Sadly, it really, really didn’t work for me.
Quick caveat: there’s some explicit language, there are a couple of explicit sex scenes, and it’s the fifteenth full length book in a series with pretty complex world building. Which basically means: all the spoilers for all the books that came before. Plus, a reader new to the series would be completely lost in a sea of in-world references and jokes.
Further, the whole point of this book, as stated in the author’s note at the beginning, is to be “a walk through the interconnected lives of many of the characters who’ve become important to us over the past books and novellas.” (This, by the way, turned out to be a rather big problem for me.)
Seriously, if you are not already a fan of the series, reading this novel first will put you off even trying any of the other books.
So, let’s get on with the review–which is long and somewhat ranty, by the by.
Allegiance of Honor, by Nalini Singh
I have had mixed feelings about this book since it was first announced, mostly because it was described at some point as a bridge between the first and second arcs in the Psy/Changeling series. In the first arc, the world is unveiled, and a number of conflicts between the three main factions are revealed and, mostly, solved. In each novel and short story, different aspects of the world and these conflicts are explored and revealed, while following the stories of a series of couples who are, in their own way, integral to the resolution of the overall story arc.
In this novel there is no central pairing or love story, and while there are a few (very thin) threads that advance the overarching conflict between the three human groups, it’s mostly composed of little vignettes about…well, almost every character that’s even been mentioned up to this point.
A staggering transformation has put the Psy, humans and changelings at a crossroads. The Trinity Accord promises a new ear of cooperation between disparate races and groups. It is a beacon of hope held together by many hands: old enemies, new allies, wary loners.
But a century of distrust and suspicion can’t be so easily forgotten, and it threatens to shatter Trinity from within at any moment. As rival members view for dominance, chaos and evil gather in the shadows and a kidnapped woman’s cry for help washes up in San Francisco, while the Consortium turns its murderous gaze toward a child who is the embodiment of change, of love, of piercing hope: a child who is both Psy…and changeling.
To find the lost and protect the vulnerable–and to save Trinity–no one can stand alone. This is a time of loyalty across divisions, of bonds woven into the heart and the soul, of heroes known and unknown standing back to back and holding the line. But is an allegiance of honor even possible with traitors lurking in their midst?
Last year I made a point of catching up on my reviews of this series, posting almost a review a week for a number of weeks. In one of those reviews, for Tangle of Need, I wrote this, in part, about series:
In the most common type there is a complex world-building and an overarching plot arc, and sometimes a number of minor arcs, that run through a number of books. For readers who enjoy anticipation and delayed gratification, these series are utter catnip.
Within the latter type, some installments will stand alone fairly well–meaning that, while there will be progress on ongoing series story arcs, a lot of the action will be self-contained. For romance-centered series, this means that there will be more of the central couple’s romance than anything else. But there will be those installments where almost equal word-count is devoted to the central romance as it is to other ongoing plot threads, which is not to every romance reader’s taste.
As a romance reader, this book did nothing for me–did I mention that there is no love story?
As a fan of the series, I understand that I was supposed to enjoy catching up with the many, many, many characters we’ve seen grow into their own throughout the series. The fact that this book was published shortly after the ten year anniversary of the release of Slave to Sensation is, obviously, not a coincidence.
Unfortunately, the execution just didn’t work for me, pretty much on any level.
The first thing a reader sees is a cast of characters–ninety two of them, I counted–that includes brief notes on who each one is, and how she/he is related to the rest. However, if the reader is a fan, and she really should be to read “a walk through” the lives of all these people, she should be familiar with most of these characters already, as at least sixty of them appear in most, if not all, the previous stories.
(Further, my anal retentive side is bothered because there’s no consistency to these brief descriptions–some of the Psy have their classification front and center, with a note to what it means, some don’t. Plus, there’s no consistency on who is listed here and who isn’t–there are some point-of-view characters who are not mentioned here, and a bunch of characters who just walk through, who are.)
Still, I get it; not every reader retains all these details, no matter how much they may like the series as a whole, so the list is a handy cheat-sheet for them.
Except it doesn’t really make sense to devote five pages to this, when, as each character makes an appearance, we get a paragraph, or five, explaining their entire back story. (And, in several cases, we get that backstory more than once through the book, from the point of view of different characters.) Really, do the ‘cast of characters’ thing, or do the in-text recap thing, but both? Annoying as hell, and it comes across as filler. I figure that, if all those little intros were taken out, the book would be about fifty pages shorter.
The book is structured as a series of fairly short chapters from many characters’ points of view. One of the ostensible threads that tie these…vignettes? scenes? together, follows what is a happening to a member of the Black Sea Coalition of water changelings.
A while back (three, maybe four books ago?), Black Sea was introduced as a very unconventional grouping of changelings. Beyond dolphins, the most ubiquitous of them, there is a lot of innuendo and hinting at extraordinary, almost mythical, types of water changelings, reminiscent to all the allusions to Sienna’s ultimate Psy ability.
