Wild Embrace is a selection of stories set in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling world. I found the anthology to be uneven, with the first story excellent and the last one flirting with a D. None of the tales are really “stand-alone” novellas – they will work well only for readers familiar with this universe. That is especially true of the story Dorian; readers would need to have read the novel Hostage to Pleasure, which tells the full story of the titular character, to completely understand what was happening in this tale.
I’m reviewing the novellas in the same order they appear in the anthology.
Echo of Silence
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
This is easily the best tale in the book. Tazia (Tazi) Nerif loves her work. Being an engineer on the deep sea station Alaris has been a dream job for her; an opportunity to showcase all she learned in school as well as a chance to challenge herself on a daily basis. But this dream has a dark lining – her family, deeply conservative in most ways, has been horrified by her decision to leave their small village in the desert and live (unmarried) among people of both sexes. They have not spoken to her since she took the job.
Unable to go home and visit, Tazi delights in the opportunity to spend her mandatory “free” time away from the station helping the powerful and silent TK, Stefan, at an emergency rescue site. Soon she finds herself not just admiring but understanding the person Stefan is beneath the Silence and realizes that the two of them share much more in common than would be visible to the naked eye. But Psy that powerful are not allowed to marry outside their race and Tazi has retained enough of her original values to be uninterested in a meaningless affair. Besides, Stefan couldn’t possibly be interested in her, could he?
This is a sweet story of two lost and lonely souls finding their perfect partner. The romance between Tazi and Stefan reflects their gentle, reticent natures and also the warm, loving inner spirit they hide behind their tough outer façades. I appreciated how the author built the relationship – not starting from attraction but beginning with respect, friendship and then love. This suited them much better than a sexy story would have. My only complaint regarding the tale is that even though it seemed clear Tazi’s family was Muslim that designation never appeared. I would have loved to have seen Tazi reflect more on her faith and how it formed her ethical beliefs. Aside from that small quibble Echo of Silence is an excellent, romantic short story.
Grade: C Sensuality: Subtle
This novella contains spoilers for Hostage to Pleasure.
Dorian is the tale of shapeshifter Dorian Christensen who spent years unable to take the form of his cat. The first scene in the story highlights his emotions as a young boy who was unable to perform this basic act and how that drives him to achieve excellence in all the things he can do. We then join him after he is able to acquire this skill (far into adulthood) and experience his elation and trepidation as he introduces his cat persona to the men and women who have known (and loved) him since childhood.
This tale was a giant yawn for me. Dorian has been in most of the novels since he acquired this skill so we have had a lot of time to get used to him being a kick-ass cat. While the scenes are cute and sometimes very sweet they do nothing to really drive Dorian’s story forward or introduce us to a new aspect of this fascinating world.
Partners in Persuasion
Grade: B+ Sensuality: Warm
As a former male model Felix is used to women being attracted to his beauty. But when Desiree (Dezi) comes on to him, it makes his blood run cold. He had been in love with a dominant before and had his heart broken. He has no intention of being a submissive toy for some dominant’s pleasure at this point in his life. When she steps up her courting, he gives her a firm refusal. Then he finds she haunts him in his sleep. Unable to get the beautiful, changeling leopard out of his system, he decides to give dating her a try. His wolf is still hesitant but the man muscles through that reluctance.
Dezi knows it won’t be easy for them to date. Not only are wolf and cat changelings different, male/female pairings where the woman is by far the more dominant of the two have numerous difficulties tied to traditional sexual roles. Initially the couple has lots of moments fraught with tension as they learn how to deal with each other’s sensitivities. Things become easier as they realize just how much their human halves care for each other and how well their animal sides get along. As they build trust through loving gestures and careful courtship they realize that love makes us all equals.
This is Singh’s first female leopard dominant/male wolf submissive relationship. I thought the story was a quick breezy read, if a little bit redundant regarding the power imbalance between their animal halves. That said the author used her short space very effectively in terms of characterization, romance and resolution. We get a very real sense of the kind, protective, creative man Felix is and the kick-ass yet still with a bit of a gooey feminine side person Dezi is. The loving gestures from the bonsai plant to the petals in the aerie add a touch of amazing sweetness to the tale.
The story also does a good job of bringing in characters from past novels, especially those from Branded by Fire and Play of Passion who hold knowledge that is particularly useful to Dezi and Felix. Partners in Persuasion is a sweet, sexy novella that does a nice job of world building (it highlights the growing bonds between the DarkRiver and SnowDancer packs) while also delivering a great romance.
Flirtation of Fate
Grade: C- Sensuality: Warm
Nothing is harder for me to believe in than a love story based on bickering. Our story starts at Hawke’s mating ceremony, where Kenji follows Garnett (Jem) on her star gazing walk and the two have a heart to heart battle about whom they did or didn’t go to important school dances with. Yep, not only is the information about high school, the behavior reflects it a bit as well. Fast forward a bit and Kenji is attending an important meeting at Garnett’s den. He isn’t there for many hours before he is informed of the murder of a pack mate. He and Kenji investigate and yada yada yada they make love, the big dark secret keeping them apart is revealed and all is bliss.
The solution to the “mystery” here seemed pretty obvious to me even as we moved through the very first scene regarding it. The author set up one of the characters clearly as the villain, the other as the saint and there was no doubt in my mind how things had gone down. As mentioned before, I didn’t find the romance believable – or enjoyable. It’s one thing not to tell someone something you think could hurt them. It is another to push them away by being a complete jerk, which is what happens here. Add in the many zingers between them and the toxic nature of the original scene and I simply found that Flirtation of Fate read more like a flirtation with disaster.
I would recommend this anthology for fans of the Psy-Changeling saga. I have no doubt that these characters will appear again, if only briefly, in future stories and the first tale, Echo of Silence, is certainly a treat to read. For folks who have never read the books, you need to start with Slave to Sensation. Seriously, you will be totally lost if you don’t read the series in order.