Angels' Blood, by Nalini Singh

>> Wednesday, February 25, 2009

TITLE: Angels' Blood (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Nalini Singh

COPYRIGHT: 2009 (out next Tuesday)
PAGES: 368

SETTING: Alternate reality New York
TYPE: Paranormal Romance
SERIES: 1st full novel in the Guild Hunter series (there's an exclusive e-novella called Angels' Pawn which just came out yesterday, which introduces the series).

REASON FOR READING: Nalini Singh is one of my favourite authors. If she's writing it, I'm reading it. And as much as I love the Psy/Changeling series, I was very intrigued by the idea of a different one.

USA Today bestselling author Nalini Singh introduces a world of beauty and bloodlust, where angels hold sway over vampires…

Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux knows she's the best—but she doesn't know if she's good enough for this job. Hired by the dangerously beautiful Archangel Raphael, a being so lethal that no mortal wants his attention, only one thing is clear—failure is not an option...even if the task is impossible.

Because this time, it's not a wayward vamp she has to track. It's an archangel gone bad.

The job will put Elena in the midst of a killing spree like no other…and pull her to the razor's edge of passion. Even if the hunt doesn't destroy her, succumbing to Raphael's seductive touch just may. For when archangels play, mortals break…
Ok, so what is this book? Is it a vampire book, as I've seen many other readers speculate (hope or fear, although fear seems to be running ahead)? Nope, not exactly. This is a world that includes vampires, and although I dont know what the next books will be about, I expect some of them will be the protagonists in upcoming installments. However, the heroine and hero of Angels Blood are a human and an angel.

Elena Deveraux is a vampire hunter. In this alternate world, angels pretty much run things, and one of their powers is to make humans into vampires, giving them immortality (as well as some cool powers of their own). In exchange for the conversion, the newly made vampires commit to serving their sires for a century.

If they decide to renege on their deal and pull a runner, thats where Elena and her fellow hunters come in. Hunters have especially powerful senses that allow them to track vampires. This is dangerous, highly prized work, and hunters have organised themselves into a Guild, which takes care of them and makes arrangements for their jobs.

Elena is one of the best hunters out there, and this (unfortunately, as she sees it) brings her to the attention of the archangel who's in charge of New York. Raphael has a choice job for her, one so hard and terrifyingly dangerous that Elena doubts she will survive it. It's not a mere vampire she has to hunt down this time, but another archangel, one who has gone blood-mad and has embarked on an orgy of slaughter and destruction. And even if she survives the hunt, Elena is sure she won't survive her increasingly intimate relationship with the very, very scary Raphael.

You think that sounds melodramatic and exaggerated? It's not. Raphael truly is scary, even cruel. The thing is, you see, at the beginning of the book, he's not human. His brain doesn't work in the same way as humans' do. Elena just knows that he won't have mercy on anyone who defies him or fails him or represents a danger for his kind, and she's right.

But... his attraction for Elena humanises him. As much as I loved Elena, it was Raphaels character arc that fascinated me the most, basically because he goes so far. I was engrossed by the way he slowly started feeling things that were alien to him and found himself making choices he never would have made, seeing things in a different light. It was a wholly believable, gradual process, and enriched the romance enormously.

And speaking of the romance... (yeah, like I was going to skip that!). As strong and powerful as Raphael is, this is a romance among equals. Elena is more than a match for him, even physically, once she finds a way to bring herself closer to his level. Her refusal to let herself be steamrolled by Raphael seems suicidal sometimes, but then, she's already accepted that she probably won't get out of her mission alive. Plus, she's not feisty with her defiance. No stupid foot-stomping from Elena, not at all. She's just mentally strong, even with her vulnerabilities, and has too much respect for herself to let even an archangel make her into a plaything.

The tone of the story feels very different from that of the Psy/Changeling series. This world is darker and the violence is more graphic, and I think it felt a bit closer to Urban Fantasy. Not quite, though, which is good news for me, because it meant that it had the best of both worlds. There's the strong, kick-ass female protagonist and edgy feel of UF, but theres also the strong romance of, well, Romance, with its HEA ending, as well as a strong hero, whose POV were privy to.

