Hostage to Pleasure, by Nalini Singh

>> Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Drive-by post... I know I'm MIA, but I'm just really, really busy. I'm finishing up my dissertation, plus preparing for a move to Liverpool in less than a week. Fortunately, I had this post already written down from a while back. Hope to be back soon, once things have calmed down a bit, but meanwhile, here you go: one of the best books I've read so far this year!

TITLE: Hostage to Pleasure (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Nalini Singh

COPYRIGHT: 2008 (release date: yesterday!)
PAGES: 352

SETTING: Near future alternate-reality version of the US
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: Book 5 in the Psy/Changeling series. Just like I said in my review of the last entry, I'm not going to go into details about the universe set-up in my review, so if you want to know more, read the first few paragraph of my post about Slave to Sensation, the first book in the series.

REASON FOR READING: Simple: I love this series!

Separated from her son and forced to create a neural implant that will mean the effective enslavement of her psychically gifted race, Ashaya Aleine is the perfect Psy--cool, calm, least on the surface. Inside, she's fighting a desperate battle to save her son and escape the vicious cold of the PsyNet. Yet when escape comes, it leads not to safety, but to the lethal danger of a sniper's embrace.

DarkRiver sniper Dorian Christensen lost his sister to a Psy killer. Though he lacks the changeling ability to shift into animal form, his leopard lives within. And that leopard's rage at the brutal loss is a clawing darkness that hungers for vengeance. Falling for a Psy has never been on Dorian's agenda. But charged with protecting Ashaya and her son, he discovers that passion has a way of changing the rules...
THE PLOT: The protagonists of HTP are two characters we already met in earlier books in the series. Two characters, in fact, who I was fascinated by from the first minute.

Dorian is one of the DarkRiver sentinels, a man no less tough and dangerous because of his inability to shapeshift into the leopard that very definitely is within him. We know by now that changelings don't generally like the Psy very much, but Dorian has more reason than most, as his sister was one of the victims of the Psy serial killer from the first book in the series. So wouldn't you know it? It turns out that his mate is a Psy.

Ashaya Aleine is an M-Psy (M=Medical), seemingly the Council's pet, and who's been working on the very scary Protocol I project we found out about in the previous book. Why scary? Think hive mind, and we find out in this book that it can actually get even scarier than that. It turns out, however, that as we discovered earlier in the series, Ashaya is not there voluntarily. Her son is being held hostage by the Council in order to pressure her into working on this project, and she's even willing to defy them in order to help the changelings.

As the book starts, things have come to a head between Ashaya and the Council. The changelings owe her for her actions in Mine to Possess, so as a favour in return, she has them rescue her son and take him out of the Net. And then she escapes herself, fully knowing her chances of making it are on the slim side.

But she hasn't counted on Dorian's protective side. As much as he tells himself this is just another cold Psy, part of him recognises her as The One, his mate, and that part just won't let her go. And as several spectacularly scary elements about the Council's actions come to light, he's going to have to work overtime to keep her alive.

MY THOUGHTS: Verdict? Loooooooooved this. I've probably said this again, and again and again, but this series just keeps getting better and better.

As I said above, both Dorian and Ashaya were characters I was very much looking forward to knowing more about, and I wasn't disappointed. They were even more interesting than I had hoped for, and my hopes were sky-high.

Ashaya... well, wow! I don't want to give too much away, as one of the best things about this book is discovering just what is going on with her. There are some things that don't add up about her, right from the start. I tried to guess what was going on, but I was far, far from the reality, and yet, the reality made perfect sense.

As for Dorian, he's a hell of a wounded character. You can really feel his pain, both his guilt and hurt about his sister's death and his frustration and sadness at his inability to shift into the leopard that's within him. His feelings for Ashaya are thus satisfyingly complicated. On one hand, he sees his increasing attraction to her, a cold Psy, as a betrayal of her sister. But on the other, he can't help but recognise that this woman is his mate. And by now we know what it's like for changelings to find their mates. It's not something that they can deny, so seeing Dorian battle with his feelings and fear that even though she's broken Silence a long time ago, Ashaya might still be too much of a Psy to really return these feelings was fantastic. Powerful stuff!

Strictly speaking, I think you could probably read this book without having read the previous ones. The romance is strong enough for it and Singh is good at catching you up with what's going on without going into info-dump mode. However, I really wouldn't recommend it. This is one series where there is an overarching story arc that's actually going somewhere, where the world-building is not some ad hoc scramble to get the characters to do what the author wants (à la JR Ward), but is well-planned-out in advance.

A big part of the fun in reading this series is seeing how the relationship between Psy, changelings and humans evolves, following the machinations of the Psy Council, finding out more about the increasingly important role of the seemingly powerless humans in this world, understanding exactly what the NetMind's role in the whole thing is and so on and on and on. It's complex and intrincate, but at the same time, not hard to follow. And best of all, it's brilliantly well-integrated with the romance. The actions of the protagonist couples in each of the books have a decisive effect on their world, and at the same time, are affected by it.

MY GRADE: A, A, A!!!


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