There is a fine line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance and I’m sure I’ll do a “Professor Tori” post on exactly what that is, because it’s darn interesting. Nalini Singh, a powerhouse author in the romance world, writes both with enough crossover that she’s not easy to pigeonhole. The good news is that she’s such a talented writer you don’t care what category she falls in and simply lay back and savor every word of her books. As with all overviews of series, this post will naturally hold some spoilers since you can figure out from one novel later in the series what has happened earlier, but I’ll do my best not to give it all away and just give you the highlights.
Most of the Guild Hunter series falls under the category of urban fantasy, with characters engaged in a battle of good versus evil in an urban setting, characters like Elena Deveraux, a Guild Hunter. Elena lives in a New York not far removed from the one we know, except for one rather large difference. In her New York, angels rule large swaths of the world as territories, granting immortal life to chosen humans who are made by them into vampires – vampires who enter into indentured servitude to angels in exchange for their extended life.
But not all vampires are able to leave their human independence behind for the necessary amount of time to pay back their debt, or they fail to follow the careful proscribed rules regarding how to treat humans. Once they step outside the line, an international organization, the Guild, comprised of the best vampire trackers anywhere, dispatches one of its own to run down and subdue the rogue vampire. These trackers are often endowed with an additional ability to actually scent vampires and gravitate to the Guild. This is not just because their nature makes them unhappy if they are not doing the work they were meant to do, but also because they don’t truly fit into any society. The angels are remote and inaccessible to everyone but vampires, the vampires see humans as food, and humans view Guild Hunters with suspicion.
In Angel’s Blood, this is the world Elena Deveraux knows, but she came into her ability in a brutal way, watching most of her family brutally slaughtered by a mentally ill vampire when she was just a child. Rejected by her surviving father and sister, the Guild has become Elena’s life and she’s damn good at what she does. Her friends in the Guild are real family and she loves the life she’s made for herself.
It’s a life that quickly takes on new meaning when she is summoned to the Angel’s Tower, headquarters of Raphael, the archangel who rules the East Coast with New York as his base of operations. She has seen the angels, flying to and from the Tower roof from the balcony of her apartment, but never thought to see any angel in person, to say nothing of the angel, Raphael himself. At most he does his business through the Seven, the seven angels and vampires utterly loyal to him who conduct his business and punish those who step out of line. Raphael has contracted her to do a job, but why on earth can’t he just go through the Guild like business as usual? When she finds herself on the roof of the Tower facing the most beautiful creature she’s ever seen, she realizes nothing in her life would ever be the same from this moment on.
Raphael is fascinated by the human hunter in front of him. Her gorgeous blond hair is a stark contrast to her honey skin and North African features but what strikes him most is her demeanor. Only a fool wouldn’t be scared in the presence of an angel with their prodigious strength and mental power, and Elena Devereaux is not a fool. But despite her fear, she is able to demonstrate her amazing scenting ability and stand up to him to demand respect, even knowing she could be killed.
He has always been attracted to warrior women over the centuries that he’s been in existence and this one has him truly fascinated. He even thinks he could trust her, which is a good development since what she will be tracking could wreak destruction on not just her corner of New York but the whole world. But this human holds her in hands the power to also end Raphael’s existence by making him vulnerable in a way he’s never been before, and it may mean the death of them both.
Let me make perfectly clear that I challenge anyone to come up with an alpha male more alpha than Raphael. When your love interest is about a thousand years old, has prodigious physical strength, possesses major mental powers, and holds the ability to kill or have killed almost anyone he knows, well, it’s not boasting to know you are the top of the food chain and everyone serves at your pleasure. That Nalini Singh understands that Raphael’s alpha constitution is both a flaw and a strength is what makes her such an incredible writer. Raphael struggles to understand the boundaries that Elena insists on and is, no lie, ready to die for in order for them to be equal in at least one way in their relationship. Elena must be Elena and for a while you’re not really sure if Raphael has the ability to change, since he’s never asked to by anyone. Ever.
