Sophia is a J-Psy. She’s a justice Psy, able to read the minds of people who have committed terrible crimes and then take the image of what they did and pass them on to others. That can then be used in court to prosecute them. And what can be greater evidence than the testimony of the killer’s own mind?
Unfortunately even the Silent psy cannot stand this kind of mental bombardment and J-Psy have a short shelf life before their shields finally degrade and they die – by suicide or by being min wiped
Sophia is reaching the end of her career and…
Again? Really? This is the 8th book in the series and so far all but one of them have included a main female character who is either imploding because of her Psy powers (Sascha, Faith) or deeply traumatised by her past (Brianna, Talin, Katjya) or on the run and are an actual distrusted prisoner (Ashaya, Katya again) – always we have the terrible fragile and/or broken and/or vulnerable woman who needs to be saved by the big strong man.
I think what makes it more glaring and annoying is that the man in this series are also traumatised. Judd struggles with his abilities (which are lethal because he’s male so allowed to have lethal powers) as does Dev. Lucas, Dorian, Vaughn and now Max have all had traumatic, terrible pasts. But none of them are 2 seconds away from utter destruction/meltdown. None of them need saving or putting together. None of them are dealing with PTSD or fear – none of them are fragile. At most they need “melting” or “thawing” because they’re big strong manly he-men of manliness and trauma just turns them into diamond hard weapons of tough ruthlessness, rawr; while women become puddles and wrecks and cower in a corner for a man to put together again – occasionally having flashes of temper so the man can announce how he likes a lady with spirit (or words to that effet).
And I’m not saying that either is the correct way to respond to trauma. But where are the men cowering in puddles? Where are the women becoming iron hard, emotion-deadened ruthless scary forces? Both are viable responses but in this series they’re rigidly gendered.
And of course our love interest, Max, gets all hot and bothered for Sophia within minutes of seeing her – and then he starts talking about her like he’s hunting her:
“Slow, he thought, he had to do this slow. She was so skittish, he’d have to stroke her into trusting him”.
What? No no no. She’s not a horse that needs taming! He continues to push and touch Sophia. When she draws away because she can’t stand being touched (like so many of the women in this series because fragile-delicate-broken) but he pushes her to try
There is one moment where he does acknowledge he’s wrong to push her – but, almost hilariously – he then turns round and tells her to slow down. Not because he wants to, but because he knows she can’t take too much at once. He knows this, how? Again, this is a theme of these books where the man knows what the woman needs more than she does.
And, again, it’s frustrating because once we get past this copy & paste romance full of caveman gender roles we have an amazing story. But it’s even worse in this book because there is so much that hasn’t been explored but which could be so well
Like Max being an excellent detective because he’s human and therefore not Silent so is therefore more creative and imaginative. Or how his natural shields make him incorruptible – along with the pressure put on Sophia could expose a lot more about how the Psy manipulate the justice system.
Or there’s the really fascinating examination of the J-Psy and their habit of extra-judicial “justice”. That’s a huge well of conflict and horror and difficult aspects to examine! Explore this more! Mooooore! C’mon this is fascinating and incredible – how can this just be the storyline in passing while we focus on the same damn romance story?! Whyyyy?!
And the Psy continue to have ongoing awesome political conflicts. The whole concept of the Pure Psy as we see more and more of their terrfying agenda. We see the Council splitting into factions, outright threatening each other and being willing to defend their territory against other Councillors. The Psy are on the brink of utter civil war
Devraj is the director of the Shine institute, the organisation created to find, protect and help the Forgotten. The descendants of those Psy who decided to resist conversion to Silence and went into hiding to escape the Council
The Council still knows about them and plots against them – so when Katya turns up on his doorstep, broken, amnesiac, tortured and blocked from the Psy Net he instantly suspects a trap
Katya is considered dead by the Psy – which makes her a perfect tool for Ming LeBon, Psy Councillor, deadly telepath and ruthless fighter. He can use her to research the Forgotten… and if not? Well, she’s disposable. But as Katya starts to rebuild herself from the ruin he left, she is determined to find answers in her shattered memories – even if it means defying Dev’s control of her.
Let’s address that perennial problem with these books – the romance. I knew very quickly in the book who the romantic partners were
Was it because of how attractive they were? No
Was it because of how compelling they found the other? No
Was it because of them simply being the protagonists? Well, yes, but not the prime reason
No, I knew they were love interests the minute Katya turned up on her doorstep like a lost broken bird in need of sanctuary and protection and healing while Dev was the big, gruff, super dangerous-oh-so-dangerous man who needed to decide whether or not she was the enemy he may need to kill.
