(Wish me luck, pretty please?)
For anyone who is a fan of the series but hasn’t yet read all the previous books: you really don’t want to read this book before you’ve read everything that comes before.
Hell, you don’t want to read this review before you’ve read everything that’s come before.
If you are new to the series, you may enjoy the romance aspect better than you would in some of the previous books, because this novel is more focused on the couple.
However, a lot of the world building will be more than a bit cryptic, and some of the interstitial stuff may seem utterly extraneous (it’s not). This is, after all, the twelfth full-length novel set in the Psy/Changeling world (never mind the novellas and short stories).
Finally, there is violence, in the past and yet on the page, in the form of flashbacks, towards the heroine; some of it is just mentioned in passing, some of it is described with some detail. If those are triggers for you, you may want to think twice before reading this one.
Heart of Obsidian, by Nalini Singh
When this book was released two years ago, the anticipation was immense. Fans knew that this novel was finally going to answer a number of questions that had been building for almost the entirety of the series–most notably, the identity of the Ghost.
The secrecy around the book was so tight, even the blurb didn’t answer any questions or, really, provide any real information about the story between the covers (which some fans took as a personal insult, something that makes me smirk to this day):
A dangerous, volatile rebel, hands stained bloodred.
A woman whose very existence has been erased.
A love story so dark, it may shatter the world itself.
A deadly price that must be paid.
The day of reckoning is here.
From “the alpha author of paranormal romance” (Booklist) comes the most highly anticipated novel of her career–one that blurs the line between madness and genius, between subjugation and liberation, between the living and the dead.
If you are reading past that, I hope you have read all the previous novels and that you don’t mind some spoilers, because there really is no way to write this review without them.
By the way, this was a very difficult review to write–I want to discuss a number of things, but many would spoil the story. And yet, not mentioning them doesn’t do the story justice. What to do?
Our poor best.
Contrary to several of the novels immediately before this one, Heart of Obsidian is a relatively short novel at just 360 pages (in my hardcover copy). It is also, still relatively, an intimate one, centering mainly on the relationship between the two main characters.
Which, in turn, propels forward a number of threads in the overarching plot of the series in a very organic manner.
There is no long list of characters at the beginning of the book. While there are a number of secondary characters, they are introduced gradually and succinctly, so their presence doesn’t overwhelm the main storyline.
A quick summary of where we are, as it pertains the politics of the world.
Silence, the protocol that separates the Psy from the other races by eliminating emotion, was never as effective–nor as good an idea–as advertised. Not only did Silence basically reward psychopathy, it also went so against nature as to fracture the PsyNet into the NetMind and the Dark Mind (Visions of Heat). This continued separation has manifested itself into a more tangible malady; certain areas of the Net are diseased, and can provoke extremely violent psychosis in individuals who stray there (Blaze of Memory).
The Council, once the unquestioned ruling force of the Psy (and for all intents and purposes, the planet), is divided on the causes of this deterioration of the Net, as well as on what to do about it. Some of them are looking at this as an opportunity to take over full control of the Psy population; others are skeptical that the problem wasn’t engineered to enable one faction to take over.
And while they all understand that the tenets of Pure Psy are utterly impractical and would, in the long term, mean suicide for their kind, some of them are too attached to their individual goals, too shortsighted to realize that the world as they know it could very well end, with little to no warning, in a matter of weeks, if not days.
At the very end of Tangle of Need, Kaleb Krychek, the most powerful Psy in the Net and one scary guy, has finally found the individual he has searched for, incessantly and almost obsessively, for seven years, three weeks and two days. Her name is Sahara Kiriakus, and she has been a prisoner, both physically and psychically, for just as long.
In order to survive, Sahara has hid herself inside her mind. She is so well hidden, Kaleb himself thinks her broken, the personality behind the now blank eyes, gone; her spirit broken.
But Sahara had made a promise–to survive–and she has kept her promise, even when she no longer remembers to whom she promised. Or indeed, why it was so important that she survived.
The novel follows Sahara’s slow recovery of herself while in the care of a man her instincts tell her is brutally dangerous–to her and to the world. In good time she remembers what exactly made her so valuable her captors kept her alive, even when she made herself useless to them. As her trust in Kaleb doesn’t waver, she wonders at her own mental state.
For reasons of his own, Kaleb is careful with Sahara; he is determined to bind her to him by whatever means necessary. As, after being kept isolated from the PsyNet for so long, she needs contact, he allows her to touch him. Since she thirsts for information, he provides it to her–unvarnished and uncensored. When she remembers enough to ask to see her father, Kaleb gives her what she needs, taking her to the NightStar compound.
Their relationship is complicated by all the things Kaleb knows that Sahara doesn’t–and that, on some level, she understands she can’t be told. Or at least, not until she’s stronger; seven years of mental and physical torture cannot be fully healed in a couple of months.
As Sahara and Kaleb circle each other, so to speak, the accelerating crumbling of Silence brings deep, and sometimes chaotic, social change. Pure Psy may have been mostly de-fanged when facing Sienna Lauren (Kiss of Snow), but even a dying viper can poison its attacker.
I have said before that one of the great things about the Psy/Changeling series is that Ms Singh doesn’t do personality transplants. Her heroes or heroines remain true to themselves throughout the series.
In Heart of Obsidian, Kaleb is his wonderfully arrogant and self-contained self, but as his relationship with Sahara progresses, and more of his early life comes to light, many of the things he has done in the past suddenly make sense in an entirely different way than they did before.
And Sahara, who seems so broken, and so fragile at times, seems to be the only one who can bring this incredibly powerful being to his knees–often without knowing she’s doing so.
There were parts of the novel, dealing with the exact nature of Kaleb’s and Sahara’s relationship, that touched me deeply. While at first glance, Sahara has been a victim for a long time, it’s Kaleb’s past that moved me most. “Men are not supposed to be raped,” he tells Sahara at one point–and while he doesn’t mean physical rape, the extent of the damage done to him is vast, and pretty much permanent.
There are some things that I missed on the first read, because I was basically flying through the pages, and because some of them are stated so matter-of-factly, they don’t stand out as important until one stops to think about them.
On re-reads, I have found that all the questions regarding Kaleb are answered, without breaking the rules of the world, or negating what we know as facts in the Psy/Changeling world. There are a few open threads in the overarching story, notably pertaining to the Human Alliance, the Arrow squad, and the changing political and social landscape, but Kaleb’s and Sahara’s story is utterly satisfying and, for me, deeply moving.
I also liked how the themes of loyalty, friendship, trust, and family are explored. I think Ms Singh did a great job of integrating the external story into the novel, both by occasionally giving us a scene from a secondary character’s point of view, and by giving us a glimpse at how the wider world experienced different events through the use of snippets from a major Psy communication outlet.
Heart of Obsidian proved to be a wonderfully satisfying read, and its romance is one of my favorites in the series. 9.00 out of 10.
Links to previous reviews