But the act of beginning to respect Elena’s needs, of negotiating with her so he can exercise his desire to protect from other dangers like himself, and of finding a way to be her equal in their relationship is an unadulterated joy to witness. She is more important to him than asserting his power just because he can, and that’s unbelievably sexy.
In Angel’s Pawn, we have a prequel to Angel’s Blood with Elena’s fellow Guild Hunter, the former dancer, Ashwini, once again in the South on the trail of her perpetual nemesis, the sexy vampire Janvier. He’s always managed to make peace at the last minute with the angels who send her after him but they’ve taken each other on some pretty fun chases over the years. This time, the court of angel Nazarach, filled with cruelty and intrigue, has fallen under suspicion and Ashwini and Janvier must go in as partners to determine what really is going on. Can Ashwini keep reminding herself that getting involved with Janvier is a bad idea or will his sweet southern drawl and good looks supercede her good sense?
Major warning. Ashwini and Janvier will have their own book in the future but this isn’t it; rather this is a novella that is meant to show the complexities of the angel system of rule and the level of cruelty which exists within the structure. The side benefit is that we get to see the smokin’ level of sexual tension (and essentially the inherent sympathy) between these two characters, who are fantastic. Janvier shares the vampire allure of someone who has lived for centuries, with all the sensual knowledge inherent in that existence. Yet for all those years, Janvier sees something unique and special with Ashwini, who doesn’t lack her own secrets and perspective. For her to be drawn to what she must hunt (a vampire in general and Janvier specifically), is a dangerous situation for both her body and her heart.
Novellas for series often crop up in anthologies and the Guild Hunter series is no exception. In Must Love Hellhounds, we find Angel’s Judgement (also available along with several other series novellas in the anthology Angel’s Flight) which, despite it’s being named #1.5 in the Guild Hunter series, should be actually numbered. #.75 since it happens at least a year or so prior to Angel’s Blood.
It’s an important year. Sara Haziz is a Guild Hunter and a good one despite her small size. Her current boss is ready to retire and he wants to name her the next Guild Director, a job she’s not 100% sure she’s up to, but she’s interested. While the angels decide if she’s right for the position she also must solve a mystery regarding someone targeting vampires, a mystery man identified by victims as a Guild Hunter. When a gorgeous, gigantic man shows up to question her collared vamp, she can’t help that her heart is beating faster and she wants to lick him all over. She might capture vampires but she’s only human.
Sara’s astonished to discover that the huge man helping her is none other than Deacon, the Slayer, whose job it is to hunt Guild Hunters if they go rogue. She had no idea that he was so young, so good looking, or the same famed weapons maker she’s admired for years, but with his warm hands and deep voice, she’s more than a little drawn to the total package. He’s also a great partner, but she realizes that this case is getting more complicated by the minute. If she accepts the Guild Director job, she’ll be Deacon’s boss, so there’s no relationship allowed there. She also can’t ask him to leave his work since he’s a private person who would abhor being with a woman who had a highly visible job, involving glittering parties and political machinations.
Deacon can’t believe the crappy description he got of Sara Haziz; why did no one mention that she was a petite, curvy goddess? The way she handles a crossbow would make any weapons master hot and Deacon plans to get the most out of their time together. It’s lonely being the Slayer. Who wants to really get close to someone who may be assigned to take you down one day? But Sara doesn’t seem afraid of anything and it’s easy to see she’d make a great Guild Director – particularly with the angels constantly testing her toughness, distracting them both while they are trying to solve this case. But more difficult than the constant fighting is when he begins to realize that walking away and leaving Sara to pursue her bright future might be the hardest thing he’s ever done.
If you don’t adore Deacon and Sara…well…I have no use for you. You have a dead heart, because these two are a fabulous couple, great hunters, and clearly meant to be together. The ending was AMAZING and actually chokes me up and makes me grin like an idiot, all at the same time. Genius.
