REVIEW: JOINT REVIEW: Resonance Surge by Nalini Singh
We usually start the reviews in this series by noting how many books are in the series and how many Janine and I have reviewed together. I insist on doing this for some reason, even though I find the math confusing and challenging at this point. But anyway, by my count, this is our 11th year reviewing these together. Resonance Surge is the 22nd book in the series (which is technically two series – the Psy/Changeling books – 15 and the Psy/Changeling Trinity books – 7). This is the also 11th book we’ve reviewed together, meaning we’ve reviewed exactly half the series together.
Janine, please check my math!
Janine: You are correct, Jennie. The main reason I know this is because last year was the year I joked about that being our aluminum anniversary.
Jennie: With that out of the way, onto Resonance Surge:
StoneWater bears Pavel and Yakov Stepyrev have been a unit since birth, but now Pavel’s life is veering in a new direction, his heart held in the hands of Arwen Mercant, a Psy empath—and the only man who has ever brought Pavel to his knees.
This is it. A point of irrevocable change. For Pavel . . . for Arwen . . . for Yakov . . . and for another pair of twins whose bond has a far darker history.
A low-Gradient Psy, Theodora Marshall is considered worthless by everyone but her violently powerful twin, Pax. She is the sole person he trusts in their venomous family to investigate a hidden and terrible part of their family history—an unregistered rehabilitation Center established by their grandfather.
The Centers are an ugly vestige of the Psy race’s Silent past. But this Center was worse. Far, far worse. And now Theo must uncover the awful truth—in the company of a scowling bear named Yakov, who isn’t about to take a Marshall at face value . . . especially a Marshall who has turned his dreams into chilling nightmares.
Because Yakov is the great-grandson of a foreseer . . . and he has seen Theo die in an unstoppable surge of blood. Night after night after night . . .
I’ll admit I was hesitant when I saw that the hero was a bear – Silver Silence didn’t work so well for Janine, in part, I believe, due to …the somewhat unromantic image of bear shapeshifters. They aren’t sinuous leopards or noble wolves, to be sure.
That said, I think Singh does a pretty good job of leaning into the virtues of the bear persona as depicted in the Psy/Changeling world; bears here are fun-loving and mischievous. I appreciate the lightness of Yakov, at least a partial contrast to the super-intense typical Singh hero. To be sure, Yakov’s manly manliness and “dominance” (a concept that *I* don’t really like about this world) are attested to frequently, but he’s also playful and relatively happy-go-lucky.
Janine: I groaned when I heard this would be a bear book but I ended up really, really liking Yakov. I thought he was fun, caring and sexy, and that he was right in the happy middle between overbearing or not having enough spine for my taste.
Jennie: Which means of course that it’s our heroine, Theo, who has to be uber-tortured and convinced that she is unworthy of love. Theo does indeed have tragically traumatic background – rejected by her powerful family due to her apparent lack of psychic gifts; separated from her beloved twin at an early age and subjected to abuse from her evil grandfather, who she fears used her to carry out dark deeds. Adult Theo has a lot of anger and guilt. She meets Yakov when they are tasked with working together to uncover the mystery behind a secret “rehabilitation center” owned and operated by Theo’s family.
Janine: I really liked Theo’s anger. We don’t really encounter a lot of angry heroines in romance even now, and I haven’t seen many in Singh’s. I liked that Theo’s anger manifested in dangerous ways that were not entirely under her control, but she didn’t want to harm anyone and that tortured her.
Jennie: I think that’s a good point. Theo’s anger was definitely justified and I appreciated that she wasn’t a stereotypical forgiving female.
Janine: I also really, really liked the creepy mystery about the rehabilitation center, and I thought it gave the book a Guild Hunter-ish flavor. For those who don’t read them, Singh’s Guild Hunter novels often have scenes where the couple investigate a creepy / eerie place together. Singh does that kind of atmospheric darkness well. I have a preference for the Guild Hunter series over the Psy/Changeling one—the books are more varied and not generally focused on fatal brain diseases or dominance and submissiveness—and the GH vibe gave this book some positive associations.
Jennie: Both Yakov and Theo are immediately struck with the usual attraction that is to be expected in this series. For Yakov, there is more – he recognizes Theo. Specifically, he recognizes her from his dreams, where she has been a featured player for many years. First as a loving companion and partner, but most recently – horrifically – as a victim. Yakov has been haunted by dreams of Theo being slashed by an unknown assailant while he watches, bound and unable to save her.
