Hostage to Pleasure, by Nalini Singh

28 Aug

Hostage to Pleasure, by Nalini Singh

The most recent addition to the Psy/Changeling series, Hostage to Pleasure once again centers on one of the sentinels of the DarkRiver pack, while furthering the overarching story arc of the series through the introduction of his mate, a high ranking M-Psy whose path had once before crossed that of the leopards during the events narrated in Mine to Possess, the previous novel.

Ms Singh’s command of the world she has created is excellent. Without incurring any inconsistencies, each book reveals deeper layers in the relationships between the different groups of humans in this parallel future, the shifting of power, and the immutability of human nature. Once again, while this novel can indeed be enjoyed on its own merits, I heartily recommend beginning with Slave to Sensation, and reading the series in order, because there are a number of short passages which are more meaningful when knowing some events narrated in earlier books.

The back cover blurb:

Separated from her son and forced to create a neural implant that will mean the effective enslavement of her psychically gifted race, Ashaya Aleine is the perfect Psy—cool, calm, emotionless… at least on the surface. Inside, she’s fighting a desperate battle to save her son and escape the vicious cold of the PsyNet. Yet when escape comes, it leads not to safety, but to the lethal danger of a sniper’s embrace.

DarkRiver sniper Dorian Christensen lost his sister to a Psy killer. Though he lacks the changeling ability to shift into animal form, his leopard lives within. And that leopard’s rage at the brutal loss is a clawing darkness that hungers for vengeance. Falling for a Psy has never been on Dorian’s agenda. But charged with protecting Ashaya and her son, he discovers that passion has a way of changing the rules…

The set up for the main plot is a very short exchange between Ashaya and Dorian during the rescue of two human children, from the research laboratory-cum-torture chamber/jail where Ashaya conducts her research on the Implant.

If you are just starting reading the series, here’s the quick and dirty primer: in a parallel future, there are three subspecies of humans. The normal variety humans, the changelings and the Psy. While there is little biological difference between the three, their cultures have grown increasingly distinct and separate in the last couple of centuries, and more so since the implementation of the Silence Protocol by the Psy.

Silence is a training designed to eliminate emotion in the Psy, thus allowing them to control the more destructive manifestations of their psychic powers. The most visible consequence is that the Psy have the lowest index of outright violence and crime of the three ‘races’ and have become the leading group in the world—the other side of the coin being a ruthlessness unhampered by any feeling. Killing in cold blood is, in fact, an accepted—if tacit—way to move up in the ranks of the Psy Council.

Ashaya is an excellent heroine, trapped between two equally compelling and urgent needs—protecting her son being one of them. She keeps her secrets and shows her strength of will throughout the novel. Dorian, who has been damaged both by the murder of his younger sister by a Psy and by his inability to shift, is her perfect foil. He recognizes her as his mate yet can’t reconcile the fact that she refuses to give up Silence.

Then there is the external conflict, which explores the relationships between the three different groups. In this installment we see much less of the dynamics within the larger Changeling society (i.e., between packs), and more about how overall power is shifting as the cracks in Silence start to become more obvious to all three groups.

The Psy Council becomes even more ruthless in its bid to continue controlling the Psy at large and, in fact, all of humanity. As they urgently move to hide the ever more frequent incidences of failure, other factions are poised to grab whatever opportunity and means present themselves to, at the very least, topple the Psy rule and, at worst, wipe them out completely. Interestingly, the existence of at least one such group has been mentioned only once before in the series, a couple of books back.

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy consistent world building?

We are also introduced to a number of new characters and a couple of extreme Psy abilities—this is not unexpected either since the events involving Judd Lauren in Caressed by Ice.

The weaving of all these threads is most excellent. All three groups share too much of their DNA for any sort of biological weapon to be directed at only one of them, yet it’s unclear if knowing that would be enough to stop all of them from using it. The shades of grey mentioned in my reviews for the first four books are further explored in this one—the Psy remain the apparent villains, but by no means the only ones.

Once again, the characterization is very well done, with all characters from previous installments behaving consistently—yet even here Ms Singh shows her attention to detail, with some individuals experiencing changes in their abilities that are both cause and consequence of the fluidity of their external circumstances.

There are a few things in the novel that were less than satisfying for me, though they are little more than quibbles. For one, the Council’s actions are becoming more desperate and less calculated, which seems in contradiction with the utterly rational core of their outlook. Further, I keep wondering how effective such a ‘deletion’ of failures could be in reality.

Then there is the importance of bloodlines and genetic legacy in Psy society, which is the weapon used to control Ashaya (i.e., her son was held hostage to ensure her cooperation). Yet Nikita Duncan didn’t hesitate to disown Sascha, who—if memory serves—is her only offspring. Of course it can be argued that since Sascha is “damaged” such a reaction from her mother is only to be expected.

Lastly, the final twist involving Dorian, which was hinted at as far back as Visions of Heat, was a bit too neat and tidy for cynical me.

Still, this is a truly excellent novel, keeping with the standard of quality set by Ms Singh in her previous work.

This one gets 8.75 out of 10

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13 Responses to “Hostage to Pleasure, by Nalini Singh”

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  4. Geekery, impossibilities and randomness « Her Hands, My Hands - 21/06/2012

    […] example, when reading Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, I had some issues with Hostage to Pleasure because it posits that DNA manipulation would have effect within one generation. I’m all, “no […]

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    […] and Terry Pratchett did in Good Omens. Ms Singh had done them before in the series, notably in Hostage to Pleasure, and I think they help introduce information without infodumping all over the […]

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