>> Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I mentioned in my review of Nalini Singh's Awaken to Pleasure that I'd managed to score an ARC for her upcoming September release, Slave to Sensation (excerpt). It took me a while to convert the pdf to a format my Ebookwise accepted, but thanks to Jane, La Inteligente, I could finally get to it this last weekend. And boy, am I glad I did!
Dive into a world torn apart by a powerful race with phenomenal powers of the mind-and none of the heart…This was an incredibly wonderful book. I'd already heard some buzz going about it, and some people mentioned enjoying it (Jane herself, for instance, said she'd thought it was "phenomenal" in the comments after my review of Awaken to Pleasure), but I hadn't really expected it to be so great.
In a world that denies emotions, where the ruling Psy punish any sign of desire, Sascha Duncan must conceal the feelings that brand her as flawed. To reveal them would be to sentence herself to the horror of "rehabilitation"- the complete psychic erasure of everything she ever was….
Both human and animal, Lucas Hunter is a Changeling hungry for the very sensations the Psy disdain. After centuries of uneasy co-existence, these two races are now on the verge of war over the brutal murders of several Changeling women. Lucas is determined to find the Psy killer who butchered his packmate, and Sascha is his ticket into their closely guarded society. But he soon discovers that this ice-cold Psy is very capable of passion-and that the animal in him is fascinated by her. Caught between their conflicting worlds, Lucas and Sascha must remain bound to their identities-or sacrifice everything for a taste of darkest temptation…
So, how great is it? Let me just tell you: I spent this past weekend at a spa, and I actually stayed in my room for an extra hour after lunch in order to finish the book. So it was great enough to make me give up an extra hour of being pampered in the spa in order to finish it. That good! I give it an A.
STS is set in an alternate universe, in which Earth is populated by three different species of men and women. There's the humans, there's the changelings (shape-shifters who can change into a certain animal) and there's the Psy. I'm not 100% sure of how exactly the Psy differed from humans and changelings originally (maybe because of their psychic abilities?), but their difference as the book starts is very clear. They don't feel. At all. I'll let the author explain it herself. This is part of the book's prologue:
In an effort to reduce the overwhelming incidence of insanity and serial killing in the Psy population, the Psy Council decided, in the year 1969, to instigate a rigorous program called Silence. The aim of Silence was to condition young Psy from birth. The aim of the conditioning was to teach them not to feel rage.As the book starts, it's 100 years after Silence started aiming to suppress all emotion, and the different species coexist pretty peacefully. But that's in danger of changing, because there has been a spate of killings of changeling women that the other changelings have discovered were committed by a Psy.
However, the Council soon discovered that it was impossible to isolate that one emotion. In 1979, after a ten year debate over the millions of minds in the PsyNet, it was decided to change the aim of Silence. Its new mission was to condition young Psy to feel nothing. Not rage, not jealousy, not envy, not happiness and certainly not love.
The last woman taken was from the DarkRiver leopard pack, and its alpha, Lucas Hunter, has barely managed to stop an outright war between Psy and changelings from erupting. He's managed to keep the other packs in control by promising he'd discover the culprit and then they could punish him. In order to do this, Lucas needs an opening into the very closed Psy society, and to do that, he has initiated a business deal with the Duncans, a very influential family among the Psy.
Sascha Duncan, who's assigned by her powerful, Psy Council-member mother to oversee the deal, is a woman with a huge secret. Unlike the rest of the Psy, she feels. She always has, and she's spent all her life hiding it and building defenses so the other Psy won't notice. Lately, though, she's been feeling more and more out of control. She suspects it's a matter of time before someone realizes what's wrong with her, and she fears she'll be sentenced to a fate she considers worse than death: rehabilitation, a kind of mind-wipe.
When Sascha meets Lucas, things become even worse. She is so powerfully attracted to him, that she feels herself going out of control even faster. As for Lucas, his attraction for Sascha is just as strong, and he's just as conflicted about it as she is. How can he be feeling such warm feelings for one of those cold Psy, someone who might even know the identity of the murderer and be covering up for him? Surely that feeling that there might be quite a lot behind the icy façade might be just that, a feeling, even if his leopard insists its instincts are right about that...
That's all I'm going to say about the plot. Suffice it to say Sascha and Lucas' initial adversarial relationship soon becomes one of the most convincing and beautiful romances I've read lately. It's got it all, both sexual tension so thick and hot it will curl your toes (and the pay-off! Those love scenes, oh, my!), and a lot of feeling behind it.
You know how, in books where the hero and heroine start out as antagonists, often you don't really understand how they get from that point to falling in love? Well, that's very definitely not the case here. The change in the relationship between Lucas and Sascha is very gradual and natural, especially the change in Lucas' attitude. There was always a certain tenderness and protectiveness in his feelings about Sascha, but at first it was tempered by mistrust. That mistrust slowly lifts in a way that feels perfectly believable, and only the good feelings are left.
And Sascha! It was a beautiful thing to watch her slowly become more and more comfortable with all the different and powerful things she's feeling, and to gradually open to Lucas and the rest of the Pack. I just loved the development of her relationship with the other changelings, those scenes were just as affecting as the scenes with Lucas.
The universe in which the story is set is fascinating and complex, but Singh makes it easy to understand and to follow. She gives us exactly the right amount of information, neither so much that it bogs down the story, nor so little that the world-building feels half-baked. It's just enough, even though it includes some tantalizing hints about stuff I would have loved to know much more about. I think the reason it worked so well is in that you got the feeling that the author had thought about all this stuff, that if we're not being told about something, it's because it'll either be more developed in the future or because they're not relevant and would only clutter the story.
The next book is set in the same universe, and I really have to commend the author because at no time did any scene feel like sequel baiting. She did introduce quite a few interesting and well-drawn secondary charactes, any of which I would be very interested in reading about in a future book, but none of them were parading around, waving placards reading "future hero here". Authors, take note. That's the way it should be done!
The only negative I could find in STS is that the ending felt a bit anticlimactic. After the big final scene there's a longish bit that, though really needed to close certain things and give us a HEA, felt a bit too slow.
But this is just a very tiny niggle. On the whole, STS was pretty much perfect!