Monday, August 22, 2016

Caressed by Ice (Psy/Changeling #3) by Nalini Singh

Brianna was terribly traumatised by her abduction by the Psy serial killer. Her family and her Pack are determined to protect her, moving her home, sheltering her and almost guarding her every moment

Only Judd, the cold and terrifying Psy seems to be the man who knows what Brianna needs.

But Judd has always been the Psy out of place – desperately sheltering behind the shield of Silence, he needs the emotional control to keep people safe from his lethal abilities. Brianna may have the ability to crack his shields – but will it ever be safe to do so

One of my main concerns with this book isn’t about this book per se at all – but about how this book contrasts with the previous two books in the series

The previous two books had a pattern: we have a female Psy struggling with Silence. They’re vulnerable, imploding and desperately at risk because of the repression that silence represents. They cling to silence because it’s all they’ve ever known – but a shapeshifter male decides that he knows better than the Psy and repeatedly pushes her, even physically ignoring her boundaries, until Silence collapses and she feels emotion. In each case we have a narrative of a vulnerable female Psy whose agency is largely ignored by a shapeshifter male who knows better and saves her from her destruction by ignoring said agency.

Now take this book which breaks the trend – here we have a vulnerable, hurting Changeling who is, at least in part, healed by the love and support of the Psy. That Psy breaks silence, but on his terms – in fact the Psy is menaced by the loss of silence so much that the shapeshifter has to back off and give the Psy space rather than pushing the Psy’s boundaries past what is safe.

Hey that flips the script and doesn’t follow the same pattern – that’s good, right? Except, opposite to the previous 2 books, in this case the Changeling is female and the Psy is male. So this doesn’t feel like a switch of the typical Psy/Changeling dynamic which has been established so much as enforcing the gender roles that have already been in place. This is also apparent when we consider the nature of Judd‘s powers – while Faith and Sasha had very cerebral non-active sensory powers and were somewhat physically (both have minor offensive powers) overwhelmed by their-oh-so-lethal Changeling partners. Again, it’s also established in the world building that not only are Psy physically less strong than Changelings but also than humans. Yet when we turn to Judd and Brianna, we have a Psy with powerful Telekinesis which not only makes him super-duper-mega dangerous but he uses it to both give himself super healing skills AND enhanced strength and speed that matches or eclipses the Changelings

When the gender is switched, the male Psy is given powers that ensure he is physically more powerful than his female Changeling mate. It’s hard not to think that gender isn’t the reason for this. It’s frustrating because with what has already been established about Psy and Changelings, a male Psy and female Changeling would have been an excellent way to counter the gender role issues of this series so far. It’s a sad lost opportunity.

I do like that there is a challenge of how overprotective Brianna’s brothers are – how they’re reacting to her victimisation by turning her into a prisoner, treating her like a child and generally removing all the agency and control she has over her life and how terrible this is. I think this is a vital point to make because all too often we do regard victims as abuse as child like and completely remove their agency in a broken way of “protecting” them. This also links to ableist tropes – because Brianna is clearly suffering from mental illness as a result of her trauma, we often see people make decisions for the mentally ill “for their own good.” So I really like this challenge – I just don’t think it goes far enough. I think there’s far too much focus on how much they love her and mean well rather than the damage and problems they’re causing.

That’s a problem with this book – and it’s a big one which is why I’ve written so much about it – but there’s also a lot of good which I love once I get past the relationship (which is something of a shame because it is a Paranormal Romance and I kind of love every single thing in this series EXCEPT the romance). The world building has been steadily growing in the last 2 books and this one continued that progress. In particular I love how we’ve analysed Silence more, specifically how it does have an advantage

It would be easy to present Silence as the terribad awful scourge on the Psy and the world – and it certainly is. But at the same time the rich history of these books have made it clear there’s a reason behind it. Someone didn’t wake up one day and decide “I know, let’s destroy my people with emotional repression!”. After Faith and Sasha who were bring ripped apart by Silence, it’s excellent to see Judd who was, in many ways, saved by Silence. Even as he enters a post-silence life, he still needs the lessons and the skills he gained from being Silent and from being conditioned to be Silent to properly control his powers and make him safe. Through him we see an excellent depiction of why the Psy felt pressured to embracing Silence while, at the same time the deception needed to truly sell this very flawed “solution” to the populace. It also reminds us why the people in charge of the Psy are still so motivated to maintain Silence despite its obvious flaws – and it begs the question, if Silence fell, what would the Psy put in its place?

I like the expanding world and complexities presented by the Psy resistance as well. It, again, would have been simple and easy to present the Psy as bad guys or victims with occasional Psy being saved by the Changelings or being forced out. Instead we not only have had the flaws in Changeling society pointed out while at the same time we see that the Psy have their own movement to resist the Council, expanding Silence and even walking Silence back. This also adds to the whole complexity of looking to the Changelings to change the Psy – because that’s not their gain. They see the Psy as an enemy to be stopped, the alphas of the Changelings are not exactly invested in reforming or saving the Psy beyond their own personal Psy – nor should they be. But then from the point of view of psy like Judd, there is a way to resist the Council THROUGH the Psy rather than looking to the Changelings who often view all Psy as an issue. It adds a wonderful level of complexity to the motivations and long term goals of the Psy living with the Changelings and how they decide what the best course of action is.

This book does seem to have much less racial diversity than the past books – the characters from the past books are definitely still there but in much more minor roles. The core characters – Judd and his family (which is odd because we’ve already repeatedly made a repeated point that the Psy habitually mix their genetics to the point that a very pale Psy woman was regarded as unusual because mixed-race Psy are the norm). Brianna and her family are white.

We have Sasha in the background and a Latino priest who helps with the resistance with Judd as well as some members of the wolf pack and wereleopards. The Psy council is predominantly POC as well.

There are still no LGBTQ characters

Again, I love so much about this series. I love the world building. I love the complexities of it, I love the motivations, I love the overarching metaplot and inter-twined stories and the slowly developing world with the different aspects that make it so rich. I just find the romance so clich├ęd and so twisted by problematic tropes for me to truly enjoy it without having to have lots of provisos