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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

Sick Reading: Nalini Singh

Archangel's Blade - Nalini Singh

I got super sick last week and read a half dozen trashy and less trashy PNR/UF books to salve my soul. Also, I managed to tear through all of the Mercy Thompson books, so I'm a little at loose ends as far as light reading goes. I hit a lot of different series to try them out, and the last is Nalini Singh's Guardians series. 

 

So, I've read me all of Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series, because she totally hits me somewhere strange. The background of that world, which is set in the late 2070s, is that there are three races of humans on the planet: regular humans, like you or I; changelings, who can turn into everything from birds to rats to leopards; and the Psy, who are basically psychic Vulcans. The Psy, who have a variety of psychic gifts, embraced something called Silence in the late 1970s, a conditioning designed to suppress all emotions, and bring their sometimes terrifying psychic powers under rigid control. A hundred years later, and Silence is breaking, a failed experiment. 

 

The series of over a dozen novels follows various pairings of Psy, changelings, and only very occasionally humans. The changelings are invariably predatory animals like wolves or big cats, I think because deer changelings, or squid changelings, are totally ridiculous. Also, because she seems to have a lady-boner for predatory alpha types; I cannot think of a single male character who isn't described as dominant.

 

The mythology in the background mostly deals with the Psy's breaking Silence, and it's fucking fascinating. My personal predictions do not run to the alpha type, but even that aside, the Psy characters are something like a million times more interesting than the changelings puffing up at each other in various dominance displays. The Psy, without an exception, are brutalized, damaged people, just as a baseline, and then those characters often carry other scars because Silence makes people into sociopaths.

 

The narratives of the Psy discovering emotion, healing, and their humanity are often slowly sensual and emotionally touching, this odd, metaphorical narrative of people working through bad childhoods and hideous betrayals toward a resonant, complete emotional connection. Or not: some of the more interesting stories, like the one about Kaleb Krycheck, deal with people who can only heal so far, and that one emotional relationship is all he can manage. Which is interesting too, a strange kind of acknowledgement that some damage is permanent. 

 

Anyway, blah blah, not what I'm here to say. I decided to try out her Guardians series, partially because her most recent Psy-Changeling collection kinda sucked. And what a weird series. The Guardians takes place in an alternate present, where angels and archangels rule the world. They create vampires as their lackeys, and divvy up the world amongst themselves. Angels are not the warriors for the Lord from the bible, but magical creatures with wings and immortality. And, like the PSy, they are pretty much universally brutalized and brutalizing, their immortality tending towards a murderous sociopathy.

 

The first three novels deal with a woman, a hunter, who works for the angels by contract to bring rogue vamps back into line. She gets involved with a big bad archangel; she's turned into an angel herself; various psychotic angels and archangels try to kill everyone. Pretty much every single character has a history steeped in blood and death, and often really inventively bloody and horrifying traumas. I can't think of anyone who isn't horrifically scarred, often to the point of either loving pain or hating touch. Eesh. But we have three books of the hunter and the angel, and that's unusual because typically PNR follows a single pair each outing. By the fourth, we turn our attention to a different couple. So here we go. 

 

Archangel's Blade follows a thousand year old vampire who's really awful, and a hunter who was taken by other awful vampires and brutalized and raped for two months. She's, you know, super fucking traumatized, but finally pulls herself up to do a job for the angels. Which is when she meets vamp dude, who immediately starts sexually harassing her and trying to assault her. He's the romantic lead.

 

I kind of don't know how, but it gets worse from there. There is so, so much bloody carnage in this novel I find the romance sticker a little hilarious. Several years ago, I wondered aloud if there was horror romance, because there seems to be romance novel versions of just about every genre under the sun. There's beheadings and loving descriptions of torture, castrations, murdered children, people getting their hearts pulled out still beating, et fucking cetera. I just, I don't even know. 

 

And I want to be clear, I'm not trying to high horse this one, passing judgement. Singh is doing something really strange with this series, something I don't understand, but I feel like it's not coming from some place of misogyny. It's just, the emotional reckonings are so left-handed, the hunter woman allowed to lash out and rage and hate her sexual responses like someone who has been sexually brutalized, and then this romantic lead who seems to reenact so much of that brutalization, or at least the mindset behind it.

 

It's like it has a realness at the center of some kind of wish fulfillment exercise of the bloodiest sort, but the juxtaposition is so, so much more stark than usual in this sort of thing. Fucking bizarre. It was definitely a weird novel to pick as my last book coming out of a horror cold, and I'm pretty sure I'm done with this series, whatever it's doing. It's funny that something that's ostensibly romantic can bug me out way more than most horror novels, even those that trade in sexual violence for kicks. Those are just boring and done to death, this is something much more intimately fucked. Happy Halloween.