Shards of Hope, by Nalini Singh

3 Jun

(Please see edit – 06/05/15)

Shards of Hope cover

A day late, but here you have my thoughts on this latest installment in the Psy/Changeling series.

I was hoping to get my own, hard cover copy by June 2nd, so that I could double check a few things against the ARC I received a few weeks ago, but alas! amazon is not happy with me, so it’s not shipping until next week. (So much for pre-ordering.)

I am likely to read my print copy soon after I finally get it, regardless (I’ve read the ARC four times already); if there are any changes significant enough to warrant it, I’ll edit the review accordingly (with notes).¹

As I’ve said in the past few reviews for the series, I advise readers new to the Psy/Changeling world to start with any one of the first four titles. At this point, there are too many long running threads in the overarching story arc, plus a lot of world-building detail, to be a comfortable entry point for the series.

Finally, the heroine was abused as a child, and some of this and other abuse is discussed in detail at various points in the novel.

Shards of Hope, by Nalini Singh

Back when this book was first announced, I was very excited to see that the two main characters were Arrows. Not only have the Arrows so far been great characters (Judd is probably the best hero in the series), I have been intrigued by Zaira since we met her in Tangle of Need. Not only is she the first female Arrow we meet, her interaction with Judd in that book hinted at true badassery.

Then, as if it wasn’t already a foregone conclusion that I was going to gulp this book down the moment I could get my grabby little mittens on it, this blurb was posted:

Awakening wounded in a darkened cell, their psychic abilities blocked, Aden and Zaira know they must escape. But when the lethal soldiers break free from their mysterious prison, they find themselves in a harsh, inhospitable landscape far from civilization. Their only hope for survival is to make it to the hidden home of a predatory changeling pack that doesn’t welcome outsiders.

And they must survive. A shadowy enemy has put a target on the back of the Arrow squad, an enemy that cannot be permitted to succeed in its deadly campaign. Aden will cross any line to keep his people safe for this new future, where even an assassin might have hope of a life beyond blood and death and pain. Zaira has no such hope. She knows she’s too damaged to return from the abyss. Her driving goal is to protect Aden, protect the only person who has ever come back for her no matter what.

This time, even Aden’s passionate determination may not be enough—because the emotionless chill of Silence existed for a reason. For the violent, and the insane, and the irreparably broken…like Zaira.

Oh yeah, the moment that pre-order link went up at amazon, I clicked it faster than I can tell you–even though I know, quite well, that blurbs rarely, if ever, match the book they describe. (This one is no exception, sadly.)

Not, mind, that it made the wait any easier; specially, when I saw that other people had gotten ARCs way back in late March. By the third week of April I was desperate enough to beg for an ARC, which I proceeded to gulp in one long reading session.

Who needs sleep?

If I had written this review then, it would have probably been, quite simply, a long, gushy, fan-girl squee. For better or worse, though, I rarely write reviews on the spot, so you get my thoughts on this book after a) I have read it four times, and b) I also read the last four books in the series in short succession.

I don’t recommend glomming any author, for a couple of reasons.

One, writing tics that may go unnoticed when reading one or two books in a row can become annoying when reading six or more, one after the other–or when you re-read the same book four times in a matter of weeks, interspersed with four more books by the same author. One may call this reader fatigue. Either way, I hope I’ve learned my lesson; a few things that I usually shrug off had me grinding my teeth at the end of the glom.

Second, when someone as obsessive about continuity and world-building as I am, who also has fairly decent recall, gloms a series, any and all inconsistencies are more jarring, and loom larger, than they would otherwise. What I thought was an inconsistency is not–thanks, Anon!

The short version: I love the Psy/Changeling world, and I’ll pre-order the next book as soon as that button comes up on amazon, but I am not blind to the issues in this book.

Read the long version at your own risk.

*

This novel can be divided into two distinct parts: the first third of the novel follows Zaira’s and Aden’s escape from their prison, and their time with the RainFire pack (yay, we see Remi and Finn again!).

During the rest of the book they have to deal with the consequences of the changes in their relationship brought by this shared experience, as well as with a number of external issues, some of which arise from the continued development of overarching plot threads.