In the next full-length book in the Guild Hunter series, Elena wakes up from her year-long coma more than a little surprised at her transformation. In Archangel’s Kiss, we see the ramifications of Raphael’s unconscious decision at the end of Angel’s Blood, namely that he has made her an angel, a phenomenon which has not occurred for thousands of years. Her friends are ready to storm the Tower (after being put off for almost a year they’re convinced she’s dead or a vampire) and Elena can’t get over the stunning dark wings the color of twilight she’s sporting.
Raphael is elated that Elena is finally awake, but as a newly made angel she’s almost more delicate than she was as a human. He takes her to the Refuge for safety and to learn how to be an angel, but she faces threats there as well, from his enemies who are irritated at this show of Raphael’s ability and who realize that Elena is his only weakness. Although he wants to give her plenty of time to find her wings and train with his Seven to be strong again, an unspeakable crime leaves him with no choice but to call upon Elena’s tracking ability, even when the ultimate danger comes knocking at his door.
For Elena she realizes that being “immortal” isn’t a reality for another couple of centuries and she’s got to get strong fast for both her sake and Raphael’s. She’s unbelievably annoyed with him for being such a mother hen and his behavior causes a major renegotiation of their relationship; she has to make him realize that she’s got to be herself or die trying. His Seven see her as a weakness and are not thrilled (well, most of them aren’t thrilled) at her continued presence in his life, but they resign themselves to protecting her for Raphael’s sake, especially if it means beating the crap out of her in the practice ring to help “train” her. With any luck, her natural strength, her new wings, and the efforts of the Seven will help her face the threat so determined to end her life with Raphael before it even has a chance to begin.
Such a great book on so many levels! Seeing the natural outcome of the power shift between Elena and Raphael (and how Raphael is such a total newbie in even having a relationship) is actually very sweet and hot and you share Elena’s frustration when Raphael is treating her with kid gloves, particularly in the bedroom. A big part of this book happens at the Refuge, the secret area where the angels are born and raised, guarding their most important asset, their young. Not only does this help us understand them better, but it also introduces many characters, like the teacher Jessamy of the broken wing, and the various members of Raphael’s Seven who we haven’t yet met. The more I find out about archangels, particularly the psychotic ones, the less I like them, and the risk they pose to Elena is a very real one, particularly when a certain archangel gets in her head to dredge up the dark ghosts of Elena’s past.
With the archangel Cadre reshuffling after their recent balance of power has changed, Elena and Raphael return to New York in Archangel’s Consort and Elena begins to feel she can get on with her life. Wearing Raphael’s amber (and he hers) means they belong to one another, but when she is called upon to do her Guild Work again after a vampire attacks a girls’ school, what she finds has her loyalty split between the Guild and Raphael, and it’s not easy. The fact that one of her half-sisters was the actual target also complicates things, specifically because it stirs up a life’s worth of animosity and secrets between her estranged father and herself.
When one strange thing after another begins to happen, it becomes clear that more than a vampire is at work and Raphael begins to withdraw, suspecting his mother, the archangel Caliane. Elena begins to realize that what’s worse than having a mother-in-law is having an archangel mother-in-law who disappeared after going the archangel version of batshit crazy. Powerful archangels have the ability to “sleep” for centuries in order to restore themselves and indications are occurring that Caliane could be awakening, possibly not in a restored state, with disastrous results for the world and for Raphael.
The mother-in-law storyline is a wonderful device in his novel, as it adds a layer of relationship complexity in a story that could easily be about Elena adjusting to life as a angel out in the world, as a Guild Hunter with torn loyalties and as a daughter forced to face painful secrets. An old nemesis is certainly present stirring up trouble and Elena has to also deal with the members of the Seven who love her and the ones who definitely don’t. Where other authors could have let the series slump, Singh is full speed ahead, with Elena fighting for Raphael as he faces the dark reality of what he could easily become.
