisits the couples featured in the previous fourteen books, weaving them into a few main storylines.
The first storyline involves the threat that the Consortium (the newest Big Bad in the Psy/Changeling world) represents to the Trinity Accord, the alliance of Psy/Changeling/human who are trying to usher in a new era of cooperation, peace and equality among the three races.
The Consortium remains a shadowy force throughout the book: they are suspected in the attempted kidnapping of Naya, the young daughter of Lucas and Sascha from the very first book in the series, Slave to Sensation. As the first child born half-Psy/half-Changeling, Naya represents a huge threat to those who want to keep the races apart. She is, after all, a living symbol of their intermingling.
Another prominent storyline features the search for Leila Savea, a water-based Changeling who was kidnapped by unknown persons (but probably the Consortium) and is known, by way of a message in a bottle she was able to smuggle out, to be being tortured by her captors. The search for Leila is spearheaded by Miane Leveque, the alpha of the Water Changelings, but she receives significant cooperation from Psy and human characters as well.
Meanwhile, Xavier Perez, human and erstwhile priest, is in the mountains of South America, searching for his lost love Nina. Xavier was once a member of a secret triad (the other two members being Psys Kaleb and Judd) that helped bring about an end to Silence. (To back up a sec, for those that don’t know, Silence was the century-long Psy practice of ruthlessly suppressing emotion, ostensibly to prevent the outbreaks of madness and violence the Psy race are given to.) Since Xavier is on his Nina-hunting quest alone, we get his POV through letters he writes to her.
A much lighter storyline involves both the DarkRiver leopards and the SnowDancer wolves eagerly awaiting the arrival of the “pupcubs” – Mercy and Riley’s multiples, the number, gender and disposition (wolf or leopard?) of which is the subject of heavy betting throughout the book.
Finally, there’s an investigation into the cause of and solution to the continuing problem of rot in the Net, the Psychic network (almost) all Psy are plugged into and need to survive.
So, there’s a lot going on, as well as a huge number of characters being visited. If I counted right, there are 80 people listed in the “Cast of Characters” guide at the beginning of the book. I’m not sure if that represents every single person mentioned by name in the course of the book, even in passing, but I would say a significant number of them make substantial appearances in the book. By “substantial” I mean, what you get out of their scenes as a reader may well depend on whether you can remember who they are in the first place or not.
Of course, you can always go to that Cast of Characters section for a refresher, and actually usually the characters are briefly identified within the text – say, as “a leopard Sentinel mated to so-and-so”, or whatever. But knowing that isn’t the same as remembering them or caring about them, so the number of characters tracked really was overload for a reader like me, who *doesn’t* remember the vast majority of minor characters, and hasn’t read most of the novellas that accompany the series.
A reader on the opposite side of the spectrum may get a lot more out of a half-page scene with Singh’s version of “Hey, it’s that Guy (or Gal)!”
Janine: I have read all the novellas as well as the novels in this series and I remembered all the novella couples (Nate and Tamsyn! Annie and Zach! Emmett and Ria! Grace and Cooper! Bastien and Kirby!) as well as all the couples from all the novels (too many to list) but even so, there were times when I felt like the ball in a pinball machine being shot from one blissful couple to the next.
Jennie: There’s a Grace and a Cooper?
Janine: Yup. It has a dominant / submissive conflict which makes it not my favorite of the novellas, but it wasn’t bad.
But back to the couple-itis, I couldn’t decide if this diligent inclusion of every single protagonist and each of their offspring was a strategy for pleasing every character’s fans, or if it was clever product placement to remind readers of stories they might have missed.
Jennie: It may work as the latter for me as I’m now somewhat intrigued and thinking about trying to hunt down some of the novellas.
For what it’s worth, Lucas and Sascha get by far the most time, followed probably by Kaleb and Sahara.
Janine: I didn’t think that sounded right so I checked by searching my digital ARC for a handful of character names and Vasic (206 mentions) and Hawke (194 mentions) both have more mentions than Kaleb (181). Fellow Judd lovers, fear not, he has 172.
Among the women, Ivy at 153, Miane at 152, and Mercy at 151, all have more appearances than Sahara (96). There may be others as well since I barely scraped the top of that character list. Also, name mentions aren’t conclusive, since some characters, like Leila and Nina, are mentioned by others a lot but don’t spend much time on the page in person.
But there’s no question that the feline first family, Lucas, Sascha and Naya, are the stars of this particular show, with 624, 454, and 334 mentions respectively.
Jennie: Oh, good idea – I didn’t think to be that scientific about it. I think maybe Kaleb and Sahara *felt* like they got more time than they did because most of their scenes are with each other rather than interacting with the other characters the way Judd or Hawke maybe did.
Janine: Yeah, they had a lot of couple time though Vasic and Ivy may have had more.
I’m going to contradict myself by saying that despite the inclusion of so many characters, I was disappointed not to see more of Brenna. Considering how much page time Judd gets in these books, it feels like she’s become peripheral to the series. I loved their book and I would love to see her utilized in a subplot sometime, the way characters like Judd, Faith and Dorian were in this book, but it feels like Singh is done with her.
