Oh goody, we’re back on track. After the disappointment that was Dmitri’s book, Jason’s book is a jolly satisfying read. It’s definitely not for newcomers to the series, but I think many readers will enjoy the quieter, less overtly macho black angel and his trip into Neha’s court.
We’ve had hints of Jason’s tragic background in previous books, and even Raphael doesn’t know the full story. This being Nalini Singh, we know it’ll be covered in blood and sorrow, and indeed the prologue, as we watch an infant Jason pushing himself out from underneath a trapdoor, promises that Jason’s back story will be a painful one. Snippets of memory trickle out as the narrative progresses, glimpses of both abuse and laughter, love and hate, and I dare you not to shed a tear when Jason finally tells Mahiya the full tale.
Mahiya is Jason’s liaison in the land of the Queen of Snakes. As Raphael’s spymaster, he is sent to India to ferret out the truth when word arrives that Neha’s consort is dead. There’s more to the story, of course: Eris was imprisoned three hundred years ago for betraying Neha with her sister Nivriti, who died – but not before she gave birth to a daughter. Who is Mahiya.
From the moment she reached angel adulthood, Mahiya has been abused and subjugated, her pride and strength continually tested. When Jason arrives, she is close to gathering enough information (i.e. ammunition) to free herself from Neha’s poisonous atmosphere. No kickass heroine here, but do not call her a doormat – there’s a difference between strategic endurance and wilful self-subjugation, and Mahiya is merely biding her time. She’s a very good match for Jason, who lives in the shadows (literally), doesn’t speak much, and listens to the wind.
The characters and plot are compelling, ones I won’t forget any time soon, and I liked the angel-angel pairing. I also liked the glimpse into another archangel’s court, and as usual with Nalini Singh the ethnic blinders are on. If you want to put a label on the characters, you could call Mahiya Indian and Jason Caucasian-Pacific (with Maori tattoos on his face), but it doesn’t matter what they look like or where they come from, really – this world is governed by archangels, not statesmen, and some boundaries are far more fluid.
This makes for an interesting what-might-be scenario, but at the same time it’s an incredibly violent world. I love the world that Ms. Singh has created, but even the most forgiving of readers tires of yet another ominous prediction that the “world will drown in blood and terror”, or blood and screams, or something similar. It’s a cruel place, and there are cruel beings – I get it. No need to bludgeon me.
The other problem is that I’m starting to detect more than a hint of misogyny in the characterization. Over the last six books, including the short story collection, the male angels vary from insane to more or less good, but all are powerful, physically strong, alpha men. The female angels? Except for Elena (who doesn’t really count) and one other minor heroine, they’re either murderously insane (like Neha, Lijuan, Michaela, Anoushka or Caliane), or they’re non-martial and “soft” (like Mahiya, Hannah, and Jessamyn – or, for that matter, Jason’s mother). And there’s very little in between. So, what – martial female angels are bad? I don’t want to make that generalization, but it’s very, very hard not to connect the dots.
I still really liked Archangel’s Storm, enough that I actually read it twice back to back (which is really unusual for me). And the angel-vampire world is still fascinating enough that I’m not ready yet to quit. The next story goes back to Elena and Raphael, and the Cadre of Ten is going to be shaken up considerably. I hope the new archangel is a sane female.