I love the beginning of this book (you can read a pretty long excerpt here); during this first part of the book, Zaira more than fulfills that promise of badassery. Aden is the kind of male protagonist I like–quite the badass, the embodiment of the ‘caretaking alpha male.’ I like their interactions, their chemistry if you will.

For starters, they have to fully trust each other on a number of levels, and they have to understand each other just as well. Then there is the underlying friction, that something deeper that has made Aden single Zaira out enough for outsiders to notice that she’s important to him.

Zaira needed the oversight, not because she wasn’t a good Arrow, but because of her psychological makeup. She was independent and strong and she had a conscience, but she was also damaged in a way that might cause her to make certain decisions that could not be unmade. So Aden ensured he was available for her to use as a sounding board.

That was what he told himself, what he’d always told himself.

It’s revealed very early in the novel that Aden has more than one reason to have, for lack of a better word, fixated so on Zaira.

The most obvious reason is the pretty horrific abuse she suffered as a child, shortly before she and Aden met, at the hands of both her biological parents (there are shades of Eve Dallas here on a couple of fronts–sexual abuse is not one of them, though).

The second reason is Aden’s own reaction to Zaira’s vulnerability and, more viscerally, to her strength.

From an almost feral, violent creature, Zaira has grown into a woman for whom self control is imperative. Unlike many Arrows, and despite the danger posed by her particular Psy abilities, she has never been Silent. The rage and violence of the abused girl she was has never been truly erased from her consciousness, nor exorcised from her character. Both her and Aden are aware that, up to this point in time, it is only by dint of her extraordinary willpower that she has kept it at bay.

That, and a fixation on an external goal: keeping Aden safe, and helping him achieve his own goal.

Aden’s goal? Originally, to keep the Arrows safe, and to lead the quiet rebellion that allowed the flawed among them (see Alejandro, Tangle of Need) to escape, hide, survive. Now, his goal has changed as the world has changed. Aden must guide the squad as a whole–all Arrows, retired, active and in training–through the transition period of a world after the fall of Silence.

A world where Arrows are allowed to hope. A world where breaking a child’s body and spirit is not the only certain way to teach her to control her abilities. A world where emotion, positive and negative, has to be faced, felt, internalized and processed properly, in order to fully live.

This ‘new’ world poses no real problem for Aden; as Zaira points out in the first chapter, Aden has never been Silent either. This, I might add, has been hinted at for a number of books. He has always cared for his fellow Arrows, and for the children who would become Arrows, in a way that goes beyond cold loyalty. He is fully aware that those same Arrows will struggle during this transition; that some will be unable to adapt, while others will choose not to. Zaira, for one.

Zaira, the one person other than Vasic, who has always seen Aden the man before, and above, and beyond, Aden the squad leader.

The one person Aden wants for himself.

From an early age, Zaira placed Aden in a pedestal. She saw in him someone thoroughly good–as good, in fact, as she herself is the opposite. By deciding to become one of Aden’s staunchest supporters, Zaira gave that rage an acceptable outlet–or perhaps it’s better to say that it gave her a strong enough reason to control it, almost absolutely.

Now the mere possibility of more–more than loyalty, more than simple caring–has cracked her control, letting the rage escape, and only the fear that she might accidentally hurt Aden prevents a full break from her conditioning.

Beyond this conflict between the two main characters, Ms Singh introduces what appears to be the mayor plot thread in this post-Silence story arc. We now have a mysterious society manipulating the changelings, the humans and the Psy, aiming to create enough discord, and political and social instability, to benefit economically–like most warmongers–and we have a master puppeteer pulling their strings.

Dealing with this secret group involved all the known major factions in the world–the Human Alliance, the Ruling Coalition, the major changeling packs–and many, many characters. Most of these are well known to fans of the series, while a few are fairly minor or new ones, such as some of the Arrows. We catch up with Sahara and Kaleb, we see Judd and Walter, Ivy and Vasic, , Hawke and Sienna, Ming, Anthony, Nikita, and so on and so forth.

To the vast cast of characters with speaking parts and ongoing storylines, we must add a subplot involving a serial killer/psycopath. We also learn some things about sea changelings and how BlackSea differs from terrestrial or aerial changeling groups.