It is when Yakov and Theo first approach the apparently abandoned rehabilitation center on the outskirts of Moscow that Theo has a revelation – she’s been here before. Flashbacks show her being taken there by her grandfather and subjected to painful experiments. Theo’s memories from ages 8-16 are fragmented and she doesn’t have full recall of what happened to her at the center, but she has a strong negative response to even being there. The trauma of it is an opportunity for Theo and Yakov to grow closer and for him to both admire her grit and take care of her, which of course his bear wants to do.
Janine: I thought this was interesting too. The only other character I can think of who spent time in a center like that was Ivy, but we really don’t know anything about what it was like or what happened to her there. Dark though the glimpse of it here was, it was a nice expansion of the psy/changeling world.
Jennie: The trajectory of Theo’s and Yakov’s story is pretty familiar for fans of this series. She’s tortured. He’s protective. She has a dark secret that makes her feel like they can never actually be together. I’d complain about the repetition and the almost Madlibs style plotting (insert [tortured Psy/tortured changeling] add [physical challenge/emotional challenge] blocking the HEA, etc.), but complaining about a formula on book 22 seems silly.
Janine: Yes, I’m pretty much in the same space. At least here the impending death had to do with murder more than anything brain-related. I liked the characters very much (better than average for this series, I would say) so I was willing to go with it although the scene in the nightclub was a little too familiar (also in GH way, I think).
Jennie: I haven’t read any of the Guild Hunters books, but I feel like some of the “Changelings size up the Psy partner” scenes were rather familiar at this point.
Janine: That was not actually the aspect that reminded me of the Guild Hunter series. It was Theo’s private interaction with the club owner–it felt very Elena to me. It reminded me of when Elena met her business partner in the flavored synthetic blood business and of other interactions Elena has had. I love Elena so it wasn’t a terrible thing, but it felt a bit like it fell short of how much I like that kind of thing when Elena is actually involved. I like Theo so this isn’t a criticism of her.
Jennie: There is an aspect of the story that is fresh and gives insights into the beginnings of Silence. The beginnings of some of the chapters feature letters back and forth between Yakov’s great-grandfather, Dewei Nguyen and his sister Hien. Dewei was a Psy who mated into the Stonewater bear clan. Their early correspondence is loving and light, but after Hien suffers a tragedy she begins to be drawn to the promise of Silence, a protocol that is being debated at the time. It’s sad to see the break in the family as Hien choose what she believes is the right path for herself and her child, a path that cuts her off from Dewei and her parents forever.
Janine: As I was reading this correspondence, I kept expecting Hien to end up in a rehabilitation center and for the storylines to connect in this way. I was relieved that wasn’t the case, but this expectation cast a pall over the letters for me (not the author’s fault, I know—my brain often sees twists where there aren’t any).
Jennie: I wasn’t expecting that but was expecting some sort of twist or resolution to the letters that never came. That said, I wasn’t disappointed; I found them poignant and I felt that they gave some nuance to the origins of Silence, which usually just seems like a really bad idea that made the Psy even more messed up than they already are (the Psy=bad and Changeling=good being a general complaint I’ve had about the series).
Both Theo and Yakov are twins, and their twin relationships are central to who they are. Yakov is able to understand Theo’s situation with her brother, Pax, better than most people. Pax Marshall is a very prominent Psy (I sort of see him as Kaleb Krycheck 2.0) and Theo has been the dirty little secret of the Marshall clan for as long as she can remember.
Janine: Yes, I think I dubbed him Baby Kaleb several books ago. That said, we see a softer side to Pax here and I liked it (especially child Pax). However there was one Pax and Theo thing that confused me.
Jennie: Yakov’s twin, Pavel, and Arwen Mercant are featured in Resonance Surge as well. Pavel and Arwen are a couple; their romance developed in Last Guard and continues here.
Janine: I really like Arwen but I thought Pavel was a little boring in this book. Arwen had a small arc here that was not 100% convincing to me, but I went with it.
Jennie: As if there weren’t enough going on, there’s a serial killer stalking blonde-haired, blue-eyed Psy in Moscow. Guess Theo’s coloring?
There were some things I found confusing at the end of the book. Theo remembers committing some dark deeds at her grandfather’s behest, but isn’t clear if she was controlled or did them of her own free will. I found the resolution of this a bit unclear.
Janine: Yeah, I can see why, it was a blinked-and-you-missed-it thing.
One thing I keep forgetting to mention was that “Bozhe!” and “Bozhe Moi!” appeared almost often enough for a drinking game.
Jennie: Resonance Surge was an average entry into the series for me. I’ll give it a B/B-.
Janine: As usual I liked this one a bit better than you did. It was not a standout, and in fact, I read it more slowly than I typically read the psy/changeling books. But I did really like the main characters very much, and I’m giving it a B.