Sunday, June 27, 2010

nalani singh's slave to sensation and visions of heat from her psy-changeling series offer romantic urban fiction with a little bit of bite

Slave to Sensation and Visions of Heat are the first two books in Nalani Singh's 'Psy-Changling' series of books – of which there were seven at last count.
Singh – who was born in Fiji and brought up in New Zealand – is one of Gollancz' latest stars. Her first two books in the new Guild Hunter series, Angels' Blood and Archangel's Kiss, were the first of her novels I read and reviewed; and I liked them, quite a lot.
The Guild Hunter series rotates around Angels and vampires – yes, yes, more damn vampires – but at least the addition of Angels who act like humans ie. Fight among themselves, fall in love with humans and generally ignore most of the religious connotations of their literary history, are different enough to be interesting.
In the Psy-Changling series Singh has done a similar thing – take one established urban fantasy trope and add something new to the mix. So, we've got werepanthers, rather than werewolves, and the 'Psy' as the new idea.
The Psy are humans, kind of, who basically had 'psy' talents like telepathy, telekinesis, farseeing, foreseeing etc but who decided that all emotions should be done away with.
So, we've got terribly smart, organised, mentally powerful beings without any love, lust, hatred or joy. Basically human-shaped machines who love making money.
The Changelings are the opposite – humans in touch with their animal natures – so lots of love, lust, anger and joy.
Naturally the stories – in both books – focus on a cold-hearted Psy running into a hot-blooded Changeling and opposites attracting.
In Slave to Sensation, Sascha Duncan is a Psy who thinks she's losing her mind; she keeps 'feeling' things that she shouldn't, like emotions. Her Changeling is Lucas Hunter, a local property developer who's a werepanther and amazingly attracted to Sascha's cold demeanour. Of course, she's beautiful and he's hot, so what do you expect is going to happen?
Like many of the current crop of Gollancz urban fantasies, Singh's books are basically romance novels wrapped in a pretty fiction of the supernatural – there are any number of successful authors and publishers out there who are milking this 'Twilight' trend for all it's worth, after all.
Thankfully, Singh can actually write (unlike others, particularly the aforementioned Twilight author) and her plots include a bit more than soulful gazing/boy-meets-girl/'yes, dear, I'm a vampire/werewolf/angel' motif we've come to expect.
While Sascha and Lucas sniff around each other, something nasty is going on in the Changeling world – another young woman has gone missing. She's the latest in a long series of missing Changelings who turn up dead and mutilated. Lucas, as pride leader, has been tracing the murders around America and thinks Sascha's group of Psy might be involved.
So, at least this series has a bit of action to differentiate it from the usual run-of-the-mill stuff out there. Yes, the romance blossoms and Sascha realises that there's nothing wrong with her, she's actually some kind of super Psy throwback, who's talent has been suppressed by her people, and Lucas manages to discover the murder, before they settle down happily ever after.
Visions of Heat continues the storyline, including the characters of the first book, but focusing on a new male Changeling in need of a 'mate'. Oh yeah, the animal clichés are fairly strong.
This time it's Vaughan D'Angelo, who is actually a werejaguar instead of a panther, in need of romance and his Psy is the hyper-sensitive Faith NightStar, a valuable commodity with the ability to see the future.
Like the first book, Visions of Heat carries on the underlying plot of madness in the Psy culture, with Faith being dogged by dark dreams of murder and torture as another Psy mind manages to latch on to hers.
Naturally enough, Vaughan's animal nature is able to protect her from the dreams, and with Sascha and Lucas, he fights to save Faith from being dragged into madness, while at the same time falling in love, of course.
These books aren't high literature but they are fun reads. The twists to the typical urban fantasy fodder make Singh's books much more palatable than much of the pap that's being published these days.
Personally I prefer her Guild Hunter series, it's more urban and grittier, with less traditional romance and more blood, guts and politics. But for readers who enjoy a good love story with feisty women, strong men and true love, then Slave to Sensation and Visions of Heat are great reads. What's more, there are five more books in the series, so your holiday reading is sorted.

Slave to Sensation and Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh are published by Gollancz and are available from good book stores and online.


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