I have long been a fan of Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. I remember vividly the first time I opened up Slave to Sensation, and I’ve consistently snapped up the fourteen books that followed as soon as they were released. Wild Embrace has proved no different regarding either my excitement level or the quality of the book.
Echo of Silence
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Warm
This is the first piece of this anthology, and the only story concerning Psy. Here we see Stefan, a high-powered telekinetic, fall for the quiet human engineer Tazia Nerif. Tazia and Stefan couldn’t come from more different backgrounds. Tazia grew up in a small village with a tight-knit community. She may have been estranged from her family since taking this job at Alaris, a deep-sea station, but all of her memories involve a large, loving family and a host of family traditions.
Stefan, unlike most Psy, did grow up with a caring parent, for at least a little while. However, losing his mother and brother in a landslide when he was young left him traumatized and unmanageable. As an adult, he spends most of his time managing Alaris (and secretly lusting after Tazia), and when he isn’t under the sea he’s volunteering his TK powers at other earthquake sites around the world. When Tazia joins him on one trip, she gets a peek under his icy Psy exterior, and it doesn’t take long for her to fall in love. This is a simple romance, with no real antagonist other than the couple needing time to get to know each other. Their cultures might be different, but by the end it’s clear Tazia and Stefan couldn’t be more suited.
Grade: B- Sensuality: N/A
Of the whole anthology, I connected least with Dorian. It’s a quick read—just a few snippets from Dorian Christensen’s life. As a changeling who couldn’t shift, Dorian struggled at various times with how to fit in amongst his pack. This is something anyone who has read Hostage to Pleasure will already know, as Dorian was the hero of that book. Now, we have the chance to see what it was like for him growing up, and even how he managed when he finally was able to shift at the end of his book.
To be clear, there is nothing particularly wrong with this story that made me dislike it. As always, Ms. Singh has proved an excellent writer. In this case, though, I felt a bit like I was reading an extended epilogue rather than a story in itself. You know what I mean—life in epilogues is viewed through rose-colored glasses. Everything – even the challenges that people might face -is just a bit more perfect than in everyday life. Here we see Dorian face some teasing as a child, but he has an extremely supportive Alpha who is ready with the perfect response to his youthful worries. Moments like that are the one drawback to Dorian, which felt a little too fantastic, even for a fantasy.
Partners in Persuasion
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Warm
Partners in Persuasion, the third story in the anthology, reminded me a lot of high school. Just like the changelings have a hierarchy of dominance, wherein males are typically the more dominant partner of a relationship, so do high schoolers. Only in high school, “dominance” is established by age. It’s normal, I think, for a young girl to date a guy who’s a year or two older. The reverse, however, is much rarer and likely looks something like the relationship between Desiree and Felix.
Desiree is a confident soldier in the DarkRiver pack who is simply smitten with SnowDancer’s head gardener, Felix. Unfortunately, their relationship seems doomed from the start, as Desiree is much more dominant than the quiet, submissive Felix. Although there is definitely a physical attraction, the additional consideration of changeling dominance makes a relationship almost impossible, as Felix shies away from Desiree every time she draws near. It’s only with careful persistence that this slow-building relationship can overcome the inherent difficulties.
Luckily, Ms. Singh doesn’t rush the process. This may be a novella, but it never feels like there’s a time crunch. Desiree courts Felix as best she can, while Felix struggles with the very human desire to be the “man,” the one protecting Desiree, even when his wolf is urging him otherwise. In high school this mess of conflicting feelings could have spelled doom, but Desiree and Felix manage to untangle their emotions enough to start a real relationship.
Flirtation of Fate
Grade: A Sensuality: Subtle
The last story in this anthology is clearly the star of the show. It features Kenji and Garnet, two SnowDancer lieutenants who have been dancing around each other for ages. Garnet had a crush on Kenji even when they were little, but when things came to a head on her twenty-first birthday, Kenji stood her up, purposely sabotaging their relationship. What Garnet never knew, though, was that Kenji did this because he had just found out a childhood illness had rendered him unable to father children. Not wanting to take away Garnet’s ability to have the big family she’d always dreamed of, Kenji made the choice for her and backed away.
Years later, neither of them has been able to get over the other. When Kenji gets called in to help out in Garnet’s territory, he braces himself for a difficult few days of resisting temptation. Things only get worse when one of Garnet’s packmates is murdered, forcing the two lieutenants together in the confines of the investigation. Naturally, time and proximity manage to pull out the truth of Kenji’s rejection, at which point the only barrier to his and Garnet’s mating disappears.
So often, I get annoyed with characters like Kenji, who are their own worst enemy. This trait is often characteristic of a TSTL hero or heroine, when they make a small issue big enough to end a relationship. Here, though, Garnet puts Kenji’s behavior in perspective, reminding her he was at a critical point in his development when he got the news and deliberately chooses to focus on their future rather than any lost years. Garnet and Kenji were two of my favorite secondary characters, and I loved seeing how well they fit together in their own story. This, along with the mystery plot, made Flirtation of Fate one of my favorite novellas by Ms. Singh.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always loved Nalini Singh’s work. I knew I was in for a treat when I grabbed this book for review, and it didn’t disappoint. The balance of having both Psy and Changeling stories within one collection was perfect, and I really can’t wait for the next installment in the series!