After reading so much about the Seven, the angels and vampires who make up Raphael’s elite guard, it’s wonderful to have a novel devoted to one of them, and Singh does not leave us wanting as she focuses on the hottest, sexiest member, the seductive vampire Dmitri in Archangel’s Blade.
Dmitri’s been a pain in Elena’s ass from day 1, but a hot pain in the ass and the reader never doubts his loyalty or his deadliness. He’s an old, old friend of Raphael’s (their relationship began when Dmitri was human centuries ago) and Raphael is only person who actually understands why Dmitri is as dark as he is. This particular vampire is only capable of finding pleasure in pain because all the love was violently removed from his life in one fell swoop long ago.
Honor is a Guild Hunter who lived through inconceivable torture at the hands of vampires. She’s been holed up in Guild Headquarters trying to recover, but she is only too aware of how shattered she is, and her friends can see it too. Yet when her boss Sara asks her to work with Dmitri on a case, she’s not sure she is going to be able to follow orders. There is no doubting that Dmitri is stirring something within her that hasn’t moved since before her trauma, but he’s not to be trusted and she needs the next man to touch her to be trusted above all else. Plus, ever since she’s spent time with Dmitri she has been having vivid dreams of someone else’s life and she suspects it might be his. It’s disturbing and making her feel things better left alone.
This book gets a lot of strong feedback on Goodreads, with people either loving it (it’s Dmitri after all) or taking vocal issue with the very paranormal piece of Honor’s past. I not only have no problem with it, I adore the solution, since I choose to think of Dmitri’s centuries of man-whoring as his violent acting out after losing the only thing which meant anything to him, his family. Because someone with such violent passions is bound to have only one true love, Singh did exactly what any writer should have done and yet showed us how strong and different Honor was from any woman Dmitri knew before. It’s pure gold and there is something extraordinary at seeing someone so dark embrace love again.
The next novella, Angel’s Wolf, published in the anthology Angels of Darkness, takes us away from Raphael’s court but with a tie to it nonetheless. Noel was a victim in a previous book, a vampire tortured so profoundly that he wished he had been able to die. Sent to the court of the angel Nimra, Raphael’s foremost angel in the Louisiana territory, he expects nothing but cruelty from her, even though she is breathtaking. But as he sees the respect she shows all who work for her and the love she receives in return, he questions how she is able to maintain control. In the world he knows, angels must show brutality and ruthlessness to the forces who would otherwise usurp their power.
Nimra has a particular power that lets her harm only those who would seek to harm her or encroach on her territory. She has carried the pain of loss through the centuries and now an attack from within has her horrified that she has a traitor in her midst. Nimra is grateful for the competent and masterful vampire Raphael has sent to help her, but she can see how damaged Noel is from his attack and how his strong personality could easily try and dominate her own. The question remains whether it would be worth the challenge to have such a partner, especially one that makes her heart feel that which she thought it never would again.
Noel is heartbreakingly wonderful, an alpha hero who manages the trick of respecting the angel who rules while also being a man around her in the fullest sense. His distrust of her is only natural after what he experienced, so it’s all the more meaningful as he slowly lets down his barriers, encouraging Nimra – loyal and kind Nimra – to do the same. If you’re an animal lover, do yourself a favor and have tissues handy. This one is a doozy.
The next anthology is actually the one that readers wanting the whole series should get, as it compiles all of the previous novellas mentioned (Ashwini and Janvier in Angel’s Pawn, Sara and Deacon in Angel’s Judgement, and Noel and Nimra in Angel’s Wolf) plus a new novella, Angel’s Flight.
Angel’s Flight focuses on one particular angel we already love and respect, the lovely, willowy teacher in the Refuge, Jessamy. She has been the angel historian for centuries, but because of her crippled wing, she has the task of teaching the little ones their history. While she adores working with the children, her self-consciousness about her condition has kept her from having meaningful relationships with men since she is all too conscious she is not the equal of an angel who will naturally want to fly with his lover.