Because for some unknown reason there are apparently a vast number people who think “damaged, traumatised woman and the violent man who may murder her” is really hot. And my gods, WHY? Why does this storyline keep happening? Not just in this series but in general?! Who are these hordes of people who are gasping “ooooh, she’s completely traumatised and facing death, such a perfect candidate for romance!” or “he’s so angry and cold and unemotional – this is so haaaaawt!” or even “he just threatened to kill her for the THIRD time! It’s getting steamy in here!”
It boggles me, it really does, that this is not only seen as romantic, but it is so often seen as romantic it has become such a prevalent trope. This is problematic in its own right – the rigid gender roles that it promotes (women as weaker, as fragile, as vulnerable, man as tough, angry, aggressive, in control, domineering) as well as the very damaging dynamics it not only portrays but encourages (male as violent, threatening, controlling, possessive) and puts on a pedestal. These are not healthy relationships. These are not relationship dynamics we should encourage. These are not a template for a happily ever after.
But it’s also, frankly, getting boring. This is the seventh book in this series. And in all but one of the previous books, this is exactly the same romance storyline. Vulnerable/fragile/broken/breaking woman, facing collapse, implosion, menace, destruction meets aggressive, emotionally distant, uncommunicative, angry, dangerous man who may hurt or kill her and LOVE HAPPENS. Sasha, Faith, Brianna, Ashaya, Talin – all have the same story with Lucas, Vaughn, Judd, Clay and Dorian. Only Mercy and Riley have a different story and it’s still not that far from it. Change the record already. We even have a moment in this book where Dev is violently jealous for no good reason and this is even lampshaded as “normally a Changeling trait.” Yet, it is – but we’ve so strongly established the idea that a man in love is 2 seconds away from axe murdering any other man who comes near that it feels almost like love can’t be depicted without it.
More annoying is that this is actually damaging to the awesome storyline of this series (beyond the fact we have to approach the storyline while skimming past a copy & paste romance). The whole complexity of Silence – not just that it’s a terribad thing that turns the Psy to monsters, but also that it’s an essential tool that made so many Psy safe. That it saved untold numbers of Psy from death, insanity and tragedy which constantly haunted their people before Silence was imposed. One of the complexities of this series is that some Psy – and the world – need Silence for survival, safety and stability. We’re beginning to see more and more of that addressed with each book, including the excellent storyline of the Forgotten, Psy outside the net and Silence, which was continued in this book. Another point it made excellently was how many of the Psy fighting against Silence are Psy who are largely not at risk for it – dangerous telekinetics, for examples, are almost unknown among them
Lijuan has disappeared. One of the Archangels who controls the planet... leaving her territory apparently ungoverned
Which means the Luminata, a philosophical group who try to stay out of politics to seek a higher purpose to discuss what to do with the territory
But when the collected Archangels arrive, it appears the Luminata have lost their path – and what they’ve done touches intimately with Elena’s life, her past and her heritage.
I really liked the differing focus of this book. Most of this series we have had the main focus being on Lijuan and the epic conflict between the Archangel of death alongside the huge consequences of the Cascade. Lots of epic, lots of huge battling, lots of death and destruction and trying to hold things together in the face of literal world ending powers.
It’s epic, it’s huge and it’s nice to take a step back from that. It’s nice for us to remember there are more problems in this huge series than just Lijuan and even than just the Cascade. It’s also interesting to see the Archangels walk around and be the epicness they are.
I honestly expected them to arrive at the Luminata and face Lijuan. Or some epic power. Or some kind of major, terrifying power; something that would render the Archangels helpless. Or an Archangel civil war. In other words, another epic conflict.
But we didn’t go that route – we had legitimate investigations, we have research and exploration and character interaction and having no epic displays of megapowers and war. Which let us see more about the Archangels, more about the world and really exploring the interesting elements the Luminata brought. Which also allowed a lot of really excellent exploration of the Archangel attitude towards art, enlightenment, immortality, power, the value of humanity, autonomy, mind control powers, authority and the issue of what to do with an imbalanced Archangel council. I liked that, I liked that the step back allowed us to see these elements.