Granted, we do see a lot more of Elena's POV than of Raphaels, but I have the feeling that is necessary, given the huge humanisation his character experiences throughout the book. The glimpses we catch of his thoughts at the beginning really reflect his otherness and inhumanness excellently, but much more than that and he either wouldn't have been that mysterious and unsettling, or he would have become a bit too scary.

As always with Singh, the worldbuilding is complex and coherent, and the book is full of fascinating characters about whom I was dying to know more about. And imagine! Singh does this without any sequel-baiting whatsoever! Every one of those interesting characters had a necessary role in the story, and that was something I appreciated.

The only reason I'm not quite giving this book an A grade is that I felt it was a bit slow to get started. During the first half of the book I wondered a few times when the actual plot would really get going, and it felt like Elena and Raphael were just circling each other for a bit too long. Mind you, it was still a really good read, that first half, but I found it a teeny bit too easy to put the book down.

Oh, there was also a bit of a sense of dissatisfaction on my part with the way we never get to know for certain exactly what happened with Elena's sisters. We get some extremely tantalising hints about an earlier blood-crazed serial killer with whom Elena had an extremely traumatic experience, and we get some details about what that experience was. I kept expecting her to share this with Raphael, so that I could know exactly what happened, too, but at the end of the book, I was still waiting. Hmm, I dont know, maybe this is something well find out later. I'm still not 100% sure if upcoming books in the series will feature new characters, as in the Psy/Changeling series, or whether Singh will go in a more UF direction and keep Elena and Raphael as her mains. Theres certainly plenty more to explore there, so either option would be fine with me!

MY GRADE: A very solid B+.


Into the Fire, by Suzanne Brockmann

>> Sunday, February 08, 2009

TITLE: Into the Fire
AUTHOR: Suzanne Brockmann

PAGES: 608
PUBLISHER: Ballantine

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: Yes, and a loooong-running one. This is book 13 in the Troubleshooters series.

REASON FOR READING: Autoread author, although I've learned to wait and then read a few books together, once I'm sure there won't be any emotional cliffhangers in the last one I've got ;-)

Vinh Murphy–ex-Marine and onetime operative for the elite security firm Troubleshooters Incorporated–has been MIA ever since his wife, Angelina, was caught in a crossfire and killed during what should have been a routine bodyguard assignment. Overcome with grief, Murphy blames the neo-Nazi group known as the Freedom Network for her death. Now, years later, Freedom Network leader Tim Ebersole has been murdered–and the FBI suspects Murphy may have pulled the trigger. To prevent further bloodshed, Murphy’s friends at Troubleshooters scramble to find him and convince him to surrender peacefully.

Murphy himself can’t be sure what he did or didn’t do during the years he spent mourning and lost in an alcohol-induced fog. He does know he occasionally sought solace from Hannah Whitfield, a former police officer and the very friend who’d introduced him to his beloved late wife.

But Hannah, still grappling with the deafness that resulted from an injury sustained while on duty, was fighting her own battles. For years Hannah had feelings for Murphy, and one painful night their suffering brought them together in a way neither expected–and both regretted.

Murphy is ready to rejoin the living. As always, he finds himself knocking on Hannah’s door, and as always, his longtime friend welcomes him back into her home. Yet even as Murphy slowly rebuilds his splintered life, he continues to fight his growing feelings for Hannah.

Then he learns of Ebersole’s murder and comes to believe that the Freedom Network has targeted him–and Hannah–to avenge their leader’s death to violence. Now Murphy must face the terrifying prospect of losing another woman he loves.

As the Troubleshooters desperately search for him, Murphy races toward a deadly confrontation with the Freedom Network and ultimate choice: surrender his life in hopes that Hannah will be spared, or risk everything to salvage whatever future they may have together.
MY THOUGHTS: As always, Brockmann manages to surprise. Heh, I really shouldn't have been surprised to be surprised, I suppose.

When I heard that this book starred Vinh Murphy, whom we'd last seen falling to pieces after the violent death of his wife in Hot Target, and his and Angelina's best friend, who'd been in love with him forever, I kind of formed an idea of what the story would be like. Given that all we'd heard from Murphy in the intervening books indicated that he'd been drinking himself to death, because Angelina's death meant that he might as well be dead, I expected something involving him fighting both to stay sober and his feelings for Hannah, thinking he must not betray Angelina. And same for Hannah, she'd feel terribly guilty about being with Vinh, with Angelina dead. Only at the end would they have the epiphany: "Angelina would want us to be happy".