Galen is the new weapons master to Raphael, having transfered from a rival court where he had no hope of advancement. He’s hoping to give his loyalty to Raphael and eventually become one of his guard and is prepared to work his butt off to prove himself to this impressive archangel. One look at Jessamy and Galen begins to think he could win something much more than just a position in Raphael’s court, he could win a woman’s heart. But part of that game will be convincing her of her own worth and showing her how she is more free to choose than she currently believes.
Oh my God, Galen is such a guy, exactly what you would expect from a weapons master who is brawny and makes killing tools out of leather and steel! But the unlikely pairings are the ones that we like the best, aren’t they, and intellectual, delicate Jessamy with someone who could probably star in a gladiator movie is the ultimate odd couple. A hot odd couple, FYI, and he sees exactly who Jessamy is and what she’s been hiding all these years. Not content to allow her to stunt her potential, he challenges her every step of the way, pushing her out of her comfort zone while providing unconditional backup. This novella is actually a prequel and could easily be read prior to any of the series, but it’s great where it is, giving more insight into the two characters and a lot more insight into angel politics (a nice segway into the next full-length novel) and the Refuge.
Rather than an Elena and Raphael book (the next one is due out in 2013, I believe), Singh focuses on another member of the Seven, and a damn elusive one at that for the next full-length novel. Jason is the ultimate spymaster for Raphael, an angel with wings black as night who can cloak himself in shadow and hear whispers on the wind of political machinations happening around the world.
In Archangel’s Storm, this ability makes Jason the perfect angel to send to the court of rival archangel Neha. Neha is the queen of poison and her court is beautiful and very deadly, particularly to her consort who has just turned up murdered. Neha had kept him imprisoned for centuries after she discovered he had cuckholded her with her own sister, who produced a child from the union, the Princess Mahiya.
Mahiya may be young in angel years but she’s old in the ways of Neha’s political manipulations. Growing up in an environment where she could trust no one, surrounded by selfish angels who knew Mahiya’s very existence was a reminder of her sister and her consort’s ultimate betrayal, wasn’t a condition that lent itself to fast friendships. She had even been used before by male angels bent on having her body and heart only to break her for Neha’s pleasure.
It’s a history that makes her wary when the dark and beautiful Jason arrives to investigate the death of Neha’s one true love. Mahiya has her own reasons for helping him and quickly realizes in his presence that here is one angel who could really break her heart. He’s noble and kind, sensual and deadly, and Neha finally might have met her match in him and his ruler, Raphael. When Mahiya and Jason realize that Mahiya’s own past is playing a part in the deadly game afoot in the court, they also are aware that he is probably her only hope of survival.
I wasn’t sure what I thought of Jason being the next in line for his own novel (I, like everyone, am waiting with bated breath for Bluebell’s story) but I should have just trusted Nalini Singh who has never, in any series, led me wrong. Jason is a strong hero more than capable of holding an entire book on his strong shoulders and the erosion of his spymaster wariness of Mahiya is a pleasure to witness. Seeing this poor young angel finally find a measure of happiness after a lifetime of living under Neha’s thumb is its own reward as well and I adored the ending when she finally realized what her life could finally be. So sweet.
The year 2013 will be a good one with more Guild Hunter books on the horizon. Honestly, between this and the Psy-Changeling series, I give Nalini Singh a major tip of the hat for her productivity. For a writer to produce so many books and novellas in multiple series each year – and that they each are of outstanding quality with zero slacking visible – makes me think that she’s a writing genius and a productive one at that. If she ever needs anyone to come do her laundry or walk her dog, I’ll fly to New Zealand if it means helping her get more writing time behind her computer!
Many thanks to Nalini Singh for her fertile imagination, unparalleled writing ability and to Berkley Romance for having the good sense to publish her. All your hard work is appreciated, I promise. :-)