JOINT REVIEW: Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh
Wolf Rain can be viewed as either the eighteenth book in Nalini Singh’s the Psy/Changeling series, or the third book in the Psy/Changeling Trinity series. Jennie and I have reviewed six Psy/Changeling books together, so when Wolf Rain came out, it was almost a forgone conclusion that we would keep the tradition alive. – Janine
Janine: Alexei, a lieutenant in the SnowDancer pack, is running in the rain when he’s bombarded with emotion—grief—from a psy he quickly realizes is a female empath. It doesn’t take him long to identify the source, an underground bunker, or the woman, a prisoner named Memory.
Memory is wary at first (she’s been held prisoner for years with only her now-deceased cat, Jitterbug, for company) but at the thought that her kidnapper, a teleporter, could materialize at any moment, she leaves with Alexei.
After contacting his alpha and sheltering from the rain in the pack’s power station, Alexei and Memory meet up with other wolves and their allies. Memory is identified as indeed an empath, but an unusual one, one whose powers are somehow darker.
Memory is afraid she’ll be rejected by her new allies as soon as she reveals the truth about her powers—that they can imbue psychopaths with temporary empathy. But this empathy doesn’t last long, and it makes the psychopaths better at manipulating normal people.
Jennie: I feel dumb, but that’s a good, succinct description of Memory’s power that somehow eluded me. I knew that she “helped” somehow, but the specifics were a little hazy to me. Either I just missed it or I wasn’t able to connect point A to point B.
Janine: It was more demonstrated (in a scene with Sascha, Ashaya and Amara) than explained. When Memory’s powers are revealed, she is nonetheless invited to join the empath collective and reap its benefits. These include admission to an empath training ground on land belonging to DarkRiver.
Alexei and Memory form an attraction shortly after they meet, but though Memory is open to a relationship, Alexei is more reticent. He’s aware that Memory needs space to be sure she’s not turning to him simply because he rescued her. More than that, an illness in his family leads him to fears he’ll go rogue and kill those he loves if he mates, as his older brother did. He is determined to protect Memory from himself.
Memory faces additional dangers as well. Her kidnapper seeks to recapture her, while an unknown psy with newfound, almost limitless power is experiencing blackouts and attacking the empaths.
Wolf Rain got off to a great start with Alexei and Memory’s first meeting, but their courtship development was pretty run of the mill. While her backstory and circumstances were different from Ivy’s, Memory was almost a dead ringer for her in character, a sunny-natured (no matter how much we were told she was dark because of her powers, what we were actually shown was a sunny personality) empath who recovered from her trauma with miraculous speed. Like Ivy, she even had a beloved pet with a quirky name who helped her endure hard times.
Jennie: I do agree that Memory became well-adjusted all too quickly given what she’d lived through.
Janine: Alexei read like Riley (controlled nature and grumpiness) with a little bit of Drew’s propensity for gift giving thrown in. Though his reasons for it were different, his conflict of digging in his heels and resisting the mating bond is something we’ve seen before in this series, too, with Nate, Hawke and Riaz. I appreciated, though, that Alexei wasn’t as bossy or arrogant as many of the changelings. He and Memory were well-matched.
Jennie: I wonder if your better memory of past books and characters is a detriment here – it’s not like Alexei’s characterization felt daisy-fresh to me, but I didn’t necessarily compare him to past heroes in the series.
Janine: I recently participated in a read-along and discussion of the series, and while I didn’t have time to read all the books, I reread the wolf books – Caressed by Ice (Judd/Brenna), Branded by Fire (Mercy/Riley), Play of Passion (Drew/Indigo), Kiss of Snow (Hawke/Sienna) and half of Tangle of Need (Riaz /Adria). So I was very fresh on Hawke and Riaz. I didn’t remember about Nate until his backstory with Tamsyn was brought up in Wolf Rain.
Jennie: Interesting. I really barely remember Riaz/Adria, to be honest. I know the names, but beyond that…
Janine: Riaz’s wolf found his mate, but she was already married, so he turned away from her. He resisted a relationship with Adria at first because of that.
Back to Wolf Rain. Because the main characters in Wolf Rain felt familiar, I wasn’t super interested in their romance. And it developed pretty much as I expected it to—with Memory kissing away Alexei’s scowls and Alexei chasing away Memory’s anxieties with little gifts. Those are nice touches that I enjoy in Singh’s books, but in the case of Wolf Rain, I wanted more novelty along with the familiar. How did you feel about the romance between Alexei and Memory, Jennie?
Jennie: I kind of liked it! For whatever reason, I was able to let go of preconceptions/past prejudices/whatever else and just start with a fresh slate here. Sometimes my senior memory does me favors, I guess?
Janine: They were cute together but I had difficulty staying engaged. I love the SnowDancers but I’m ready to move on. This world is big and has so much potential, so I’m frustrated that we’ve spent so much time in this one corner of it.
How about a story about Kit’s roaming journey (a road romance perhaps) or a story where he starts his own new, young leopard pack from scratch in another region of the world? A book with a falcon changeling from WindHaven would also be great. Let us get to know Selenka, the female alpha of BlackEdge, the Russian wolf pack. Show us Psy reclaiming children with dangerous abilities who were taken away from them under Silence. I’d also love to read further books about Miane, Malachi and other ocean changelings. Or a book about that grieving lieutenant of Bo’s in the Human Alliance. Or a Rip Van Winkle story for Alice Eldridge.
Jennie: I would love a book for Alice!
Janine: Since I wasn’t so into the romance, the second quarter of the book was pretty ho-hum. But the rest of the story was interesting and engaging. I wanted to know what Memory could do with her powers, see how the cat-and-mouse game between Memory and Renault would resolve itself and find out how the attacks on the empaths by our mystery individual would be foiled. There was some interesting stuff with Amara that kept me absorbed as well.
I noticed a few contrivances, though, that involved ignoring the abilities of a number of characters. Early on in the book, it was stated that Memory can broadcast emotions very loudly—that is how Alexei found her. But later on, when she was in trouble again, she didn’t make use of this ability.
Jennie: That’s a good point, and one I hadn’t thought of.
Janine: In Alexei’s case, this type of thing bordered on the absurd. At one point he needed to reach Memory quickly, but didn’t immediately ask Judd, a packmate and one of his closest friends, to teleport him directly to the region where she was, or request that Hawke, his alpha, provide backup. For that matter the Arrows would have been glad to help, too. It stretches the imagination to believe that none of these things would have occurred to him. And during another incident in Chinatown, packmates offered their assistance, but even though they could have been useful, Alexei turned most of them down.
Ignoring abilities extended to other characters, too. When a minor character suffered a head injury and Judd couldn’t help (not that it was ever explained why not), the idea of asking Keenan and Noor to pitch in didn’t come up. I realize that there’s a concern about exploiting children, but since the injury happened on DarkRiver land and Sascha was very upset by it, I thought an exception might be considered.
What are your thoughts about these omissions? Did they read like contrivances to you, or were you absorbed enough not to be bothered by them?
Jennie: Again, for whatever reason (probably a combination of external and internal factors), I went into this with very little institutional memory or judgment/expectation, which allowed me not to be so aware of these contrivances. I did notice that in the incident in Chinatown, Alexei refused help until a “name” Changeling showed up.
Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. I think I was vaguely aware at points that using teleporters should be an option, but it was only a passing thought, not a prominent one.
(My main issue with verisimilitude had to do with a character that was described as having her throat torn out, but later it was mentioned that she expressed her last wishes to Alexei. With…her throat torn out?)
Janine: I’m drawing a blank on this—whose throat was it?