Well, I didn't get that. At all. Not 50 pages into the book, Murphy is sober, having gone through rehab (which did feel a bit sudden), and neither he nor Hannah need the epiphany, because for both, betraying Angelina is just not an issue. They know she'd want them to go for it and not want Murphy to bury himself with her. Of course, Vinh and Hanna are not completely comfortable with their feelings for each other, but hey, we do need some internal conflict to last through the book, don't we?

Now, as happy as I was that things weren't going in the expected, predictable direction, the main romance wasn't the most gripping one ever. I think Hannah was the problem here. I did like what I saw of her. She seemed strong and courageous and smart, and I admired the way she was dealing with her recent deafness. But here's the thing: there just wasn't enough there for me to feel I knew her, not enough to really understand who she was. There seemed to be tonnes and tonnes of backstory between her and Vinh, and so much stuff relating to how she had adapted to her deafness, but we didn't get to see much of that. You know what if felt like? Like Brockmann had actually written that, and then had to edit big chunks out of the beginning of the book. And hey, I suppose it's possible, since the book was pretty long. But anyway, whether that was the case or not, I'm afraid that when a Hannah/Vinh relationship scene started, I enjoyed it well enough, but stilll kind of wished a little bit that we would continue with whatever previous scene I had been reading... usually one about Izzy and Eden.

And that was probably the most surprising thing: how much I absolutely loved the secondary romance. Izzy's asshole quotient had been way too high in previous books (fortunately, it was toned down drastically here), and a guy in his late 20s with an 18 year old? Ick. Usually. Not here, though. Here it felt yummy. I loved Eden, and considering the things she'd had to get over in her life, she felt plenty mature enough (and let's face it, Izzy's quite immature for his age, himself). Their relationship was not quite concluded by the end of the book, and I'm looking forward to see how things will turn out.

Finally, in the relationships area, there's a bit of Sophia and Dave. I'll write more about them when I review Dark of Night (which I'm reading right now), but for now, I'll just say: yay! And knowing who ends up with whom, plenty of clues here of what's going to happen.

The suspense? Interesting and gripping. The hatemongering cult leader Murphy blames for inspiring (pretty much ordering, really) Angelina's murder has been murdered, himself, and Murphy is suspected. Problem is, he hadn't been in rehab yet at the time when the murder happened, so that whole period is a blur for him. For all he knows, he could have done it. So he and Hannah need to track his movements and see if he did it or not. Of course, things turn out to be a lot more complicated soon enough.

MY GRADE: A B+. Solid, and if I'd been more into the main romance, it would have gone into A territory.


Catching up with Eve Dallas

>> Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I was a bit behind with JD Robb's In Death series, but now I'm almost caught up, with only the short story in Suite 606 to go. I think I'll just wait until Promises in Death is out in February, because though I tend to like the In Death short stories, they do feel a bit unsatisfying, compared to the single titles.

Eternity in Death, in the Dead of Night anthology (also includes stories by Mary Blayney, Ruth Ryan Langan and Mary Kay McComas, which I didn't read).

The case: A young, spoiled heiress is found having been bled to death. Investigations soon lead Eve to discover that she'd recently become involved in an underworld where people play at being vampires. But when she meets her main suspect, it doesn't feel like he's actually playing at anything.

The character-based stuff: Well, not much of a conflict, here... probably no space for that in such a short story. We know by now that Roarke is a lot more open to the fantastic and supernatural than Eve (see Haunted in Death, for instance), and vampires aren't the exception. His readiness to believe annoys Eve, and her refusal to even consider there might be more things in heaven and earth irks Roarke even more. But not much of a problem, really.

I quite liked the story, especially the dark humour of the face-off between stubborn Eve and the almost stereotypical (but not quite) supposed vampire. I also enjoyed the different characters' reactions to the possibility of vampirism. Peabody, for instance is kind of in the middle of Eve and Roarke's positions. She wants to be rational and cop-like and dismiss all that out of hand, but can't quite convince herself. Very true to character.