Another part I really liked about this book is gathering all the Archangels together and seeing them interact and, generally, be quite sensible. Ok, Charisemnom is pretty much awful – but he is universally regarded in contempt because of that. But each of the other Archangels is clearly and powerfully portrayed as a capable ruler. That includes when they don’t agree with Elena and Raphael. It’s nice to see these great powers working together and focusing on politics rather than world war
I think this is really important with Michaela who, after several books of demonization we see that, while she and Elena are sworn enemies, that doesn’t mean Michaela is incompetent or terrible or evil. She’s a capable ruler, she’s even a compassionate ruler and a just one. Her territories are well managed, safe and even caring. And this doesn’t apply just to Michaela – when we see Tasha, woman-who-was-once-a-love-interest-of-Raphaels then all the rules of fiction dictate that Elena and she will hate each other with the fiery hate of a thousand suns because MAN. And while they don’t like each other there’s a strong sense of respect between them. They appreciate each other’s strengths and are good together. It’s almost ridiculous that this is considered an amazing thing: that adults can disagree with each other without one of them being a parody of evil.
A Changeling research is captured – and it falls to DarkRiver Leopards and Snow Dancer Wolves to bring him back. They suspect, as always, the involvement of the Psy
But the Human Alliance is back in San Francisco with their very high risk, ambitious plan. While the Chanagelings may not be their direct target, the fallout can consume all of them
Which is leopard Sentinel Mercy and wolf Lieutenant Riley’s job to work together and solve. And work together without killing each other. And work together despite the increasing pressure of their mutual attraction despite the differing clans, differing shifter type and differing loyalties. And a whole lot of old fashioned ideals to be conquered.
I love the ongoing world building of this series, especially the focus on the complex issue of Silence and the Psy
This has been something that has been touched on before in previous books but the focus has been very much on threats to the Changelings. To them and the Psy defectors, the broader societal implications of Silence are less important than surviving the latest shenanigans from the Council
But in this book the prime antagonist is the Human Alliance and their prime target is the Psy. The fact the Changelings are not the centralised target (though they are certainly are involved because it’s happening on their doorstep and something can’t happen in their territory without getting involved) means we can examine the broader implications of Silence falling for the Psy. Rising violence rates, the fact the race was desperate when it adapted Silence, the fact that there are a lot of Psy genuinely terrified of the damage they could cause without Silence. Silence is way more than just a threat to conquer, it’s complicated and involved.
And this book really brings home how important Silence is – and how collected the Psy are. Because of the Psynet, thing that individual Psy do can actually affect the Psy as a whole. We begin to address some really interesting ethical debates about whether the Psy should be forced to quit Silence, whether Silence is a viable choice, especially when we consider that for some Psy with genuinely dangerous and need Silence to function in society and to survive, or the fact that crime rates spiking can affect everyone, or that the Psy falling could literally destroy society. What about personal choice? What about if that choice is being affected by scare mongering rather than just reality?
On top of that we have a nuanced look at the Council itself rather than just seeing them as the antagonist with a few decent members. From the nuance of Nikita to simply acknowledging the integral role that the Psy play and even if you hate the system, burning it all down isn’t that helpful to anyone.
We’re also seeing more involvement from the Human Alliance; again we have nuance. We acknowledge that the humans are frequently seen as the weak ones, the extras, the forgotten of society excellently following on from previous books. I love how they find their strength and capability, how they work to match the more powerful races
I love the meta of this series. The complexities of the world and the politics, how the three different races relate to each other and how all of this is developing over the world. I like how the packs are growing, uniting and changing. I like how we’re seeing characters reoccur since too often in long running Paranormal Romance tend to fade into the background: there’s definitely still some element of that in this series which annoys, but it’s still good to see that Sasha is still around, her powers and abilities still helping shape the characters and story.
So we come to the relationship in this book. And this is usually the point when talking about this series where I curse and stomp and hate how this wonderful world setting and amazing metaplot and excellent twisting world building and politics all unheld by some intriguing characters is dragged into the utter mud by retrograde, rigid gender roles and romantic “heroes” to whom consent is beyond and alien concept.
And this book… well it does several things better.
Our love interests are Mercy, leopard sentinel and Riley, wolf lieutenant. They are both soldiers, both dominant, both in control. When he tries to treat her like a fragile flower, she vehemently rejects this. When he tries to make decisions for her, she’s beyond furious. When he tries to protect her she nearly calls of the entire possibility of a relationship with him