Another small step on my quest to catch up with my reviews on the one series left in my auto-buy list. In fact, this is the only series I still pre-order in hardback. Consider that your warning for reviewer bias.
I plan to review the remaining three books each Monday until the release of Shards of Hope, with a review for that book going up on June 1st.
For readers coming cold to the Psy/Changeling series, please note: this is the tenth full length installment.
I would strongly discourage readers to start with this one, not only because there is too much background and too many characters in the world, which could be confusing if not overwhelming to a newcomer; but because this particular story, this couple, have been building up for at least five books, if not more. By starting here, you would miss the absolutely delicious anticipation build up.
Also, this review spoils some things revealed earlier in the series–read on at your own peril.
Kiss of Snow, by Nalini Singh
Finally, Sienna and Hawke’s book! (If I used gifs, there would be a Kermit flail here.)
Avid fans of the series–re-readers in particular–have noted that Ms Singh managed to pepper a number of cryptic, small, almost invisible hints about this couple as early as Slave to Sensation. The tension between them, however, becomes pretty obvious to even the most oblivious reader (and character) at least as far back as Branded by Fire.
As a bonus (at least for me), we also get Lara and Walker’s story, which is hinted at with just a couple of scenes a couple of books earlier.
Here’s the blurb from the jacket of my print copy:
Since the moment of her defection from the PsyNet and into the SnowDancer wolf pack, Sienna Lauren has had one weakness: Hawke. Alpha and dangerous, he compels her to madness.
Hawke is used to walking alone, having lost the woman who would’ve been his mate long ago. But Sienna fascinates the primal heart of him, even as he tells himself she is far too young to handle the wild fury of the wolf.
Then Sienna changes the rules, and suddenly, there is no more distance, only the most intimate of battles between two people who were never meant to meet. Yet as they strip away each other’s secrets in a storm of raw emotion, they must also ready themselves for a far more vicious fight…
A deadly enemy is out to destroy SnowDancer, striking at everything the pack holds dear, but it is Sienna’s darkest secret that may yet savage the pack that is her home–and the alpha who is its heartbeat.
I really, really enjoy these books very much, for a number of reasons.
For one, the world building is always internally consistent–which is amazingly rare in my experience. Particularly after a dozen novels and a half a dozen novellas, and with such a complicated universe. Three distinct human groups, each with their own idiosyncrasies. Historical background that is relevant and cohesive.
A number of questions about psychic networks, psychic and changeling abilities, etc. that arose as early as Caressed by Ice¹, are answered with this book. The overarching plot, dealing with the political and social crisis that Silence has wrought, continues developing in ways that affect, and are affected by, Sienna and Hawke.
And then there are the characters.
In Ms Singh’s books, characters don’t suddenly become someone else. Oh they grow for sure, both throughout the series and in the course of each book, but we don’t have cookie-cutter protagonists plunked down into the names of people readers have gotten to know very well. Judd remains an Arrow, inscrutable and cold to most people. Walker has lived over forty years in Silence, he doesn’t suddenly start carrying his heart on his sleeve. Lucas continues to struggle with his protective instincts where Sascha is concerned, particularly when they are in conflict with his need to let her be herself to the fullest.
All this to say, this is a complex book that follows a number of threads, some of which are directly related to the romance between Sienna and Hawke, some which are tied to the world-building itself, and some that follow the progress of the overarching plot line of the series. The latter mean that the cast of characters is large by any standards: there are over 50 individuals and entities named, all with speaking parts.
It is also a fairly long book: over 400 pages in my hardcover copy.
One of the questions about Sienna and Hawke as a couple that arise from the world building stems from something first hinted at, then revealed, in previous books. Changeling mating is a psychic bonding that occurs fairly rarely. It is somewhat fated, though we have seen before that couples may grow into it (Indigo and Drew, Mercy and Riley), but once it happens, that’s pretty much that.
And Hawke had found, and lost, his mate in childhood. So, what kind of relationship could he–would he–build with Sienna?
It was interesting to see how this conflict plays out, and I personally liked how it was answered for this particular couple.
Then there is the age difference–I have not yet been able to pinpoint it exactly, despite numerous re-readings of the series as a whole, but it’s somewhere around the fifteen year mark. While not an impossible hurdle to me, it can make some people uncomfortable because Sienna is not yet twenty and Hawke is in his mid-thirties.
