Tuesday, November 6, 2012

THOUGHTS on "Archangel's Storm" by Nalini Singh

Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter, #5)Archangel's Storm by Nalini Singh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I enjoyed "Archangel's Storm" very much, I didn't feel entirely satisfied afterwards. Gorgeous prose, solid world-development, and a tightly woven plot, but I was left wanting more, in terms of the relationship between Jason and Mahiya, and in terms of the development of the series' overarching plot. Although I know that the relationship between Jason and Mahiya wasn't supposed to be the tumultuous love-across-centuries angst-fest that was Dimitri and Honor in the previous book in the series, and I can appreciate slow and quiet romances, I wanted the emotion to be a bit deeper than it was, and for the overall stakes to have gotten higher than they got. There were hints of change afoot, in terms of a change in the structure of the Cadre of Ten, but at the end, the questions I wanted answered were left unanswered.

In terms of the romance, the relationship between the hero and heroine depends largely, for me, on getting to know the characters, and through this, understanding why they are falling in love with each other. I think that because both Jason and Mahiya are such quiet, understated characters, it was little hard for me to see how they were falling in love.

For instance, although I liked Mahiya as a character, I didn't see any aspect to her character that was outstanding in a way that would make her different from other women, i.e., that would make her the woman that could break through Jason's emotional barricades. Mahiya is not emotionally weak - she has survived for decades in terrible circumstances, trapped by people much more powerful than her. But she didn't seem extraordinarily strong to me either. For instance, we can compare her with Ashaya Alleine, the heroine from Singh's fifth installment in her Psy-Changeling Series . Ashaya was similarly trapped in a bad position by people with much more power than she had. But I clearly remember getting to the part of HtP where Ashaya gives her first broadcast, exposing the Council's evil plans, and coolly lying about the Omega project so that the Council's plans will sink. I remember thinking that this heroine, who has no changeling claws, weak Psy physiology, and a completely unaggressive Psy specialty, nonetheless had holy-shit-balls-of-steel. I didn't find that moment like that with Mahiya. Although a moment like that isn't really necessary - after all, it's not as if women who don't have holy-shit-balls-of-steel don't deserve love - I just felt myself wanted more from her, some sort of uniqueness/extraordinariness, to understand why she was the one that Jason fell in love with.

As for Jason, although we learn a lot about his past, and can infer that he has vulnerabilities, Jason is so strong and quiet that we only ever see his tiny glimpses of his vulnerabilities. Even at the end of the book, his behaviour continued to mask outward expression of these vulnerabilities. This is why I also have a problem when I try to understand why Jason is the one that Mahiya falls in love with. When Mahiya notes that she has had experience with other men, but that Jason was the only one that had ever engendered such feelings in her - but I couldn't quite understand how she could fall in love with such a closed book. Objectively, I can understand that this portrayal of Jason is likely intentional - part of his core character is his strength and quiet, so that even close observers will only ever see a peek of vulnerability. But subjectively, I wanted to get to know Jason better, to better understand how his words and actions were a product of his extraordinary history and circumstances.

The third aspect of a romance, besides the hero and heroine, is, of course, the relationship between them, and how it grows. Although I liked what developed, and how it developed, but I wanted just a little bit more. Jason and Mahiya's relationship at the end of the book is a little unsure, not set in stone; there are a lot of issues about how their relationship will work that are left unresolved.

The same is true for the plot development. I wanted just a little bit more. The unexpected parallels in power between Neha and Nivitri are a fascinating plot twist, and the war between the two factions is high-stakes, but I missed the sense of a gradual build-up towards the plot climax. The result is that the plot climax seems somewhat backgrounded, and less urgent than other (more satisfying) plot climaxes. The consequences of Neha and Nivitri's power parallels is also left unanswered, which left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. One thing to note, however, is that this is not a stand-alone book. It's book 5 of a Nalini Singh series, and a Nalini Singh series is not a set of loosely connected books, but a set of books that are tightly interwoven in an overarching storyline. This means that I'm storing this vague sense of disatisfaction in a temporary holding space in my mind, because I have faith that Ms. Singh will address all of these things in later books - not just the unresolved consequences with respect to the plot, but also the further development of Jason and Mahiya's relationship.

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