Nalini Singh’s paranormal romance (with a huge touch of mystery and suspense) Alpha Night is a book that comes on strong in the second half, which is great if you make it that far.
Selenka Durev, alpha of the BlackEdge wolfpack of Russia, is at the site of an attempted “empathic terrorist” attack and nearly murdered when she’s saved by Ethan Night, an Arrow assassin turned sort-of-double-agent, who, it turns out, is her mate. It’s only the first act in what, it becomes clear, is a plot of global proportions, and Selenka has authority problems on her own territory that also can’t wait. Ethan is ready to help with both as her new mate, but has a deeply traumatic past and is experiencing symptoms that suggest the onset of insanity.
I expected that as an insta-bond, mated-pair romance, Alpha Night would capitalize on those aspects, but it doesn’t until halfway through the book (and Singh’s books fill out full-sized hardcovers so that’s a lot of pages). So much time is spent on the mystery and suspense aspects that a scene in which Selenka and Ethan share a snack is a romantic plot development. On top of that, the entire thing is conveyed in prose that is often overwrought:
his eyes devoured her, the air between them hot with need and something more—a hunger to smash through the fog in the bond, claw into each other’s soul.
Now, this isn’t my first rodeo with paranormal romance – I was initiated on Lora Leigh’s Breeds series, so I’m no stranger to some bombast, but it was too much all the time here, and felt like a way of sneaking in a lot of telling instead of showing.
Selenka thinks about how:
her wolf. . . . knew its mate was hanging on an edge and needed to be hauled in before he fell
and the problems of the first half pushed Alpha Night to the edge of a C grade from me. It, too, was saved by love and Salenka. I often feel like romance suffers from a lot of Either/Or Heroines. Either they’re gunslingers or bread-bakers, and heaven forbid they be both. Selenka comes the closest I’ve seen to embodying a balance. The trick? Be a wolf woman. As an alpha, it’s entirely acceptable for Selenka to be, as needed, “a dominant” (not in a BDSM way) and also an incredibly physically affectionate, emotionally astute person. She never treats Ethan as a Patriarch instead of a Person, as someone who needs to be put down simply for being male. Their sex life is a fabulous example of this. During Ethan’s first time (get out that Virgin Hero review tag, y’all), she thinks that
her mate didn’t yet understand how to revel in taunt sexual need
and so she deliberately doesn’t try any delayed gratification tactics. Ethan thinks:
he felt spoiled by her. . . in being simply given what he wanted instead of having his need used to torture him.
It’s rare for me to read about a couple who engage with each other with such loving awareness, let alone see things like consent, power dynamics, and strong women handled in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’m reading a manual entitled How To Be A Good Modern Human, You Moron.
Singh gets bonus points for reimagining that old ‘make a guy hot by having him be good with kids’ trope – Ethan is great with all the kids who, in Selenka’s pack, who often appear in their “pup” form. I have to say I was far more charmed by the image of Ethan holding sleeping wolf puppies than I’ve ever been by heroes who are fabulous uncles.
The ending is a romantic HEA, but virtually all of the non-romance related storylines are left on cliffhangers for the next book(s) in the series. Ultimately, I’m recommending Alpha Night solely on the basis of its heroine and romance, which offer a refreshing case study of what a ‘modern’ heroine and love story can look like.