REVIEW: Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh
Dear Ms. Singh,
Your Psy/Changeling series has me hooked. Set in a future and alternate Earth peopled by three races, humans, Psy, and changelings, the books feature dynamic characters, suspenseful plots and subplots, intricate world-building, and a lot of sexual and romantic tension. Though the world is dominated by the Psy, who are connected through a telepathic net, the changelings, who can shift form from animal to human, have slowly been gaining power, and it is they who are the focus of Branded by Fire, the sixth book in the series.
The story begins with a hot encounter between two changelings. Mercy, a sentinel for the DarkRiver leopard changeling pack, walks through the forest feeling the effects of eight months of abstinence. She is now the only one of the sentinels who is still unmated, and she worries she’ll remain that way. Mercy is dominant in her personality, and while she doesn’t want to walk all over a submissive man, she will also never allow someone else to boss her around. It’s a problem that other dominant females have sometimes been unable to resolve, and Mercy fears that even if she finds the right partner, she will resist the mating bond and roam away from him instead of accepting his love.
Just as Mercy is musing out loud that she would settle for a temporary lover to satisfy her physically, Mercy’s nemesis, Riley Kincaid, walks out of the woods. Riley is a wolf changeling whose rank in the wolves’ SnowDancer pack, lieutenant, is equal to Mercy’s leopard sentinel rank. Ever since Mercy’s DarkRiver leopard pack formed an alliance with Riley’s SnowDancer wolf pack, Mercy and Riley have been irritating one another, and now, Riley does not pass up the opportunity to taunt Mercy with his awareness of her physical needs.
A furious, frustrated Mercy attacks Riley and after he tries to subdue her without hurting her, things get sexual. Did I say this scene was hot? Scorching is more accurate. Even in bed (or rather, on the ground) Mercy and Riley vie for the upper hand, and the struggle for power turns them on more than they can stand to admit.
The next day they wake up feeling both satisfied and confused by the events of the previous night. After all, wolf and leopard are different animals. There may now be a truce between their packs, but cats and dogs are each other’s natural enemies. Not only that, Riley has always wanted a mate he could protect and keep safe, as he could not do for his mother or his sister Brenna, and Mercy will never allow any man to turn her into a submissive little wife. So why are they constantly thinking about each other, even on the trail of a rogue lynx changeling and on the search for the lynx’s brother, who has been kidnapped?
Branded by Fire may well be my favorite book in this series, and considering how much I enjoyed Caressed by Ice, that is saying something. I closed Branded by Fire at 11 PM, having skipped making or eating dinner until then so I could finish reading Mercy and Riley’s story. Sexy, intense and riveting, this book was also deeply satisfying. I couldn’t put it down.
I absolutely adore Mercy, who is not only strong and courageous but also loyal and generous. There is a scene in which Riley, after reliving his sister’s kidnapping in a nightmare, turns up outside Mercy’s house in the middle of the night, and she invites him to her bed, not for sex, but so that he can have the comfort of her company, without prying into his pain. The scene spoke volumes about the size of Mercy’s heart. For all that she knows that her toughness is her strength, Mercy also knows how to compromise without losing any of her self-esteem.
The latter is also true of Riley. Because of the hard time he gave Judd in Caressed by Ice, Riley started out with two strikes against him (in my book, anyway). I couldn’t blame Mercy for being annoyed with his taunts, either. But he won me over by making real sacrifices for Mercy, such as restraining his protective and possessive instincts so as not to lose her. By the end of this book, I also felt I understood his actions in Caressed by Ice better. I had forgotten, or maybe not known, that he raised his brother and sister from childhood, so it’s no wonder that what happened to Brenna in Slave to Sensation continued to haunt him even long after it was over.
In addition to Mercy and Riley’s romance, Branded by Fire also contains several intriguing subplots about the Human Alliance, the Psy Council, PsyNet, Lucas and Sascha, and Hawke and Sienna. The deeper into the series I’ve gotten, the more fascinated I’ve become with the complex tapestry you are crafting from these various, interwoven threads. I cannot wait for Hawke and Sienna’s book. I am so hoping these two will end up together. Please don’t make us wait too long to learn how things will turn out for them.
I do have a few minor criticisms. Besides the fact that it took me a little while to warm to Riley, I also felt that the writing wasn’t always smooth. There were POV shifts within scenes, and while I don’t always mind these, a couple of times I was confused as to whose thoughts I was reading. Additionally, toward the end of the book, I was so absorbed in the various plots that I felt somewhat impatient during the last couple of sex scenes, which did not hold my attention as strongly as the earlier ones.
But on the balance, I thought Branded by Fire was a deeply rewarding book. I don’t know you, but while reading Branded by Fire, I had the feeling that you weren’t holding anything back. There is a passion to your writing, and I don’t mean just the sex scenes — the whole book feels like it is written from a place of deep investment. I am now looking forward to November’s Blaze of Memory. B+/A- for Branded by Fire.