Summer 2017 will always be my Summer of Singh. I started a serious binge when I read Nalini Singh’s first Psy-Changeling book, Slave to Sensation, back in May, and just a week ago I finished Silver Silence, the latest release. That’s sixteen novels, not counting the short story collections, which I also read.
I’ve gone on binges before, but this one was different. I never burned out on Singh the way I’ve done before. In order to keep a series from feeling formulaic and predictable, I usually have to intersperse the books with reads by other authors and genres. In some cases, even that doesn’t help, as the authors themselves lose the spark that made their early books so engaging.
Not so for Singh. The Psy-Changeling books are so bingeable because Singh never gets stuck in ruts. Her first two books involve Psy women and changeling mates, with the main obstacle being how to safely remove the women from a psychic network on which they’re dependent. However, the third book, Caressed by Ice, has a Psy male and a changeling female, and the Psy is already out of the net. The fourth book, Visions of Heat, has a changeling male and a human female. Singh writes changeling/changeling pairs and Psy-Psy pairs as well as matching each species to humans. The only pairing I haven’t seen from her is human/human, which makes sense given the genre.
Even the books with identical racial pairings – say, changeling/Psy – manage to differentiate themselves. The heroine of Slave to Sensation, Sascha Duncan, is warm and compassionate, which makes her fit with her tactile changeling alpha Lucas. Kiss of Snow also features a changeling alpha/Psy female matchup, but Sienna Lauren is a rebellious warrior not even vaguely reminiscent of Sascha – and that’s perfect for her martial mate, Hawke. Changeling/changeling romances explore issues of dominance (in Play of Passion and Tangle of Need, dominant females try to find appropriate mates) and species (a leopard/wolf pairing in Branded by Fire).
The series also sucks you in with a setting that grows and changes. I don’t want to be too spoilery, but watching the world of the Psy-Changelings unravel and then gradually remake itself is addictive. Singh does a great job making sure that “gaps” in the setting are filled, sometimes before you notice them. Of course the Psy who intermarried with humans before isolating themselves, left a genetic legacy there which sometimes produces powers in humans. Of course humans will resent the intrusive mental abilities of the Psy, and of course some might turn to terrorism. Of course there will be a time when a changeling’s fated “mate” is already committed to another. And Singh is always there to ask “What next?”
That’s not to say the binge was perfect. Reading many books back-to-back dramatically highlights an author’s writing tics. I cannot tell you how often Singh decides that it would be sexy for one of her characters to “nip” the other on the “lower lip.” This is barely possible if you’re not already kissing, but Singh has people playfully lunging into each others’ faces mid-conversation. It’s a recipe for a broken nose. It’s also really not sexy. All I can picture is the ridiculousness of Val Kilmer snapping his teeth in Top Gun.
I didn’t like the excessive abilities of the changelings. Nobody was a computer programmer, they were the greatest hacker in the history of anything ever. A character wasn’t in finance; he was a king of navigating obscure and supposedly untraceable financial transactions. I don’t mind those traits in alphas or leaders (the hero of Heart of Obsidian, is insanely powerful – but also the single most important Psy on the planet). But an entire wolf pack full of Greatests Of All Time, all under the age of thirty? Silly.
The books are also not invariably DIKs. Blaze of Memory was, ironically, a forgettable slog. After a long build-up, Hawke and Sienna’s romance in Kiss of Snow turned out to be a let-down, with repeated makeout scenes that just… ended. No explanation, no narration – just characters making out one minute and a totally new scene the next. Allegiance of Honor barely contained enough plot for a novella, let alone a full length book, and read like an extended happy-ending epilogue.
Still, on the whole, there are an awful lot of great books, and the series doesn’t trend down over time, as so many do as the author runs out of ideas or starts writing too fast. In fact, my favorites are relatively evenly distributed over time.
My favorite Singhs:
Caressed by Ice: Judd Lauren’s Psy ability could be fatal to himself or anyone around him if he loses control over his emotions, so he fights to keep himself numb to Brenna Kincaid, a changeling wolf. I love chilly heroes so much that I overcame my hatred (serious, serious hatred) of this book’s awful cover.
Branded by Fire: Mercy, a leopard changeling, and Riley, a wolf, can’t figure out how to love outside their pack when their first loyalty must be to their alphas. Plus, Mercy’s dominant, just like Riley – how can they navigate that? In my opinion, this is the sexiest of the series.
Play of Passion: Wolf Drew is less dominant than Indigo, the changeling wolf he wants to mate. Can he win her from a subordinate position? If you love a charmer hero, try this one.
Heart of Obsidian: Singh classifies even the identity of this book’s hero as a spoiler on her web site, so I won’t spoil it for you (be warned that any web link, including Amazon, probably will). I’ll just say that I enjoyed the use of a morally gray lead, and even more enjoyed the fact that he’s not “cured” of his ambiguity by the story and yet is somehow a compelling hero (or antihero?)
Shards of Hope: This one’s an action thriller, as Psy Aden and Zaira play cat and mouse with people who want to bring them down. It’s also emotional. Zaira struggles with potentially insane, sociopathic violence, and it’s very satisfying to see the author give that conflict to a female. Her struggle contrasts with Aden’s, who must lead a team of the most deadly Psy while only possessing limited power himself. The climax of this book is fantastic.
Wild Embrace: This is an anthology with two DIKs, a human/Psy pairing in Echo of Silence and a dominant female leopard/submissive male wolf in Partners in Persuasion. These explore the roles of humans and changeling submissives, the least-written parts of the Psy/Changeling world, and add richness to the overall world setting. Bonus points for making the submissive a male.
What about you? Do you have any stories you’ve read that link strongly to a time or place in your life? Have you had any binges as successful for you as this Singh binge was for me – or did you have binges that fell apart? If you’ve read the Psy/Changeling books, which ones are your favorites?
Most importantly, what do I read now that I’ve finished???