To be honest, I wasn’t much bothered by this because Sienna doesn’t act like a teenager at any point. Yes, she has little experience with romantic relationships. However, having defected at sixteen, and being for all Psy intents and purposes a well-Silenced adult, living among changelings has required her to learn and adapt, and quickly.
And while it’s clear that Sienna has always had her eyes on Hawke, it doesn’t feel to me like puppy love or childish infatuation. There are no tantrums; when Sienna has cause to feel aggravated by Hawke’s highhandedness (or his Alpha-ness), she is neither spiteful nor too-forgiving.
Sienna thinks and feels and reacts like someone who has been forced by circumstances and responsibility to grow up quickly. And while she falters some at the beginning, she quickly grows into her skin enough to hold her ground when dealing with Hawke.
As for Hawke, both his flexibility and his stubbornness have been a part of his character development from the beginning. From SnowDancer’s alliance with DarkRiver to his acceptance of the Laurens into the pack, Hawke has always looked beyond his own prejudices and knee jerk reactions to the bigger picture.
This is harder for him to do when it relates to Sienna not only because of his intense physical attraction to her, or because she challenges some of his deepest beliefs about himself, but because of his protectiveness.
Another conflict stems from Sienna’s Psy ability. From things said and hinted at in previous books, we know that her ability is destructive per se. By definition, the fact that she is a cardinal puts the potential damage done any loss of control she may suffer in the catastrophic range. But there’s a twist: even those Psy with Sienna’s ability in the lowest detectable range² end up destroying themselves, and usually well before reaching her current age.
Because of the nature of her ability, given the risk her very existence poses for SnowDancer and DarkRiver, this affects not just Sienna and Hawke as a couple. Judd is very much aware that he’s racing against time as he tries to find any information that may help Sienna control her ability and beat the odds.
Cue secondary plot involving Alice Eldridge, who was mentioned a couple of books earlier in relation to her work studying empaths, and the Ghost, a Psy rebel who has also been mentioned before.
I am one of those readers who enjoy well written footnotes and chapter introductions and in-between chapter notes, like Ann Aguirre used in some of her Sirantha Jax novels, or Neil Gaiman 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 reader.
In Kiss of Snow, every few chapters there will be a short email–sometimes just a paragraph–covering a period from 1970 to 1975, that hints at what is happening in the current timeline. I found the first one of these mildly disconcerting, but enjoy them more with every re-read–for all they say and for all they don’t.
Make of this what you will.
Then there is Lara and Walker’s romance.
I absolutely love, love, adore, Walker Lauren.
Quiet, reserved, honorable, caring, strong in all possible ways…*sigh* And he’s in his early forties (aka: I could not be his mother 😀 ). Cue happy dancing.
When it became clear that his romance would be a secondary one to Sienna’s and Hawke’s, I confess that I pouted a little–I wanted a lot of time devoted to Walker. As I read Kiss of Snow, though, I realized that there is just not enough for a full length novel, and since the obvious alternative would be a short story in an anthology somewhere, I counted myself lucky we got it here.
Lara’s attraction to Walker was hinted at in Play of Passion, and it’s explained fully early in Kiss of Snow–she is attracted to him for all the reasons I am 😀 The only obstacle between them is Walker’s belief that he cannot feel for Lara the kind of deep, abiding love she not only deserves but needs.
As he thinks at one point, he was an inmate of Silence for four long decades. And while he always felt, and deeply, for his brother and sister, and later on for his niece, nephew and daughter, he still struggles to show this love openly.
There is some added trauma that is revealed later in the novel which adds depth to his struggle, and makes the resolution all the sweeter.
This being primarily a romance novel, no one will be surprised to know that all the obstacles between Hawke and Sienna, and their happily ever after, are also solved. Personally, I think that those of us who like proper and consistent world building will enjoy how this is done. There is a whiff of Deux ex Machina, but since it is ultimately consistent with the world-building, it didn’t pull me out of the narrative.
Kiss of Snow gets an 8.75 out of 10.
¹ Such as why the Lauren Net and Hawke’s blood bonds with his lieutenants remain separate networks, while all the bonds of renegade Psy with DarkRiver cats are part of that pack’s Web of Stars from the moment they bond.
² There are Psy who rate so low in the Gradient as to be considered powerless. These tend to be the drones who power many a Psy business empire. Also, often when a Psy has a high range in one ability, there may be others that are not detectable, hidden by the more visible one.
Edited to add links to previous reviews: