JOINT REVIEW: Ocean Light by Nalini Singh
Jennie: There have been 16 books in the Psy/Changeling series and now two in the Psy/Changeling Trinity series. This is the sixth book of those 18 that Janine and I have reviewed together. I know this because when I searched for our last review, from June of 2017, I noted that *that* one was our fifth review together. I graded that book, Silver Silence, a B+, while Janine gave it a C. This interested me because my perception has long been that Janine has been a bigger fan of these two series than I am.
Janine: I think that might be true, generally speaking.
Jennie: On to Ocean Light: late in Silver Silence, Bowen “Bo” Knight, security chief of the Human Alliance, is shot on a bridge in Venice. The assassin is presumably working for the Consortium, the villainous organization out to smash the Trinity Accord. When Ocean Light opens, Bo is in a coma, watched over by Kaia Luna, an ex-scientist turned cook who is checking on Bo at the request of her very pregnant cousin Attie, who is Bo’s doctor. Before the first chapter ends, Bo has awakened, understandably confused – not only does he not know where he is, he doesn’t know how he’s alive. He felt the bullet that hit him explode his heart before he fell off the bridge and into the canal. He should be dead.
It turns out that Bo’s been in a coma for two months, and the world, absent a few key people, think he’s dead. He discovers that he’s being treated on an underwater station run by BlackSea, the collective of water changelings, and that he’s alive thanks to a new mechanical heart. But Bo’s not out of the woods, health-wise, for an entirely different reason.
In a previous book, Bo and several other members of the Human Alliance were implanted with a brain chip meant to protect them from being mentally invaded by the Psy. Scientists Ashaya and Amara Aleine developed the chip and implanted it at the humans’ insistence when it hadn’t been fully tested, and now those implanted chips are degrading. Death waits if the degradation of the chips can’t be stopped (apparently while Bo was in his coma, the Aleines did come up with a solution that slowed the degradation process somewhat).
Bo finds out that Attie has developed a compound that, *if* it works, would save him and the other humans from death. However, it has a high probably of turning him into a vegetable. So his immediate future either holds death, a fate he considers worse than death, or possibly a normal life with a brain free from the threat of psychic rape by the Psy. In summary, things are kind of intense for Bo at the moment.
Bo and Kaia have an instant connection, but it’s one that Kaia resists. For one thing, her best friend Hugo has gone missing, the latest in a string of BlackSea members who have been kidnapped by a mysterious enemy. There’s reason to suspect humans may be involved, making Kaia extremely wary of humans in general and the face of the Human Alliance in particular.
Even without that complication, Kaia has a childhood trauma that causes her to fear and distrust humans (much like Bo has a past that makes him fear and distrust the Psy). But Bo almost immediately sees in Kaia the possibility of a different life, one that is not so consumed with saving his fellow humans from the Psy menace.
Between the missing BlackSea members and Bo’s concerns that the Human Alliance could harbor a traitor, as well as the very real possibility that Bo could be facing annihilation one way or another in a matter of weeks, one would think that Ocean Light would be fast-paced and full of drama. But one thing I liked about it was that a fair amount of the middle of the book is focused on Bo and Kaia’s developing relationship. We (and Bo) spend a lot of time with Kaia in the station’s kitchen, meeting its residents and getting a feel for the BlackSea community. An underwater station could feel claustrophobic, but somehow it didn’t. Singh made it so appealing I almost wanted to visit (in reality I would be terrified to be that deeply submerged).
Janine: I thought that Singh did a stellar job of capturing the ocean’s vastness, its immense mystery, through Bo’s sense of wonder. I truly felt like I was entering a different, and magical world than that of the other novels in the series. This was what I had hoped for when I heard that there would be a second series, and what I wanted but didn’t get from Silver Silence.
Jennie: The book worked better for me when it focused on the romance, or the missing BlackSea members mystery, than when it dealt with Bo’s maybe-impending-death. I looked back at our joint review of Silver Silence and we complained about the many times in the series that variations on this storyline have been used, only to have it crop up in this, the very next book. Sigh.
Besides the repetitiveness of the recycled storyline, I just find that that having such a dramatic threat to the HEA in a romance somehow paradoxically serves to remind me that it *is* a romance, and of course there will be an HEA, and of course the hero/heroine won’t die. So that part of the story mostly just irritated me.