It’s also becoming a pattern in this series that an ability and / or side effect of one crop up that no one has ever figured out how to use, block, or channel safely. One would think that in all the centuries before the rise of Silence, answers to pressing problems such as those that Memory and the mystery attacker (to say nothing of characters from earlier books) were faced with would have been found.
Jennie: I think this relates to something I’ve complained about in various other books in the series, which is the “OMG everyone is doomed unless a fix is found for x problem!” when you know a fix will be found by the end of the book. It’s a slightly different issue, but it highlights that a lot of tension is going to be solved by a deus ex machina, and the reader knows it.
Janine: “Everyone is doomed until a fix is found” is getting to be a well-worn trope, too, but I don’t view the resolutions in most of the previous books as deus ex machina.
Because they were solved by the characters involved in the conflicts, and because they were hinted at early on, I didn’t feel that the solutions to the conflicts were deus ex machina in Wolf Rain, either. Did you?
Jennie: No, not in Wolf Rain.
Janine: The second half of Wolf Rain absorbed me more than the first because that was where the various external conflicts picked up and that created more story tension. The resolution to the romance was good and a bit different from the usual—neither of the main characters was comatose or in surgery, for one thing.
Janine: I wanted an emotional moment between Memory and an injured character after that person recovered, and something more with her and the mystery attacker at the end of the book, too. Nalini Singh usually does an excellent job of extracting every drop of emotion from a given scenario, so the fact that we didn’t get these moments made me feel deprived.
Jennie: I ended up really liking the mystery attacker subplot. I thought it was interesting and different and a more nuanced take on the Psy than the series has sometimes shown in the past.
Janine: Yes! I liked it too. I expected the nuance because I guessed who the attacker was even before the first attack.
This author’s books usually have me reading late into the night, but not this time. Singh’s paranormal romances are pretty much the only ones I read, and the Psy/Changeling series is almost a genre unto itself, so she is competing with herself at this point. While this isn’t my favorite of her books, it isn’t at all bad—especially if the reader isn’t fresh enough on the earlier ones to see a lot of the similarities.
Jennie: So, I think we’ve sort of passed each other on the way in some ways with these books. Through probably a dozen books I moaned about my issues – over-the-top writing, confusing descriptions of the PsyNet, my issues with the gender politics and the “Psy=bad/Changeling=good”, and probably other things I’m not thinking of now. But I did like the last book with the different, underwater setting. And though I’ve not been a big fan of the “predatory changeling male” trope, at least when it feels like it’s been done to death, I thought Alexei was a fairly restrained Changeling hero.
Janine: I loved Ocean Light. Is it Silver Silence you’re thinking of that I didn’t like as much as you did? And yes, Alexei was more restrained—that’s what I meant when I said he was less bossy. I appreciated that, too.
Jennie: Yes, I think I liked Silver Silence better than you did…or at least better than I expected to.
Janine: I was pretty frustrated by that book, yeah.
Jennie: This is all to say that for at least these past several books, I think I’ve come to terms with some of the issues I have with this series and have…fought them to a draw, so to speak? At least for now. So I ended up enjoying Wolf Rain to a surprising degree. I didn’t really expect fresh elements (which is not to say I wouldn’t appreciate them), so I was okay with what I got.
Janine: LOL. I had a lot of these same frustrations very early on, but mine came to a draw earlier than yours. I think anyone who has read Nalini Singh knows what to expect in terms of her voice. Vivid, dramatic descriptions, big emotions, powerful and dominant heroes and some essentialisms about the different supernatural races. We’re still reading her eighteen books in, though, so obviously her voice works for us!
Jennie: I can’t really judge it against other books in the series (serieses?) because my memory of them (at least on an individual basis) is not that strong, but Wolf Rain worked pretty well for me.
Janine: You’re not alone. A lot of readers I know liked it. I think I’m more of an outlier on this one.
What is your grade for Wolf Rain, Jennie? Mine is a B-.
Jennie: I’d give it a solid B+!
Note to readers: The discussion in the comments contains spoilers.