Visions of Heat, by Nalini Singh

>> Friday, March 02, 2007

As you can see in my post about the results of the AAR Annual Reader Poll, Nalini Singh's Slave to Sensation was my best read of the year, beating some very considerable competition to earn that spot.

With such an excellent beginning to the series, I couldn't wait to read the next installment, and fortunately, Nalini was kind enough to send me an ARC of Visions of Heat. I'm only now posting my review, but I read this one a few months ago and have been sitting on this post ever since, because I don't like to be cruel and rave about a book that won't be available for a long time. Am I not terribly nice and considerate? ;-)

Used to cold silence, Faith NightStar is suddenly being tormented by dark visions of blood and murder. A bad sign for anyone, but worse for Faith, an F-Psy with the highly sought after ability to predict the future. Then the visions show her something even more dangerous-aching need...exquisite pleasure. But so powerful is her sight, so fragile the state of her mind, that the very emotions she yearns to embrace could be the end of her.

Changeling Vaughn D'Angelo can take either man or jaguar form, but it is his animal side that is overwhelmingly drawn to Faith. The jaguar's instinct is to claim this woman it finds so utterly fascinating and the man has no argument. But while Vaughn craves sensation and hungers to pleasure Faith in every way, desire is a danger that could snap the last threads of her sanity. And there are Psy who need Faith's sight for their own purposes. They must keep her silenced-and keep her from Vaughn...
I'm very glad to report that there is no sophomore slump here. Visions brings us deeper into this very fascinating universe and showcases a romance that, as different as it is to that of STS, is just as wonderful. There's only one detail that prevents me from giving it such a high grade as I did STS, and that is something I'm not sure is not just me being picky. As it is, Visions is a very solid A-.

Visions takes place shortly after the events in the previous book. I won't write an explanation here about the complexities of this universe, but there's a little something about that in my post about STS, a couple of paragraphs into the body of the review.

Faith NightStar is her family's most prized possession. She's an F-Psy, that "F" representing her ability to forecast the future. F-Psys used to predict all kinds of things, including forecoming disasters and deaths (which, fortunately, could be prevented if steps were taken, because the future F-Psys see are not set in stone), but since Silence, they have been carefully conditioned to confine their predictions to business matters. That's supposedly not a matter of greediness, but a way of helping the F-Psys' minds remain stable, because it's considered that seeing all those upsetting things would be too much of a strain on their innately fragile psyches.

Still, even with all those efforts, F-Psys have a very high incidence of mental illness and are thus highly protected through isolation. They have as little contact as possible with other people, and Faith has had even less than most. She has spent most of her life in a compound set far away from the city (on the edge of changeling territory, actually). Other than the odd medical checkup and infrequent visits from the head of the family, she spends her days working on her business predictions, predictions so numerous and accurate that they have helped the NightStar clan accumulate vast wealth.

But lately, Faith's visions have become disturbing and full of violence, as she's become somehow connected with the mind of a psychopath, which puts her very sanity in danger. She fears her mental state is deteriorating, and she knows perfectly well that if her minders detect this, it will mean a fate worse than death. When Faith receives news of her sister's murder, she makes a decision. She knows about Sascha having dropped out of the PsyNet, and something inside her is certain that the key to her future lies in finding her. She's not exactly sure of how it will help, but she knows to trust that knowledge.

Faith's mission to find Sascha is not as difficult as it may seem, because as she plans to subreptitiously get out of the compound, she's already attracted changeling attention. Vaughn D'Angelo, one of the sentinels in STS hero Lucas' pack, has only recently become fascinated by the obviously Psy compound so close to his pack's territory. He's determined to find out more about it, and he's sniffing around when he sees a woman, a Psy woman, climb out of it and head into changeling territory.

Intercepting her, Vaughn is shocked by the woman's request to be taken to Sascha. And he's even more shocked by the intensity of his immediate attraction to this very obviously cold Psy, especially since he half suspects she's part of a trap to get Sascha back into Psy hands. But he just cannot control the way he's so drawn to her, which might just mean danger, and not just to the changelings, because that attraction between them might be what finally pushes Faith into insanity.