More than in any of the novels up to now (including Tangle of Need, which is saying something), I felt that there were too many things happening almost at once, and while (from what I gather, it’s hard for me to tell from the digital ARC, as I can’t comfortably page back and forth), the events of the novel cover anywhere between a handful of weeks and a couple of months, everything seemed to happen all at once.

It also doesn’t help that I am not a fan of the supervillain. It seems that every time an author writes a bad guy smart and powerful enough to outfox the good guys for a number of books, when the time comes for the axe to fall, said bad guy makes a stupid, improbable, trivial, absurd (or all the above) mistake. In other words, the man behind the curtain is never as imposing as he seemed, which invariably disappoints me, and taints my retroactive enjoyment of the novel/series.

Despite all the above, I enjoy the Psy/Changeling world enough, and care about all those many characters enough, that I read Shards of Hope twice in less than three days, and twice more in the next four weeks. I absolutely want, nay, need to know what will happen next.

However, for the first time in more than a dozen novels, I noticed continuity issues.

Character-wise, we are told in Shards of Hope that Zaira has always been special to Aden, a personal link at least as important of the one he has with Vasic. However, in Shield of Winter, from Aden’s point of view, we are told that Vasic is his only link/friend–within the squad or elsewhere.

Keep in mind that I still bought into the relationship, precisely because the dynamic between the characters was established in a very convincing, very organic manner. I was not told but shown how close these two are to each other.

I had a bigger issue with a break in the world-building.

It has been established over the course of several books that Vasic can lock on a face, whether the individual is in the PsyNet or not (‘porting to Sascha in Shield of Winter, and almost getting his throat slashed for his trouble). Here, neither he nor Kaleb–the most powerful Psy in the Net–can lock on to Aden’s face because…reasons? I brought this issue up in the spoilers thread on Ms Singh’s blog, and a kind Anon commenter schooled me on the series and continuity:

Weighing in on the “why couldn’t Vasic/Kaleb teleport to Aden and Zaira issue?” it was explicitly stated in Heart of Obsidian that getting a facial lock has some psychic component to it and that it can be obstructed – “As the search for Sahara had thrown into dark focus, his ability to lock onto people wasn’t foolproof. If the individual in question didn’t know who she was, the attempt would fail. It was no coincidence the enemy Tk had found Sahara after she came out of the labyrinth.

A small number of telepaths in the Net—not necessarily the strongest, but the most intelligent—had figured out that weakness, too. If Kaleb had to guess, he’d say that was how the entire Lauren family, now part of the SnowDancer wolf pack, had ensured the success of their defection.” (HoO chapter 15)
This quote is referencing why he can’t simply teleport to Tatiana Rika-Smythe, when she both knows who she is and Kaleb knows what she looks like (remember that he had to use high powered binoculars to get a physical lock on the inside oh her house to teleport in). Considering this, I don’t think it is inconsistent with the rules that Singh has established that the effects of the implant mimicked shielding enough that Vasic and Kaleb couldn’t get teleport locks. I imagine if the look of someone – purely the visual image of their face – was all it took for a teleporter to lock on to them then there wouldn’t be a differentiation between teleporters who can go to people and who can only go to images of physical locations.

(Yes, this bothered me then and it bothers me now. A lot.) (And now it doesn’t because there is no inconsistency! :happy dancing: )

The balance between enjoying the main characters and their relationship, as well as the world in general, vs the things that irked me? Shards of Hope is now tied with Blaze of Memory as my least favorite Psy/Changeling book–which means that it’s still pretty damned good. 7.75 out of 10

(Despite being happy that there is no break in world building, the grade–and tie–remain)

*

¹ There were a few things that were mentioned a few times at different times but using repetitive language; this is not the norm for Ms Singh’s work, so I imagine most of these were cleaned up in the final version.

*

Links to previous reviews in the series:

Slave to Sensation

Visions of Heat

Caressed by Ice

Mine to Possess

Hostage to Pleasure

Branded by Fire

Blaze of Memory

Bonds of Justice

Play of Passion

Kiss of Snow

Tangle of Need

Heart of Obsidian

Shield of Winter

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18 Responses to “Shards of Hope, by Nalini Singh”

  1. Erin S. Burns 03/06/2015 at 10:26 AM #

    That thing thing about his only link being to Vasic didn’t really bother me, because it never seemed true even before. He always seemed to have care for the squad, care for the children. It just seemed like one of those lies people tell themselves.

