Last Guard is the fifth book in the Psy-Changeling Trinity series and the twentieth book overall in the Psy-Changeling universe. Due to the sequential, highly connected nature of the two series, this book contains spoilers for the previous novels. This review will, consequently, also contain spoilers.
Payal Rao is in a desperate situation. Her father, Pranath Rao, current head of the Rao family, is a merciless fiend who killed her eldest brother when Pranath caught that young man conspiring against him, forcing his other children to watch the homicide to be sure they got the message. Pranath has also fathered a second, much-younger-than-his-current-heirs set of children to remind those set to inherit that they are dispensable. Payal, her father’s likely successor and current working CEO of the family firm, may be publicly known as a “psychopathic robot” – cold, methodical, and ruthless – but she is none of those things. She’s simply a survivor.
Canto Mercant places family above all. Why shouldn’t he? He belongs to the wonderful, powerful Mercant clan. Cousin to Silver (heroine of Silver Silence) and friends with her mate Valentin, Canto is surrounded by people who love and care about him. But it wasn’t always that way.
Many years before, Canto was in a rehabilitation center for “damaged” Psy children. Their teachers called their subjects by numerical designation rather than by name and used violence as a lesson plan. One such lesson cost Canto, known there as 7J, the use of his legs. It would have cost him his life if a brave young girl he knew only as 3K hadn’t intervened at her own expense. Canto never learned her name; once the Mercants rescued him from the facility he never saw her again – but he’s continuously searching for her.
Canto and Payal are united by a rare skill – both of them are Anchors on the Psy Net. They are also united by a critical, secret piece of information – the Psy Net is dying. And the millions of Psy who rely on it, themselves included, will die when it fails. Canto needs Payal to be the spokesperson for the Psy Anchors, to go public about the problems facing Psy with their designation and about what those problems mean for the Psy people as a whole.
Canto thought he had thoroughly researched Payal before he arranged their initial meeting, but she surprises him by greeting him as 7J. He knows instantly she is 3K, the girl he has been searching for. Their shared history changes everything for both of them. Payal is willing to trust Canto, something she wasn’t prepared to do when she first agreed to liaise, and Canto is prepared to trust her. In the Psy world, where families and individuals often feud to the death, this mutual trust is a rare and powerful commodity. It is that trust that enables them to unite the Anchors in a desperate bid to fix the Psy Net and save their race – and to fall in love while doing so.
Fans of the series will be familiar with the plot and characters of this story. Payal, like most powerful TKs, controls her considerable abilities with the use of Silence, and her family situation makes the rigid emotionless discipline required by this protocol a must for her life. Her father not only yields inflexible control over her through threats of assassination, but he also regulates a form of chemo which keeps brain tumors from forming in Payal’s head. He gives her only one dose at a time and Payal has been unable to find a lab capable of reproducing the elixir. Her life literally depends on keeping him happy.
Payal’s younger brother, who would very much like to take her place as heir apparent, is a murderous psychopath. Pranath uses him as a failsafe in case Payal finds a way around the chemo, reminding her on a regular basis that a sociopath will be her replacement, possibly torturing and murdering the younger siblings whom she loves, should Payal ever fail him.
Canto had only been in the torture facility where he met Payal because his father’s family had the raising of him during his early years. Fortunately, when his mother learned what had happened, she and her mother, the powerful matriarch of the influential Mercant clan, were able to get him out of that location and pull him into their own warm and loving family. Canto was always too broken to maintain Silence, hence his presence in that ‘school’, but he still has formidable gifts of his own. One of those gifts is to understand the Anchor position as no one has done for generations and to understand how crucial it is that he and Payal work together to forge a powerful Anchor Alliance that can force the ruling Psy Council to take their issues seriously.
The differences between Canto, with his warmth and broken Silence, and Payal, whose Silence is so complete she is essentially a mobile block of ice, should have kept the two from falling in love. Instead, they find in each other precisely what they need. Payal feels deeply but suppresses it all because her family could use it against her. Canto provides her a safe harbor in which to love and be loved, he offers aid she can depend on, and a security that she has been longing for all her life. Payal knows she is safe with Canto and having never been safe before she finds that feeling wonderous. Canto is loved by his family but his inability to walk has made them protective of him, so the chance to be the protector and anchor that Payal needs makes him extremely happy. Canto also appreciates the caring, giving person he sees buried beneath Payal’s Silence. By becoming the public face of the Anchors, she risks much but she is willing to do so for the sake of the millions of strangers who would die without her aid. Given Payal’s family situation, Canto knows the incredible courage it takes for her to make herself so vulnerable. I liked that their romance is based on a very mutual protecting/being protected situation and that both of them are fiercely committed to the community they are a part of and to each other.
I’m not going into the details of the plot around the failing Psy Net but as always, Ms. Singh does an amazing job of world building. All the intricate little pieces of politics, culture and history that make up this universe are juggled to perfection, serving as an ideal background to the love story.
My one quibble with the tale is that a lot of what we read here is very familiar. The Psy Net has been failing for the last several books and it seems like we are regularly discovering a new designation that is vital to its existence. This book is still great, but the plot feels a tiny bit well worn.
Regardless of that flaw, a wonderful love story and the continuing build-up of the Psy-Changeling world make Last Guard a must read for fans of the series.
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