Now, where to start after this much-longer-than-intended summary (I always try to write short, but I never can *sigh*)? Like with STS, this is a romance I'd recommend even to those who don't usually go for paranormals. That's because as interesting and fascinating as the world-building is, the meat of the story is the characters and their relationship, and it's wonderful.

When I saw that we were again getting a Psy heroine paired with a changeling hero, a small part of me wondered if Faith wouldn't turn out to be just another Sascha. I suspected she wouldn't, but what other path could Singh take to make someone as cold and feelingless as the regular Psy into someone that could make a viable heroine? Well, it's a completely different path, but also one that's just as believeable and intriguing.

Faith is much more of a Psy than Sascha. Other than those scary dreams, Silence has worked fine on her. There have been no other feelings working to come out, so given that fear and horror are the only ones she's experienced so far, it's understandable that she'd fight so hard to keep from experiencing any more.

But Vaughn can't accept that. He wants Faith too much and he soon realizes she's his mate, and he pushes hard for Faith to come out of her bubble. In most book, it would be clear to the reader that all that's keeping Faith from normality is her fear, that she should just give in and feel. Well, not here... at least, not exactly. The isolation she's undergone her whole life has had a very real effect, so much that emotions really do overwhelm her and there's a danger that they might throw her into a downward spiral into madness. This makes for some incredible scenes, as Vaughn keeps constantly pushing her and pushing her, hoping it's only far enough and not too far, trusting his instincts, even if both Sascha and Lucas worry he has no idea of what he's doing.

Vaughn's job is hard, and not just because of Faith's fear of the effects feelings might have on her, but because she has some reluctance about leaving her world, where she is "someone". In the Psy world, even though she knows she's being used, she's still respected and valued, so much that she might even have the chance to be in the Psy Council. So Faith has to make the very tough decision of whether to leave it for the outside world, where she'd be just another anonymous person. I liked that she was human enough to have the ambition to feel this way, even if she did make up her mind in the better direction, in the end.

Vaughn unending pressure on her, in spite of the danger, worked for me because he's not an arrogant ass, always convinced that he's doing the right thing. He doubts, but he knows he must trust his instincts anyway, because the alternatives are unthinkable. There's a very real possibility that this woman that he recognizes as his mate won't accept him as such, and to a changeling, this is one of the worst things that can happen, something that can turn their existence into a half-life. That's how Singh's changelings are like, the way the animals inside them manifest. It's something that makes them so much more than people who can just happen to shapeshift. In Vaughn case, just as it happened in Lucas' book, his animal nature manifests with regards to Faith in absolute devotion and tenderness and in a need to cherish and protect, and this made me love the guy even more.

Ahh, well, I guess I should talk about something other than the romance, which is all that I've covered so far (what can I say, it was just so good!). In addition to Faith and Vaughn's relationship, but completely organic and integral to it, there's both the issue of Faith's visions and the evolution of the relations between the Psy and the outside world. This last is developing to be an overarching story arc to the individual love stories in the series. That is even clearer here than it was in STS, with the revelations about the Net Mind and its nature. I was very intrigued by this. I get the feeling we might be witnessing the beginning of the end of Silence, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how this proceeds.

And now for my only criticism, the reason why I'm going with an A- and not an A. I had a curious sense that the book was ending when I was just getting settled into it. It wasn't that it felt underdevelopped, or anything like it, more a sense that the book would have perfectly been able to withstand more... more Faith / Vaughn scenes, more of Faith's doubts about what she would do, more everything. I guess it was simply a matter of me not being ready to leave this universe and wanting to keep wallowing in it, which is not that much of a negative, come to think of it!

And now to wait impatiently until September, when Caressed by Ice comes out. We get a Psy hero this time, one already out of the PsyNet but not completely reconciled with his non-Psy nature, and I can't wait to see how it works out!


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