Jennie: I agree! (That I’d like to see more of Brenna; I don’t know if Singh is done with her.)
I took a peek at some preliminary reviews on Goodreads, and wasn’t surprised to see that one of my big issues with Allegiance of Honor was mentioned more than once: it feels like a book-length epilogue at times, one where the reader gets to revisit all of her favorites and see how blissfully happy they are. Yes, there are storylines, but there’s also a lot of downtime, and it often felt repetitive.
(I should note that I was at first unclear on whether this book is meant to end the series, but in checking Singh’s website it seems more like she wanted to give closure to the arc that she began with Slave to Sensation; there will be other books set in the Psy/Changeling world.)
Did the epilogue-esque feel of AoH bother you, Janine, or did you like having the opportunity to see everyone? What did you think of the structure of the book? What was your favorite storyline?
Janine: I’ll address the structure first. I’m not a fan of epilogues, and yes, at times this read like one. It’s not that I’m a grinch, but rather that a plethora of blissfully happy, gorgeous, successful couples within the same community bears so little relationship to my experience of real life that I often find my suspension of disbelief in short supply when I see so many couples whose relationship conflicts are far behind them.
Jennie: I guess that’s inevitable when all your HEAs hang around for subsequent books. Though I agree that there could have been less emphasis on all the bliss.
Janine: For that reason, I was glad to see Hawke and Sienna have a serious fight, one that put their happiness in jeopardy. It was great to see a couple have to hash out a conflict *after* the HEA, and I thought it played out in a very believable way. I could believe that Hawke would do something like that and that Sienna would react as she did. And that the resulting bump would create a hurdle, but they’d overcome it.
Jennie: Yeah, but did the conflict have to be *that*? Without spoiling too much or complaining about things I’ve complained about at length in previous reviews and told myself that I wouldn’t complain about any more, it was disappointing to have the conflict be about the men (and it wasn’t just Hawke, which made it even more disappointing/annoying) treating a woman as less than equal.
Janine: Yeah, that aspect was disappointing, but it was still more interesting to me than all the bliss and baby cuteness. Also, we almost never see couples in this genre have arguments after they arrive at their HEA, but conflicts are a part of any relationship, so I was really appreciative of seeing that portrayed in a romance series.
To get back to the novel’s structure, I knew going in that this was an arc-closing book with no central romance, and I had the sense that it might be epilogue-ish, so that helped some with that issue too. Ultimately, there was enough other stuff in the book to keep me turning the pages. I picked up this book in the middle of a reading slump, and it still engaged me, so that’s a point in its favor.
As for my favorite storyline, it was one your recap didn’t mention.
Jennie: I probably found the search for Leila the most compelling storyline, though I doubt it could have sustained a full book.
Janine: Yes! This was my second favorite storyline. I recently described to a friend how the initial scenes of the DarkRiver teens finding Leila’s message in a bottle, and the delivery of the message to Miane, had me crying within less than two pages. There are very few authors who can get me that emotional that quickly, but Singh does it with ease.
Jennie: Xavier and Nina were a snooze for me – it didn’t help that 99% of their story was Xavier recounting stuff that had happened in previous books via letter to Nina.
Janine: Judd fan that I am, I actually enjoyed Xavier’s take on his introduction to Judd, but I thought Xavier and Nina’s reunion suffered from other problems in addition to the one you note. Not only was there not enough time to get to know Nina, but after so many years apart, the reasons behind their separation felt a little insufficient and contrived.
Jennie: The threat to Naya was compelling at times but brought out my perpetual annoyance at one of the strong themes in the book (and the series): Changelings really love their kids (more on that later).
Janine: Agreed. I could’ve done with fewer words devoted to Naya’s cuteness, Naya’s first shift, Naya’s stuffed toy, and Naya’s vocabulary. The Hallmark card daycare moments made me a little grumpy. Then the kidnapping attempt happened, and suddenly this story got interesting. I loved the related subplot about a Changeling pack called SkyElm (Even though I didn’t know the word ocelot. I thought it sounded like something that should be a pendulum). I also enjoyed Naya’s introduction to Nikita.
Jennie: Naya’s meeting with Nikita was great and I think will be very satisfying to long-time fans of the series.
I was a little more ambivalent about the SkyElm stuff because of the resolution.
(I did know what ocelots were, because I’m a certified Crazy Cat Lady and conversant with all felines great and small.)
Aside from the major plots, there were also some smaller but no less satisfying “easter eggs” for longtime readers, like Annie’s long-awaited reunion with a certain boy from her past, Faith’s first meeting with her younger half-brother, a poignant development with Kit, and Lucas and Hawke’s struggle to work out the politics of who should speak first at a gathering of both their packs. I was also glad to see Kaleb humanized, even if it’s not entirely consistent with his earlier characterization.
