Desert Isle Keeper
I’ve probably re-read each of Nalini Singh’s books at least once. Between the Psy-Changeling, Guild Hunter, and Rock Hard series she’s written thirty novels and novellas -so… yeah, that’s a lot of time I’ve spent in her worlds. So be warned – unbiased as I try to be, this review of Archangels’s Viper is definitely coming from a fan. Second warning: it’s the nature of this series that each book builds off of the others; political intrigue is a big part of the atmosphere here, and if you try to begin with this book you’ll miss out on a lot.
In book one, Angel’s Blood, Holly Chang, experiences a life-altering trauma. Specifically, the young Holly was kidnapped and tortured by the maddened archangel Uram. No one, not even Holly, knows everything that happened to her during that time, but when she was rescued by Raphael and his consort Elena, it became obvious that she had been altered. For a time Holly was deeply depressed in the aftermath of her kidnapping, struggling to cope with the strange new abilities and vampirism that Uram cursed her with. Among these new abilities was a poison in her bite, somewhat like that of Venom, which is why he was chosen as Holly’s first tutor in the world of immortals.
Venom is one of the Seven, the elite group of vampires that make up Archangel Raphael’s private guard, who, unlike the newly created Holly, is a centuries old vampire. At the start of this story, he is finally returning to New York after spending almost two years abroad. He has kept up with Holly via weekly phone calls, but has been unable to meet her in person throughout that time. The two instantly fall back into their old habit of baiting each other, but it becomes clear almost immediately that something about their dynamic has changed. Holly has gained maturity and control in the time that Venom has been away, and where they were once teacher and student, they are now equals.
That might seem to leave room for romantic attachment – and it does – but Holly and Venom are unable to act on any feelings they may have as it becomes clear that Holly’s condition is getting worse. Whatever Uram did to her four years ago is continuing to cause changes in her body, and it’s not something Holly can control or understand. Together, she and Venom begin a search for answers which takes them far from New York.
Archangel’s Viper is a slow-burn romance, in large part due to Holly’s struggles. Neither she nor Venom is ready to confront their feelings while everything is so uncertain, so they just let things simmer. Eventually the two decide that the only thing to do when the future is uncertain is admit to your feelings, but I liked that they took the time to investigate Holly’s condition before jumping into bed. They even make jokes about people who get amorous at critical moments in an escape, which reinforces that this isn’t just insta-lust; it’s two individuals who truly care about each other and care about surviving in order to be together.
The characters themselves are solid additions to the Guild Hunter world. Venom, like most of Raphael’s Seven, is an almost perfect specimen of a vampire. He has abilities beyond the norm, is strong without being hard, and allows himself to be vulnerable once he’s comfortable with Holly. While I liked all of this, I’ll admit to wanting to mess him up a little – he may have regrets about the past, but Venom doesn’t seem to struggle with anything in his present life. This gave him more time to focus on Holly, which was all to the better, but did leave him feeling a little too perfect for my taste.
Holly doesn’t have this problem. She’s openly flawed, doubting herself after her experience with Uram, and still learning how to balance her human family life and instincts with the new reality of vampiric life. In spite of all this doubt and uncertainty, though, she fairly explodes off the page with her strong personality. Most of the time my mental images of characters are blurry, but I can clearly picture the whorl of rainbow color that is Holly. She made this book shine, both as a character critical to the central plot and as someone who jumped off the page in her own right.
I would definitely recommend this book to any current Nalini Singh fans, and would recommend the series to anyone interested in a good paranormal romance. I can’t conceive of how Ms. Singh keeps coming up with new ideas for her books and all the intrigues within them, but I just hope they keep coming. And until then, I’ll be adding Archangel’s Viper to the reread pile.