Given how much I enjoy the series as a rule (there have been a couple of books I haven’t enjoyed as much–which is perfectly normal for a series going on fifteen novels and eight short stories/novellas), I’m always surprised to realize just how long it’s been between reviews for the past three or four books.
I’m talking a couple of years intervals here.
Why do you think that is?
(We’ll pretend that the obvious and easy answer–I’m easily distracted–it not also the correct answer.)
Anyway, without more ado, my review.
Play of Passion, by Nalini Singh
This is the ninth installment in the series and deserves a bit of a warning. While each story revolves around one couple’s journey to their happy ending, the series follows an overarching plot centered on the conflict of the three main races. This means that there are a number of plots threads that may not lead anywhere in that particular book, but that build up through a number of stories, and eventually get their own resolution.
These are things that would bother me, were I choose this novel as my entry to the series. Your mileage, oh gentle readers, may vary vastly.
At this point in the series we have had pairings involving pretty much every different type of human in this universe. We’ve had a number of changeling/psy couples, one human/changeling, one human/psy, one wolf/leopard, and even one psy/Forgotten couple.
This is the first time in the series though, where the protagonists have known each other literally all their lives. In a sense, it’s a friends to lovers story, with a couple of twists thrown in.
Here’s the blurb from my print copy:
In his position as tracker for the SnowDancer pack, it’s up to Drew Kincaid to rein in rogue changelings who have lost control of their animals halves–even if it means killing those who have gone too far. But nothing in his life has prepared him for the battle he must now wage to win the heart of the woman who makes hi body ignite…and who threatens to enslave his wolf.
Lieutenant Indigo Riviere doesn’t easily allow skin privileges, especially of the sensual kind–and the last person she expects to find herself craving is the most wickedly playful male in the den. Everything she knows tells her to pull back before the flames burn them both to ash…but she hasn’t counted on Drew’s will.
Now, two of SnowDancer’s most stubborn wolves find themselves playing in a hot, sexy game even as lethal danger stalks the very place they call home.
Not a terrible blurb, as these things go.
Both of these characters have been fairly prominent in the series at least since the third novel. Indigo is one of ten lieutenants of the wolf pack SnowDancer. She is a very dominant changeling, with only two wolves currently higher in the hierarchy: Hawke, the alpha, and Riley, his right hand and best friend.
In her late twenties, Indigo is relatively young for the position, but more than strong enough to have earned her place. Of course, being both female and one of the top dogs in the pack, dominance-wise, reduces the dating pool to the size of a sidewalk puddle. Indigo in particular knows that while she can care for and respect the less dominant males as part of the pack, and be devoted to protect them, she would not be happy with a male who is not her equal–or as close as can be managed.
(Nota bene: in this universe, most dominant females are not attracted to submissive males–or at least, it has not been shown so far.)
In practical terms, this means that Indigo has not taken a lover for a while–which is usually not advisable. Changelings are sensual creatures, and touch and sex are not just important for them; they are necessary. Therefore, Indigo is a mite jumpy when our story starts.
Andrew (Drew) Kincaid is Riley’s younger brother. A dominant wolf, he occupies a rather blurry place in the pack’s hierarchy. While strong and skilled enough to fill in when necessary, he is not quite a senior soldier. He’s friendly and by all appearances one of the most easygoing wolves in the entire pack–all dens included. Every wolf, from the most submissive to the most dominant, feels comfortable with Drew.
Given that his duty as tracker is to kill any wolf gone rogue, whether acquaintance, friend or relative, Drew’s skill in fitting in so well with everyone is the only way he could have normal relationships with the rest of the pack. Of course, it also means that even those closest to him are not always aware of just how dominant he actually is.
For many a year now, Drew has carried a torch for Indigo. However, being a few years younger than her, coupled with his duties as a high ranking member of the pack, have kept him from pursuing her.
After being assigned to a different sector of the pack’s territory for a number of years, and more recently traveling between different dens a sizable portion of the time, things have finally fallen in place, and Drew launches a full out campaign to seduce Indigo into a relationship with him.
As well as he knows her, though, there are things about her family that have informed much of Indigo’s view of people and relationships of which Drew knows nothing. Much like booby traps, certain natural behaviours (natural for a dominant changeling male, that is) trigger Indigo’s issues.
Often with less than tidy or pretty results.
In this series, the world building is key to the different relationships, and I always enjoy that Ms Singh doesn’t break her own rules to find an easy out.
The dominance differential between Indigo and Drew is key to any relationship they may have. She is a lieutenant, and while very dominant, he is not. Indigo is also relatively rigid in her view of the world and her place in it, while Drew’s is a lot more fluid, both due to nature and to his own awareness of his role as tracker.
Another issue between them is the matter of mates–as in, while they are deeply in lust and care fiercely for each other, there doesn’t seem to be a mating bond between them. While not all–or even the majority–changelings find their mates, it’s what most of them hope for when it comes to relationships.
Developments in the larger context of their world have repercussions for their young, fragile relationship, driving wedges between them time and again–never, mind you, falling into big misunderstanding territory.
Another thing Ms Singh does exceedingly well is writing three dimensional characters. In a fantastical world, she sets real people with strengths and weaknesses, and lets them deal with their realities in ways that feel organic.
I have always liked both of these characters, and I like how they are together.
Drew is always the more playful of the two, apparently so carefree, but in reality he is thoughtful and devoted. And I really like that we finally see this other side of him, not quite the darkness as much as the intensity. Throughout the novel, he works to be the man Indigo deserves and the man she needs, even when neither of them seem to be the man she wants. Often, being that man means fighting his instinctive reactions and his visceral need to protect Indigo–not necessarily because she couldn’t use some protection, but because she needs Drew to respect her as a soldier, a lieutenant and a person more.
I really enjoyed getting to know Indigo better, and understanding the root of her insecurities. She is strong, proud and complex. Her issues are neither inflated for the sake of conflict nor insignificant. Given her personality and history, it makes sense that she struggles with the concept of being vulnerable to anyone else. The fact that the person she’s exposing her belly to is Drew–younger than her; a long time, close friend; someone who doesn’t seem to take many things in life seriously…
Any sensible person would question the wisdom of such a choice, frankly.
Also, it should be noted that the sex here is pretty hot. While these scenes are not as key in showing the changes and growth in their relationship, neither are they so frequent and extended as to detract from it.
As I said above, the world building remains top notch. There were a handful of instances–brief passages all–were a character would indulge in a bit of “as you know, Bob” infodumping. Of course, in the ninth novel of a series with intricate world building, some of this is probably unavoidable. Not every Psy/Changeling fan obsessively re-reads the books once a year, apparently.
(Who are these people, really?)
As a fairly devoted fan of the series, I enjoy the little snippets that build on plot threads started one, two, or even five books earlier. All the hints and clues that Ms Singh drops regarding things like the political currents between the three types of humans, the different relationships between individuals, couples, groups, are like so many and utterly enjoyable Easter eggs.
While Play of Passion is not my favorite Psy/Changeling story, it ranks high up there. 8.50 out of 10.
Reading order (links take you to reviews):