Case vs character-based stuff: I'd say in this one the character stuff wins. The case was interesting, but only in how it affected the characters.


Creation In Death

The case: The New York of the In Death books is full of serial killers, and this is yet another of them. Only there's a twist: the serial killer known as The Groom had stopped killing years ago, and Eve and Feeney, who'd originally investigated the case, had assumed he was dead. But now dead women are again being killed in his signature, horrifying way.

The character-based stuff: When they had originally investigated the Groom case, Eve was a newbie detective and Feeney was leading. Now this is Eve's case and Feeney is merely assisting from his post as head of the E-section (or whatever it's called). This leads to quite a bit of tension between them when Feeney starts feeling sidelined.

Case vs character-based stuff: I think the police procedural angle worked best here. Maybe there was a bit too much time spent in the mind of the serial killer, but that was compensated by the fact that the hunt for him was good stuff: logical, detailed and satisfying. I'm a bit ambivalent about the ending, though. It had me laughing gleefully, but what Eve did there was so not Eve-like. Even worse, it wasn't treated as un-Eve-like. Still, that was better than the Eve-Feeney conflict, in which they both behaved in ways that I thought were completely unlike themselves. I really didn't get what they were fighting about!


Strangers in Death

The case: It was a very embarrassing way to die. Tied to the bed, clearly a victim of an erotic asphyxiation game gone wrong. But for Eve, there's something about businessman Thomas Anders' kinky death that doesn't ring completely true.

The character-based stuff: I'm afraid there was nothing too scintillating here, although I think it's the first time that I've seen them quarrel about money. I would have thought this wouldn't have been an issue by now, that Roarke would have understood Eve better in that sense, that he would have got her reluctance. Although I suppose this made him a bit more human.

Oh, and I did like the developments between Charles and Louise. That was fun!

Case vs character-based stuff: The case was again better. This was one case where Eve was pretty sure about who the killer was from early on, so it was more a howdunnit than a whodunnit. I quite like those as well. Eve knew where her investigative path would lead her, but it was finding what path to follow that was hard, and it was fascinating to watch Eve do it. I'm not always a fan of mysteries where we readers know more than the detectives (which was the case here, as Baxter and Truehart are investigating a seemingly unconnected case which turns out to be very much connected... something very obvious to us, simply because otherwise, why would it even be included in the book?), but it was very nicely done here. The pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly.


Salvation in Death

The case: When a priest falls dead in the middle of a funeral mass, poisoned by the wine in his chalice, Eve is called to investigate. Father Miguel seemed to have been loved by everyone, so why would anyone kill him? However, Eve soon finds clues that point towards him not being who everyone thinks he is, but someone with a much more problematic past.

The character-based stuff: Not much relationship development here, but it was interesting to see Eve struggling to understand the faith of the people she was dealing with. I quite liked what Robb did with this. Eve remains a non-believer, but she knows she needs to get this stuff much better than she does in order to solve the case, so she really does try to understand. Her constant questioning of Roarke, and his very lapsed Catholic-like "why are you asking me??" reaction made me smile.

I also enjoyed seeing Ariel again, a character we'd first met in Creation in Death. It was good to see her doing well, and it was even better that her showing up in the action was wonderfully integrated into the crime-solving bit of the story.

Case vs character-based stuff: Both were good, but there was a lot more meat in the case. Really, really good stuff there. It was a baffling case, and one where the solution made perfect sense.

I especially enjoyed the glimpses of past (future, for us) history. The crime ends up having links to an old string of bombings during New York's troubled past, and it was very interesting to see what had been going on in the barrios back then, how gang activity had gone out of hand.

I also liked the initial ethical question raised by the fake priest's actions. He seemed to be a good person now, conscientious about his duties, doing his best to serve his parishioners. Did this compensate for whatever crimes, however horrible, he had committed in his distant past? Unfortunately, Robb didn't quite go in that direction, as Father Miguel turned out not to be such a swell guy in the present, either. I really shouldn't blame authors for not taking the story where I would have liked it to go, but damn, it would have been such an interesting thing to explore!

MY GRADE: Another B+.


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