Saturday, March 10, 2012

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh dives into a world torn apart by a powerful race with phenomenal powers of the mind-and none of the heart.

In a world that denies emotions, where the ruling Psy punish any sign of desire, Sascha Duncan must conceal the feelings that brand her as flawed. To reveal them would be to sentence herself to the horror of "rehabilitation" - the complete psychic erasure of everything she ever was...

Both human and animal, Lucas Hunter is a changeling hungry for the very sensations the Psy disdain. After centuries of uneasy coexistence, these two races are now on the verge of war over the brutal murders of several changeling women. Lucas is determined to find the Psy killer who butchered his packmate, and Sascha is his ticket into their closely guarded society. But he soon discovers that this ice-cold Psy is very capable of passion - and that the animal in him is fascinated by her. Caught between their conflicting worlds, Lucas and Sascha must remain bound to their identities - or sacrifice everything for a taste of darkest temptation.

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This book lays the foundations of a world that we'll see more of in other books. A world that is an alternate version of our Earth populated by three main species: humans, changelings, and psy. The changelings are shapeshifting beings, usually called were or shifters in other books, and it's somewhat puzzling why the author chose to call the changelings, a term more commonly associated with faeries and such to my knowledge. The psy are basically just humans that have psychic powers that set them apart to the extent that by the late 21st century when this book takes place, they have evolved into a separate species from humans. They are also set apart by their conscious and deliberate shunning of all emotion, a "protocol" that they have termed Silence, and while their intent in adopting Silence was well-intentioned, it was not particularly well-thought out, even by these highly cerebral beings. As is seen during the course of the book, many of the side effects of the policy have had very grim consequences, and it can easily be seen that it has done far more harm than good. It's doubtful the psy themselves will manage to figure that out, however, unless things change drastically in future volumes.

Presumably this book is supposed to be about Sascha, a psy, and Lucas, a leopard changeling and alpha of the DarkRiver pack, though to my mind the book is far more about Sascha than it is about Lucas. True, he figures prominently into things, and the attraction she feels to him - an attraction she shouldn't feel because of what she is - is the catalyst for a lot of what happens to her. Their union is only possible because Sascha is "flawed", that is, she feels emotions despite the fact that, like every other psy, she has been trained not to. What she doesn't know is why she feels things, and so assumes herself to be "broken", and works on the assumption that her days are therefore numbered because once her "affliction" comes to light, she knows she'll be taken into custody and subjected to rehabilitation, the equivalent of psychic homicide. The ways in which Sascha deals with things, and the process by which she eventually comes to learn why she is the way she is, and what that means for her future, takes up much of the book's focus, even though it is interwoven with the story of the kidnapping and murder of various changeling women by a psy serial killer. The changelings, and her interactions with them, are integral to that self-discovery, but the romance/mate-attraction between her and Lucas doesn't really come into play until 2/3 or more through the book, so to say this is a romance novel would be something of a misnomer, at least in my opinion.

I find myself intrigued by the world that Nalini Singh has built here, and all the various interplays within it. This is a world poised on the cusp of some major revolutions in many ways, though if those revolutions come, they will likely be more about existing political and social structures crumbling on their own because of forces from within than because of one group trying to take over power from another most likely. Many of the observations about the effects that Silence has had on the psy, and about some of the current "anomalies" (such as Sascha) within the system, make it clear that there are cracks appearing in that foundation that will most likely tear it apart sooner or later. Whether it happens entirely on it's own because of pressures from within, or whether it's helped along by outside forces remains to be seen. There are so many routes that events could take in the future that it will be interesting to see which of them Ms. Singh chooses.

All in all, a very good book I think, and a strong opener to a series that hopefully will continue to prove intriguing. While I did really enjoy it, I can't say that it truly wow'd me to the extent that some do, thus why I only give it 4 stars. Though I'd be willing to go 4 1/2 on this one if I were able to. Definitely worth reading for fans of urban fantasy, especially those who like a strong dose of romance thrown into the mix.

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