In the last book, we learned that there have been a number of disappearances of water changelings in the past year or so. While originally they were considered strange, if not puzzling, it is revealed that most, if not all, of these disappearances have been engineered by the mysterious Consortium, for some nefarious end known only to them.
Another sort of, but not really, thread running through the book, involves Father Xavier Perez, who was introduced way back in Caressed by Ice. His own backstory involves the loss of the love of his live, his Nina, who is presumed dead. That is, until sometime in the last three or four books, when there’s a line about how Xavier’s faith in God is predicated on his hope that Nina survived. In this book, Xavier has finally decided to actually go look for her. We follow his quest mostly through a series of short letters interspersed between chapters, and through the reflections on their friendship from Judd’s and Kaleb’s points of view.
Then there was the whole “Naya Hunter is the first Psy/Changeling child in a century, she must be eliminated!” plot thread, complete with a foiled kidnapping attempt, and a whole lot of nonsense about how forensic accounting works.
There are bits and pieces from the point of view of The Architect (capitalized, because we can’t have a super villain without a Name, obviously) (Yes, the whole ‘super villain’ thing bothers me–there’s enough natural conflict arising from the world building to write half a dozen more books, so this feels unnecessary and forced.)
Where was I?
Oh, yes. So, we have bits and pieces that explain–tell, really–the motivations of the many different parties, along with their reactions to whatever is happening with the PsyNet, with the economy, with the Consortium, with the Human Alliance, and a number other things I can’t remember now, as well as their intentions and plans for the future. In theory, all these different people are involved, however vaguely, on finding and rescuing this kidnapped water changeling, and/or in protecting/harming Naya and the Trinity Accord.
In reality, while the kidnapping and search are mentioned by pretty much every point-of-view character, and while Xavier’s letters appear between chapters every so often, there is no progression, no…well, no point to the book. There is none of the, “we start here, things happen, we end there” that I expect in genre fiction.
It really is just a series of “a day in the (blissfully happy) life” pieces for the many, many, many characters we’ve met in the course of ten years, fourteen novels and six short stories. There are a number of scenes/chapters that felt shoehorned in, as if there was a check list of all the people who had to be mentioned, and how happy and successful all the previous couples are, whether they really had anything to do with anything going on in this book, or not (Remi and Aden rock climbing; Issac Beauclair talking about his courtship of Jesse; Persephone’s birthday; to name but three).
Then 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 of weeks. Since that is not the case now, I have to accept that it’s the author, not me.
I really don’t need to know exactly what each character is wearing in every scene–and by this I don’t mean, “wearing jeans and a t-shirt” throwaway sentences; I mean we get the color, material, decoration (if any), of what each character, down to babies, is wearing, each time they show up on the page. I don’t know for sure, but I do think most readers will assume that people are clothed unless there’s a reason they are not, like a sex scene or a medical emergency, say.
Seriously, a hell of a lot less is often much more; why write “her body was encased in a fashionable orange dress” when, “she was wearing an orange dress” would do?
I also don’t need to know how a shirt stretches over a character’s shoulders, or a t-shirt sleeve tightens over another character’s biceps, etc. Yes, yes, these men and women are sexy, but I already know this, because I have just been told by the point-of-view character (most usually the mate/husband/partner).
And what is it with the “his scientist wife” bits? I don’t know about other people, but if I’m talking/thinking about someone, I rarely will add their career/profession/field of study as a descriptor.
Another tick that yanked me out of the book every time, was the “this thing, it was this other thing” thing. As in, “his heart, it was…” and “her love, it was…” and so on and so forth. That comma, it, verb thing? It is not necessary, and it interrupts the flow of the writing. And when it happens at least once in every page–all four hundred seventy eight of them–it gets on my nerves in a hurry. It feels, after the umpteenth repetition, to be an attempt at literary prose, while falling into flowery writing.
And while I rant about language, “action” is not a verb. You can act ON things, but you cannot action them–and yes, this was done twice in the first fifty pages, and made me screech out loud (neither of the cats appreciated it, by the way).
There were things that I liked.
There is an exploration of the serious political and economic issues brought on by the upheaval on the PsyNet. There is no easy/magical solution to the psychic problems that a century of isolation and genetic drift have created for the Psy. There is closure to a couple of nagging issues regarding apparent conflict in world building (i.e., the Adria and Riaz pairing not being a mate-bond, with him having found his own mate in someone else).
However, the good bits were overwhelmed by the not-so-good side.
I confess myself very disappointed in Allegiance of Honor, which gets a 6.25 out of 10 from me. I will likely buy the Psy/Changeling anthology that’s being released in August, but I think the time has come for me to break up with the series, and, sadly, with Ms Singh’s writing.
~ * ~
My reviews for the series so far:
Wild Invitation (anthology)