It’s hard to imagine that Angel’s Blood, the first of Nalini SIngh’s Guild Hunter books, was originally just a stand-alone, (according to an FAQ I read). There’s such a wealth of world building that one could believe that the author had conceived of vampire kisses (not what you think), Contracts, angelic scents, and a stupid Grimoire before the series was written. And yet there’s almost an episodic, sporadic nature to the world-building that is absent from the Psy-Changeling books, which have clear trajectories. Each Guild Hunter book feels like it was written after the author stuck her hand in the Random Crazy Ideas Hat, pulled out a handful, then cobbled them together.
I’m not complaining (much), but it does mean that while I might read the Psy-Changeling series for sociopolitical developments as well as whichever changeling/human/Psy pairing Ms Singh has up her sleeve, I read the Guild Hunter books solely to check in on Elena and her crew. And that’s pretty much it. Do I give a tinker’s hoot about how crazy Lijuan is now? Not really. Does it matter how the continents are being carved up after more archangels have appeared? Like a three-legged hedgehog matters to a tank.
All of which is to say that the most successful GH books, to me, are the ones that zoom in and focus on a smaller story rather than yet another war that’s going to cause the death of thousands and blood to reign terror on the face of the earth. The previous book, (Archangel’s Enigma) Naasir’s story, was a massive win for me because the stakes were, relatively, small, and allowed the focus to remain on Andi and Naasir. The same thing goes for Archangel’s Heart. There is a tiresome amount of info dumping in the first few chapters, especially when it interrupts conversations for paragraphs at a time — a writing trick I absolutely loathe — but after the first third the book gets underway with the real story: a juicy little mystery set in the middle of the Moroccan desert.
The entire Cadre have descended upon the middle of Moroccan nowhere because there’s a super secret special sect called the Illuminati Luminata that apparently have the power to convene the Cadre when there are Big Decisions to be made. Even though no-one controls the Cadre. But the Luminata can. (See what I mean about Random Crazy Ideas?) The Big Decision the Cadre needs to make is what to do with eleven archangels floating around, ten territories to divvy, and crazy ole’ Lijuan floating around in the ether. I was ready to be bored by more talk about villages drowning in screams (hint to the author’s editor – it really is possible for there to be too much of a good thing), but happily things get diverted when people realize the Luminata are mental, the nearby town has secrets, and there are whispers of a woman who looks exactly like Elena. With Lijuan out of the picture and the angels grounded by a storm, Elena and her crew can focus on solving the mystery, locked-room style.
I liked reading about the Luminata compound, the art gallery, and the surrounding town, and there’s an enjoyable Da Vinci Code-esque hint of architectural mystery. But the stars of the show are the secondary characters. As much as I love Elena and Raphael, their time is up. I’m done with seeing how much they love each other and they’ll be together forever, blah blah blah, unless there’s a new spanner in their relationship. (There are more than a few hints of Eve and Roarke to this couple, including my growing boredom with them.) Happily, the book focuses as much on Elena’s relationship with others – her growing attachment to Caliane (Raphael’s mother), how she sees others in the Cadre, her friendship with another archangel’s consort – and particularly four other characters who deserve a mention.
The first two we meet are members of the Luminata, Ibrahim and Laric, and the third is Xander, the grandson of a resurrected archangel. Ibrahim and Xander are just too, too adorable, and Laric is an intriguing character with a tragic past. But the last is Aodhan, one of Raphael’s top lieutenants, who accompanies Elena and Raphael to the Luminata on the back of a bad argument with his friend Illium. I’m going to put it out right now – I love Aodhan, and I am so shipping Aodhan and Illium. I really, really want them together.
By the end it appears as if Lijuan has been retired for a while, for which I am supremely thankful, and Elena has made some discoveries about her family. Good news all round. Was this a successful book? Not wholly. But it was a pleasant surprise and good enough, and I am still going to read every GH book that comes out until Aodhan and Illium’s story. If I say it often enough, maybe it will happen.