Janine: While I’m in sympathy with you regarding just how well-worn the impending death trope is in this series, I was still able to enjoy it this time, because what felt new to me was that Kaia resisted falling for Bo partly because she knew that this fate could await him. I especially loved the moment when her defenses crumbled and their bond kicked in. It comes late in the book, so I won’t spoil it, but it had me crying.
Jennie: The idea that Bo and the other humans would have an untested chip implanted in their brains stretches my credulity. I understand that humans, particularly Bo and his compatriots, are desperate for a solution that protects them from the Psy mentally. But going forward with an implantation that quickly fails makes them seem heedless and even foolish. (To be fair, I think part of the reason that Bo and the other humans are portrayed as insisting on the chip being implanted without further testing is because otherwise Ashaya Aleine, heroine of book five, Hostage to Pleasure, would kind of be on the hook for endangering all their lives.)
Janine: Right with you there, and I felt similarly about Vasic and his experimental gauntlet. Characters in this series can be reckless with their health and well-being, and I don’t entirely understand why the scientists involved in these decisions go along with them.
In the case of Bo and his friends who were implanted with this chip, it was made clear that they thought death preferable to mind rape. But there was a moment when Bo was facing the possibility of death in this book, and had so much to live for, that I thought, Really? You’d honestly prefer to die?
Spoiler (“Spoiler”): Show
Jennie: Janine, how did you feel about Bo and Kaia’s insta-attraction? I was annoyed when he was enraptured over her scent moments after awakening from his coma, but as the story went on my feelings about it started to change.
Janine: I had a very similar reaction to yours. It happened so fast that for a moment I was irritated, but then as the novel progressed it became more and more convincing, and I almost forgot my initial response.
Jennie: Bo and Kaia really got to know and understand each other in the course of their courtship, and I felt like the internal obstacles to an HEA (mostly on Kaia’s side) were a lot more real and compelling than the “will Bo survive?” storyline.
Janine: As I said earlier, I thought that “Will Bo survive?” question impacted Kaia’s resistance in an interesting way, so I had more interest in it for that reason. I never truly doubted his survival, but Kaia’s reaction made me care.
I want to take a moment here and say a word or two about Kaia. I thought she was a wonderful character, one of my favorite heroines in the series thus far. In fact, she might even give Mercy (my favorite up until now) a run for her money, although their personalities are very different. Whereas Mercy is bold and unafraid, Kaia was the one I saw as more courageous, because she had so much fear and trauma to overcome. And yet she never let it rob her of her joy in life. There was something I found heroic about that.
Bo, for me, was less compelling, but I found I liked him better in the station setting. Out of his depths and recovering from injury, as well as allowing himself to experience the wonder of where he was, he became more approachable than he had been in prior books. And he also developed some playfulness with Kaia, as well as curiosity about her (just what she changes into remains a mystery for much of the book, although I guessed it). All of that made him likeable.
Jennie: Totally agree on both Kaia and Bo. I wasn’t thrilled with Bo as a hero going in, but I thought we got to see another side of him, one that Kaia uniquely brought out.
Janine: There were also some interesting secondary characters introduced here, as well as a few old favorites who returned. I don’t want to spoil a tiny cameo that thrilled me in the middle of the book, so I’ll say no more on that topic.
All in all, I loved this book until the last bad thing that befell Kaia happened. Up until that moment I was enthralled and then… Kaia had been through so much in this novel that the last thing she needed was one more trauma, so it felt like overkill. Even though what happened turned out to have a silver lining, it punctured my bubble of enjoyment to have her go through more.
Jennie: Agreed. There was a point to it, but it still felt like too much, especially coming so late in the book.
After struggling with elements of the series for so long (the overwrought writing, the idealization of the “animal” changelings over the “rational” Psy, some yucky gender stuff) I feel like I’m coming to peace with these “flaws.” For whatever reason, I like the series enough to continue, so it’s pointless to get worked up about phrases like “…drenched the world in changeling blood” on the first page. Focusing on the positive (except for grumble..stupid chip…grumble), my grade for Ocean Light is a high B.
Janine: I made my (sometimes uneasy) peace with that long ago, but I am grateful to see Singh taking the series in a new direction with the introduction of books about the ocean changelings. I look forward to books about Miane, Malachai, and other ocean changelings, as well as Bo’s sister, Lily, and I’m hoping for one about at least one of his people, too. The last scene, though I saw what happened there coming from miles away, was delightful too.
You’d have to go back to Kaleb and Sahara’s book, Heart of Obsidian, published in 2013, to find a novel in the Psy/Changeling series that I’ve enjoyed this much. My grade is a B+.