Branded by Fire, by Nalini Singh

>> Monday, July 06, 2009

TITLE: Branded by Fire
AUTHOR: Nalini Singh

COPYRIGHT: 2009 (comes out tomorrow)
PAGES: 368

SETTING: Alternate reality version of future California
TYPE: Alternate reality romance
SERIES: Yes, latest in the Psy/Changeling series

REASON FOR READING: One of my top 3 ongoing series (the other 2, in case you were wondering, are Meljean Brook's Guardians and JD Robb's In Death series).

Though DarkRiver sentinel Mercy is feeling the pressure to mate, she savagely resists when Riley Kincaid, a lieutenant from the SnowDancer pack, tries to possess her. The problem is not simply that he pushes her buttons; the problem is that he’s a wolf, she’s a cat, and they’re both used to being on top.

But when a brilliant changeling researcher is kidnapped from DarkRiver territory, Mercy and Riley must work together to track the young man—before his shadowy captors decide he’s no longer useful. Along the way, the two dominants may find that submitting to one another uncovers not just a deadly conspiracy, but a passion so raw that it’ll leave them both branded by fire.
THE PLOT: Mercy, a sentinel for the DarkRiver leopard pack, is none too fond of her counterpart in the SnowDancer wolf pack, Riley. Both packs have formed an alliance, so technically, they're not enemies, but that doesn't make working together any easier. Especially, that is, because for both of them, their adversarial relationship is just a way of sublimating their attraction.

When they finally give in to this attraction (no spoiler here, it happens really early in the book), this only opens an entirely different can of worms. Both Mercy and Riley are quite clearly dominants, and any giving in to the other won't be easy, for either of them.

MY THOUGHTS: So for the first time in the series, both hero and heroine are changelings. I've always loved how Singh doesn't simply portray her changelings as people who just happen to be able to shift into animals. Rather, the fact that a they are animals as well as humans influences her changelings even when they are in human form. "Their animal" is still there, and will react to events and feelings, giving changelings' emotional reactions a certain wildness which I love.

I've very much enjoyed seeing changelings with Psy or human, but in Branded by Fire, the fact that both Mercy and Riley were changelings made the dynamic of their relationship even more unique and interesting. It really reflected the issues underlying any relationship between two very strong individuals.

Mercy's struggles included issues any strong woman will identify with. She needs a mate who's also strong, as she'd walk all over a weak one, but it needs to be someone who won't be forever trying to establish dominance over her. In a way, I suppose Mercy being a changeling actually made more explicit some issues implicit in such a relationship. In order for two changelings to establish the emotional bond that a true union requires, they both need to consciously surrender to each other. That means that there can be no half-hearted relationship, where one of the couple holds something of him or herself apart. This is something that's right out there in their considerations, rather than something almost symbolic, as it would be normally.

It's a relationship that in the wrong hands, could have turned into an exhausting and dispiriting power struggle. The way Singh does it, though, it's affirming and results in something that made me very happy to see.

As ever in this series, the main romance is enriched by the cast of secondary characters, which includes the heroes and heroines from previous books. Singh does an excellent job of giving them all real roles in the action, and completely avoids pointless "look how happy we are!!" cameos. Not to mention, Hawke and Siena. Ohhh, I can't wait to see how that's going to develop!

You'll notice I haven't really talked much about the outside plot. That's not because there wasn't one. In fact, there are developments in the world-building, as the Human Alliance becomes a bigger player and a true threat. The thing is, all this felt quite external to Mercy and Riley's relationship. They were part of the changelings' reactions to all this that's happening, but it didn't really have a bearing on the issues they were facing as a couple, unlike in previous books. Still, I did enjoy the suspense and appreciated that this series is clearly going somewhere. Things will truly come to a head in a future book and with such great writing, I, for one, will definitely still be reading this series.

MY GRADE: A very strong B+.


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