Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Archangels Kiss (Guildhunter #2) by Nalini Singh

Elena is a new angel and has just awoken from a year long coma. But she has no time to get used to this new life – she’s already gained the anger of the Archangel Michaela and she’s not the only angel and vampire in their hidden city with their eyes fixed on the unique, “made” angel.

One of those is Lijuan, the oldest of the Archangels who has long since left her humanity behind in her obsession with life and death. Her actions are even terrifying the other Archangels – and they don’t know if any of them are powerful enough to stop her

Another is not an Archangel – they don’t know who they are. But they do have ambitions for the Cadre of Ten and they’re leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.

There is a lot of romance tension in this book. There are times when it seems to get in the way of the actual plot of hunting down a monster… but not often. In fact, considering the amount of romance tension there is, I’m surprised at how it doesn’t feel like it gets in the way – because I rarely get that feeling. Even though it’s very very common for Elena to think about how unbearably hot and sexy Raphael is, it never happens at a moment that makes me think “shouldn’t you be worried about other things?” which makes for really good writing – have something be omnipresent but not in the way.

The dynamic is also something I appreciated. Elena is recovering from a long injury and inactivity, even with her being an angel, she has a lot of weakness to work through and a lot of healing to do. She also has major culture shock in being a whole new situation – and being a whole new species – and having to get used to that. I think all of this could have been delved into more though it was all addressed a little – but what I liked was that even though Elena has rarely been so insecure or so weak, yet she still stands up to Raphael. Neck deep in angel politics, threatened from every turn she still refuses to accept Raphael as her master or even as her protector. It’s not that she refuses bodyguards – she’s not foolish or reckless with her independence – but she’s clear, any relationship between them will be a relationship of equals. He doesn’t get to change her, he doesn’t let to control her and he doesn’t get to read her mind; she will be his equal, never his shadow and openly makes it clear several times that she will die before she becomes subservient to him. It’s a wonderful mix of defiance and sensibility.

There are two plots in this book – one the angel who is killing people in an attempt to become one of the Cadre of Ten now there’s an opening and the other Elena having to get ready to go to a ball with Lijuan – the oldest and creepiest of the Archangels with her own agenda. The first storyline is more mixed – the pacing, the action, the need for Elena are all very well done. But the world building behind it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The angels is committing crimes that all the Archangels find intolerable – and she intended to use this to gain a place on the Cadre of Ten despite not being an Archangel (which has precedence). But… how would that work? “Hey you know that serial killer and mutilator you’ve been hunting for the last year? It’s ME! Now give me a crown!” I just don’t see how this plan ends in a way other than the Cadre of Ten deciding that Nine is actually really good because you don’t have any pesky ties and just nuking the child torturing upstart.

The second plot line worked better as Lijuan is a much more coherent threat and it also builds into the book’s – and, from what I can see – the series’ prevailing themes: Angels become alien as they age and Elena is both Raphael’s weakness and strength by preventing that. Raphael may not develop the same level of disturbing, terrifying powers Lijuan has, but he will and is developing in other ways because Elena is keeping him human. We see over and over examples of angels who are lost to sadism and cruelty as they age, of Archangels committing atrocities because there are so few taboos left in their culture and they’re granted so much autonomy. We’re always reminded of the path Raphael could easily walk down (the path he probably would walk down) and the seeds of cruelty within him

I also like how Lijuan was portrayed –it would be easy to go for another sadistic serial killer, but it’s not that mundane. She’s wonderfully alien, completely and utterly removed from angel kind even as the ancient Archangels are inhuman.

This storyline also worked well with Elena’s own past. I said in the last book that she seemed to have a tragic past for no discernible reason beyond checklisting – this book it became relevant and it was an actual great portrayal of someone living with flashbacks and night terrors and trying to work through them and deal with horrific memories. I’m interested to see where it goes in the next book – and hope that Raphael’s twu luv doesn’t cure her.

There are no LGBT people in this book, but there are a huge number of POC. Angels come from every corner of the globe, as do vampires and this is repeatedly represented in their numbers. There are angels from just about every race and all very clearly described as such. If there’s one shaky point on this it’s that some of the descriptions fall into the trap of exoitfying but that may be their elaborateness as anything and this is not usually carried through into their characters (the characters can be alien and extreme and frightening – but that feels more like them being angels than them being POC – and nearly every character is an angel. I want to see more before reading more into it than them just being angels – especially since we haven’t seen much of all the Archangels yet.

While Sara calls Elena she isn’t around much which means her world is fairly male dominated. We have female Archangels – but Lijuan, Michaela (who remains exceedingly problematic due to her extreme jealousy towards other women) and Neha are all hostile. All of Raphael’s inner circle are male – that leaves only a female teacher Jessamy and Elijah’s (another Archangel) wife Hannah to not be hostile with Elena – they aren’t vanishingly nonexistent but neither are anything close to a major role. Jessamy is also a disabled character within the angelic context – she cannot fly and it has given her a considerable different mindset to other angels her age.

This book built on the excellent foundations of the previous book and I would say it is as good or better – until I reach the end and we just have a couple of anti-climaxes that don’t work too well for me. This is a particular problem with the killer storyline because it leaves the whole thing very shaky, very unexplained and feels like an attempt to force another serial killer storyline because Elena has the magical sense of smell and we have to have some reason to use it.

But while one of the main storylines was shaky, everything else is pretty shining, we have good inclusion, some excellent character developments and some really good exploration of this excellent world – and a good solid storyline to fall back on.