The other thing that I thought was interesting in this book was that we got to see and know more about both the Mercant family (we meet Silver’s grandmother) and Pax Marshall. I’m starting to think of Pax as “Baby Kaleb” because he’s this powerful and badass Psy who may or may not be evil, which is how Kaleb was first introduced. We’ll see if Pax, too, is headed for a romance.
In terms of other characters whom I hope are headed for starring roles in books – I would love to see more of Silver, Miane, Alice, and Kit.
What about you, Jennie? What’s on your wish list for future books?
Jennie: Definitely Silver! I find the Mercants intriguing. I am interested in Alice but almost fear her story is too sad for a convincing HEA.
Though my interest tends to be focused more on the Psy than the Changelings, Miane is an intriguing character. A female alpha (or at least as close as the Water Changelings have to an alpha), and different for being water-based. I’d be interested in reading about her.
Switching subjects, I’ve complained at length in previous reviews about some central issues that I have with this series (they boil down to: Changelings good/Psy bad; women are equal, but not really; everyone is so damn histrionically emotional all the time!), so I’m going to try not to focus on those this time. Alas, I have new complaints specific to this book, some minor and some not so minor. First the minor:
Is Naya really the first Psy/Changeling kid in history? What about before Silence – there weren’t any then? That detail and a few others served to remind me that the Psy/Changeling world is very detailed in some respects but oddly hazy about others. There’s not a good sense at all of what the world was like before Silence, or at least not that I remember being detailed.
Janine: Great point. We know that humans and Psy had children which resulted in the Forgotten, so it stands to reason that there should have been some Psy/Changeling couples in the time before Silence, but it doesn’t appear to have been the case.
Jennie: And okay, this sounds petty, but have there always been such copious descriptions of what everyone was wearing throughout the books? Because I *really* noticed it in AoH, and it felt like the book would’ve been 5% shorter without the constant sharing of what color shirt Judd was wearing or what Miane’s outfit looked like. I know some people like more detail; I guess it makes the story come alive? But for me it can be distracting and feel superficial.
Janine: You’re cracking me up. I didn’t notice that so much, but what I do notice about this series (and have since the beginning, since it’s always struck me as extremely unlikely) is that for a world with different technologies than our own, peopled by characters with enhanced abilities we don’t have, the fashions they’ve produced in 2082 are almost exactly like our 2016 styles.
Jennie: Maybe they’re just coming back in again!
Besides the clothing descriptions, there were occasional little bits of prose that seemed to give extraneous detail in a jarring way. An example – Clay and Lucas are driving in San Francisco: “Clay slowed the car to permit a pedestrian who’d miscalculated the light change to cross safely onto the sidewalk.” Later on the same drive: “Stepping out into the salt-laced air of the waterfront after putting up the passenger-side window, Lucas shut the door…” These instances weren’t so numerous as to constitute a big problem in my reading, but when they occurred they took me out of the story. Again, maybe it’s a case of “some readers like more detail” but for me when you mention the pedestrian or the open window I get yanked out trying to figure out if the details are relevant to anything. Is the pedestrian an assassin? Does the open (then closed) window have some significance?
Janine: I’m familiar enough with this technique of Singh’s that it doesn’t distract me, but that’s a very good point.
While we’re picking nits, am I the only one who was slightly disturbed by the constant reference to the babies as pups or cubs? I know they are part animal but it still unsettled me.
Jennie: Yeah, I thought it was a little…creepy is too strong a word, but evocative and not in a good way, necessarily? (I also found “pupcubs” in reference to the Riley/Mercy babies too precious by half.)
The larger complaint I have, though, which probably goes hand-in-hand with the epilogue-feel complaint, is that Allegiance of Honor felt very repetitive at times. A few themes were illustrated over and over again as the various characters made their appearances: how much Changelings love and protect their children (unlike humans? I know Psy under Silence weren’t supposed to, but I would expect that humans would also be loving and protective of their children); how possessive and protective Changelings are of their mates (also Kaleb because he’s an alpha hero for all that he’s Psy); how idyllic life is for all of the mated couples and their families, in spite of the various external threats that the characters still face.
Janine: I think it’s pretty much what you get when you try to wrap up an arc that covers fifteen romance novels and five romance novellas. Twenty couples is a lot of rainbows and unicorns. I could have done with less of that, too. A scene in which Sascha and Ria bond over how sexy their guys are when they hold the babies was almost enough to make me wish they would bond over exhaustion from midnight feedings and changing poopy diapers.
Jennie: Ha! I felt that way about all of the illustrations of how wonderful all the Changelings were as parents. Like, I wanted one of them to yell at their kids because they’d had a bad day and the kids had made a mess and not cleaned it up, or something.
Janine: I can’t say I wanted that. Like I said before, there was enough here to keep me reading and that’s no small feat considering the slump I was in the middle of when I picked up this book. It’s also worth noting that I can’t think of another series I’ve stuck it out with this long. And there was even something refreshing about not having a central couple, and putting the focus on suspense plots instead. Gripes aside, I enjoyed this one enough to give it a B.
Jennie: Fair enough! I think it’s a B- for me, which is pretty in keeping with my grades for the series as a whole.