Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh

Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux knows she's the best—but she doesn't know if she's good enough for this job. Hired by the dangerously beautiful Archangel Raphael, a being so lethal that no mortal wants his attention, only one thing is clear—failure is not an option...even if the task is impossible.

Because this time, it's not a wayward vamp she has to track. It's an archangel gone bad.

The job will put Elena in the midst of a killing spree like no other…and pull her to the razor's edge of passion. Even if the hunt doesn't destroy her, succumbing to Raphael's seductive touch just may. For when archangels play, mortals break…

Author: Nalini Singh (Website, Blog)
Cover Awesomeness: Darren Hopes, George Long, Ron Zinn
Publisher: Berkley
Imprint: Sensation
Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance
ISBN: 978-0-425-22692-6

Similar Universes: Meljean Brook’s Guardians series, Faith Hunter’s Rogue Mage series
Nit Pick: A New Yorker calling elevators lifts and flashlights torches.
Favorite Quote (p. 325):

“Mortals . . . they burn so bright, but their light goes out too quickly.”

I’m a fan of Ms. Singh’s Psy-Changeling series of paranormal romances. I find her writing very sensual, evocative and character driven. The idea of a realm of vampires and darker things in her hands instantly appealed to me.

In this world, vampires are created by Archangels, and must pay for their immortality with 100 years of servitude. Because the vamps don't always hold up their end, there is also a division of specially trained warriors who hunt down and return the rogues, called the Guild. Elena is a Guild Hunter – the best. She’s hunter-born, giving her a super-sensory advantage over those who are merely trained: she can scent vampires. Raphael is the Archangel of New York. He rules his subordinates with an iron fist. And everybody is subordinate to Raphael. The Cadre of Ten (Archangels) have divided the globe into territories, and New York is his.

The Archangel of New York, p. 21:

“Then drink.” It was an instruction so absolute, she knew he expected instant
obedience. Something snapped inside her.“Or else?”
The wind stopped. Even
the clouds seemed to freeze.
Death whispered in her ear.

The one (really, the only one) thing I found disappointing in this story was the
lack of explanation how this (assumed to be) near future world is now lorded
over by angels. The author gives us this (p. 83):

For all that angels had been a part of mankind’s history since the earliest cave
paintings, they remained shrouded in mystery . . . Some called them the scions
of the gods, others saw them as simply a more advanced species. Only one
thing was certain – they were the rulers of the world, and they knew it.

I have a hard time believing humans simply bowed down to their superiority without putting up a fight. We just don’t have it in us. And if there was a war, or a magical shift, a plague, or an apocalypse mentioned in this book, I don't recall it. But really, once the story swept me away, I didn't care. Even without detailed orations on a false history, Ms. Singh’s rich descriptions and alluring voice make it extremely easy to suspend disbelief. Not to mention her heart-stealing characters and fast-moving plot.

While there are many interesting elements involving the powers and state of being of the angels, this book isn’t the world-building powerhouse that you’d expect in a typical urban fantasy. But there were still plenty of intriguing surprises and twists that kept things interesting. One of my favorite style elements were the short, sinister interjections from the villains point of view, which lent a sense of urgency. And the romance element carries its weight, and then some. From the very beginning, Raphael and Elena have a very shiversome attraction between them, summed up nicely when asks her if she desires his head vamp, Dmitri (p. 68):

“Hell, no. He’s like double-frosted chocolate mud cake. It looks good. You want
to eat the whole thing, but in reality it’s too sickly sweet.” Dmitri’s sensual
nature was suffocating, heavy, a blanket that repelled even as it attracted.
“If he is cake, what am I?” Cruel, sensual lips against her cheek, her jaw.
“Poison,” she whispered. “Beautiful, seductive poison.”

As Raphael and Elena hunt the rogue Archangel together, the romance continues to simmer, and sometimes sizzle. (I need to get my hands on some Archangel dust. Srsly.) They fly all over the city, visiting gruesome crime scenes, tracking their murderer. And somewhere in the middle of it, Raphael decides Elena belongs to him, while Elena fights her attraction to the dangerous ruler of New York with teeth and claws (and bullets).

One of the things handled most deftly in Angels’ Blood was the theme of immortality vs. humanity. Time and again, the difference between the two of them was demonstrated by Raphael’s actions and thoughts. He was probably one of the most convincing immortals I’ve ever read (and, heh, I’ve read a lot.). And yet, he finds himself drawn to this dispensable mortal, and through his attachment to her (and fear of her death) he begins to think and act more like a mortal.

Elena has drawn a line that she will not cross - she won't be anyone's supplicant. She will not worship or be cowed by Raphael, even at the cost of her own life. The strength of her will and her lack of fear at first intrigue the Archangel, and later challenge him in a way he hasn't known before.

Since they are hunting one of his own who has gone mad, Raphael wonders if immortality has tainted him, made him too uncaring, and too inhuman. In this way, Elena saves him. She becomes his check-and-balance. But the author didn't take the easy way out here, as so many do once their tortured immortal has 'met his match'. They both struggle to hold on to who they are while falling in love, and it made for an extremely satisfying (read:angsty) journey on both sides.

The final battle is one that will stay with me for a long time, so I won't spoil it, but I can say the tension and drama ran high throughout this whole book. I devoured it in one sitting. Twice. And I'll read it again. If you like paranormal romance or urban fantasy, I strongly recommend this title, as well as Ms. Singh's Psy-Changeling series.

Final Grade:


SciFiGuy said...

Loved the review. This is sitting in my TBR pile because so many folks have had such great things to say about it but I just never seem to get to it.

Tilia said...

Thank you for the long and detailed review, Gwen. I'm even more curious about the book now. You're only criticism of the book will probably irritate myself as well, but if you say that after a while it doesn't matter, I'll believe you. The attraction between the 2 main characters seems worth the read alone. :P

Anonymous said...

I tried to find this book in New Zealand, since I wanted to read a local author while I was there. Couldn't find it anywhere! Sigh. Bookstores should be first in line to support local authors.

Are you going to the meeting this weekend? I'm going to finally make it!

Gwen said...

This is definitely worth picking up - whether you should move it to the top of the pile really depends on what else is in the pile - but I can guarantee it is a worthwhile read.

Ciara - I *will* be there! Looking forward to meeting you and the rest of our extremely talented members!