by Nalini Singh
This is a science fiction Romance, set in the future where people with psychic abilities are conditioned not to feel emotion and are put into key positions in society and government. It's a highly controlled society in a dystopian fashion where a Psy who deviates from their conditioning is likely to be put into 'rehabilitation' that amounts to a prison camp and lobotomy-like treatment.
Against this landscape we have Sascha Duncan, a Psy who has somehow not absorbed her conditioning and who lives in constant fear and self-control, masking her emotions even against other Psy, including her own mother who might well turn her in if she knew.
Another, very different society exists outside of the repressed city. The changelings are part animal, tribal and have different factions. Negotiating a building contract on changeling land brings Sascha into contact with a sensual alpha changeling whom she reacts to in ways she must keep hidden or risk rehabilitation at the hands of her own people.
Lucas, the alpha, is also confused by Sascha's occasional slips of instinct and reaction that shouldn't be possible for a Psy. He becomes fascinated with her and considers it a challenge to try to seduce her.
One thing that spoiled this rather interesting story for me is that it slips into graphic descriptions of sexual acts. The sensuality of the story is one of its strengths, but about a third of the way through I started wondering why I was reading something that sounded like it had been written by a male porn writer rather than a female Romance author. She gets her pleasure from pleasuring him? Really?
There were only a couple of sex scenes that were more graphic than I want to read and conversely the story misses out telling us when they first have full sex, but I still felt those scenes were unnecessary to the story. I'm not a prude and it isn't just that I don't want to watch someone else (fictional or not) having sex, but taking it there changes a sensual, borderline beastiality fantasy into something too close to human reality and the dominant male aspect of Lucas is a turn-off. It works for a panther, but is too domineering for a man in my world.
I wish Romance authors would work out a system of rating or warnings so that unwary readers don't have to stumble into porn passages. I would read more of the genre then, like I used to in high school. I constantly see young or religious readers seeking out lists of "clean" Romances, so why do so many cross over with porn these days?
Enough ranting. The story itself is very interesting and I think has a basically science fiction structure, which was the appeal for me. The dynamics between the lead characters is well done. Secondary characters don't develop as much, but that can be forgiven. The plotting does have some weaknesses and towards the end, the struggle to balance Lucas' domineering nature with caring aspects of his personality doesn't work as well as intended.
Still, I did enjoy the story for the most part and thought the world building was very imaginative. I do think I'll go back to avoiding stories about "alpha" males though. It's just not my thing. Lucas might be exciting for a tumble but I couldn't live in a situation where a pushy alpha male thought he had the right to tell me what to do or not to do.
The biggest weakness of the story is what should have been a suspenseful action climax, but was just glossed over and referred to after the fact. Despite that, an emotional aspect of the aftermath did make me tear up, which is rare for me.
Overall my opinion is that Singh writes emotion well, but she doesn't really do action. Her plotting could do with a more solid outline but her skill for exposition is well above average and I'd love to see her write straight-forward SFF, as mish-mashing it with erotic Romance weakens the overall story. I'm not planning to continue the series, but I'll keep an eye on what the author does in future.