    • azteclady 03/06/2015 at 10:38 AM #

      I see your point, and yet…

      • Erin S. Burns 03/06/2015 at 10:52 AM #

        Well, I’ve only read it twice since I got it yesterday, I am sure there is time for me to get irked too 😉

      • azteclady 03/06/2015 at 11:05 AM #

        Oh man, you’ve made laugh. Thank you!

  2. Holly 03/06/2015 at 1:06 PM #

    Here, neither he nor Kaleb–the most powerful Psy in the Net–can lock on to Aden’s face because…reasons?

    I haven’t read the book in months, so I may be mistaken, but my take away from this was that, for all intents and purposes, while they had those things in bedded in their brains, Zaira and Aden were “dead”. I.e., they didn’t put out brainwaves into the world because they were mentally “blocked”, which made it impossible for either Kaleb or Vasic to get a lock on them. IIRC, the device was created to give humans a fighting chance against the Psy by blocking their Psy-powers completely. It wouldn’t be effective if it only blocked some powers and not others, no?

    As to Aden’s belief that Vasic was his only “connection”, I felt it had more to do with their shared bond than his feelings for Zaira. Vasic freely admitted from day one that Aden was his brother, whereas Zaira pushed him away and kept him on a pedestal. In other words, he felt like the emotional balance was even between he and Vasic, where Zaira left him feeling vulnerable. Not that she wouldn’t give her life for his, because clearly she was willing. But what about trusting him with her heart? Her more violent nature? He knew where he stood with Vasic, but not with Zaira. If that makes sense.

    • azteclady 03/06/2015 at 1:24 PM #

      As I told Erin earlier, I can see where you guys are coming from regarding the pre-existence of the Aden/Zaira link. I confess I would have much preferred to have seen at least a passing thought from Aden in Shield of Winter about one other link–something as simple as a vague mention of one other person as valuable to Aden as Vasic.

      On the other issue (why neither Vasic nor Kaleb could lock on Aden’s and Zaira’s faces), you may be on to something, and I’ll have to re-read the bits in previous books regarding how teleporters lock on people, to see whether I agree with this.

      • Holly 03/06/2015 at 1:43 PM #

        I confess I would have much preferred to have seen at least a passing thought from Aden in Shield of Winter about one other link–something as simple as a vague mention of one other person as valuable to Aden as Vasic.

        I understand. It would have been good to see Aden’s feelings for someone other than Vasic. I really did take it to be him compartmentalizing, though. He cared for, and had a connection to, all the Arrows. But the only one who cared back was Vasic (in Aden’s mind, anyway). Remember how surprised Aden was when the Arrows championed him? For all that he was their “leader”, he didn’t think they really cared for him. Or at least he didn’t realize the extent of their loyalty.

        For all my staunch defense of the story arc, the truth is this wasn’t my favorite book in the series, either. I loved Zaira and Aden. I loved finally seeing Aden’s true ability. I loved the plot. I loved the overreaching story arc. I re-read it several times after my initial read..and yet. It just didn’t stay with me the way others (Ehem, Heart of Obsidian) did.

      • azteclady 03/06/2015 at 2:06 PM #

        :sigh: Heart of Obsidian :sigh:

        Or Caressed by Ice or Hostage to Pleasure or (still amazing all these years later!) Slave to Sensation

      • Holly 03/06/2015 at 2:11 PM #

        JUDD!! ❤ ❤

      • azteclady 03/06/2015 at 2:13 PM #

        I know!!!

  3. azteclady 05/06/2015 at 9:55 PM #

    Please note edits: there is no world-building inconsistency after all!

    • Erin S. Burns 05/06/2015 at 11:33 PM #

      Excellent. I’ve been trying to put into words for days why that hasn’t felt inconsistent to me. I even reread with an eye toward that. Very succinct.

      • azteclady 05/06/2015 at 11:41 PM #

        Usually, being wrong pisses me off–but this time? This time it made my night!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] there are the author’s writing ticks. I mentioned this in my review of Shards of Hope, though I attributed my annoyance over them to the fact that I glommed fourteen books in a matter […]

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