Thursday, July 27, 2017

Shards of Hope (Psy/Changeling #14) by Nalini Singh

Aden is the leader of the Arrow Squad, the most dangerous and highly trained Psy on the planet. When he and his fellow Arrow, Zaira, wake wounded and captured they know there’s a new enemy out there they have to stop

Of course, holding an Arrow isn’t easy.

While bringing down this new enemy is a focus of the squad, Aden has a deeper mission: how to help his Arrows, his damaged, dangerous, Arrows, adapt to this new world without Silence and hope they can finally find a future and a home; an idea that has become alien to them.

There’s a lot about this book I loved - because this is a story that has been brewing for a while - the story of the Arrow Squad. We had an introduction with Vasic but this really does take their story to the next level of detail.

With the Fall of Silence and with the Arrows going from whispered, almost mythological, force hiding in the shadows to being very open and involved in dealing with the problems of the fall of silence it’s such a huge shift for them

The Arrows themselves are such an excellent representation of the challenges of Silence. All of them have lethal, terrifying powers and were given the strictest and most brutal of training and the most rigid Silence to actually survive them. If anyone cannot live without Silence, it is the Arrows - not only are they powerful and dangerous but they’ve also been deeply traumatised pretty much from birth because torture is how they’re trained

Damaged, lethal, rigidly controlled - it’s going to be hard for them. What I really liked in particular was Aden and Zaira learning how to even behave around children, how to raise children, how to learn the basic thing about them. With all Arrows recruited as very small children and tortured by the program since then the very alienness of play is perhaps more stark than any depictions of the torture they suffered

From that I also liked the little offshoots of concern - like how the older Arrows will manage with this changing world they don’t seem to fit in. Or what to do with those members of the squad who have been so utterly hurt that they’re not entirely functional.

And then there’s those whose Silence did actually cover up a monster - the emotionless killers who secretly enjoyed it. How do you find them and what do you do with them?

I do think that, perhaps, this was just a little but simplistic in some issues, especially in relation to Psy with dangerous powers. I mean, we had Psy literally fearing their own extinction due to their rates of suicide, mental illness and violent crime as well as uncontrolled dangerous powers - this is while Silence was enacted. So introducing their hyper-dangerous Arrow children to having to write essays as punishment just seems… well if that worked then why would the Psy have ever enacted Silence. I think it would have been better if we had seen them incorporating more of the lessons, mental exercises etc of Silence to show WHY these tactics work now.

Throw into this the greater public role of the Arrows - Aden as the publically acknowledged leader, considering both the PR elements of that and how it makes him a target. The idea of striking the balance between public figure and hidden enforcers all the while maintaining their independence but still making friends and gathering allies in their own right is nicely done

There’s still some pesky gender issues clinging here that I can’t look past when we see that this is the 14th book in the series which has had these gender issues since day one

One of the reasons why Zaira is afraid of losing control and causing carnage is the moment when she sees another woman touch Aden and nearly loses control and attacks the woman out of jealousy. I laughed. Oh gods how I laughed. This is terrible? This is the BASELINE for not just most of the men (especially the Changeling men) in this series, but pretty much a significant part of the genre as well.

We also have yet another damaged/hurting woman who resists a relationship and has to be persuaded into it by a determined, persistent man who heals her along the way. Which, again, is so very very very very common in this series. Romance happens because the men wear down the women (I think Sierra and Hawk is the only real counter-example of it happening the other way and even then it’s dubious since she retreats into “I’m broken and dying and need to run off and die” with him chasing her).

And for a moment there, a brief moment, I really thought we were going to have a female character who was more dangerous and powerful than the male - albeit, of course, with Aden as the leader clearly established. But hey, he isn’t a leader because of his dominance so this is a major change from previous books and there’s a strong suggestion (despite repeated reminding us that Zaira’s a lot physically smaller than Aden) she could take him in a fight. Until he pulled out his super power

And don’t get me wrong that moment is awesome. And I love Aden as leader of the Arrows, I love how his leadership is based on him caring and valuing the squad and wanting a future for them - all of them - and making them more than the weapons they’re seen as. I love how he is the leader of the squad despite the fact that most of them by far think they could easily defeat him - they don’t follow him because of his strength or power and that is never emphasised.

Really the issues with this romance would be very low key and probably not mentioned much because the gender roles aren’t as bad as many - but it’s those previous 13 books which make so much of this a pattern.

The plot of the book is really excellent - not only do we have the Arrow squad in all their complexity, but the new enemy and their tactics are nicely original and different and have the potential to launch the series into an entirely new direction now the main threat of the Council and Silence has been removed as an antagonistic force. I love how it’s now much more political and epic and broader now we’ve moved away from the few Psy defectors trying to survive to the entire society changing. I like to see new strengths valued from long standing characters like Councillor Nikita and all the perfectly balanced politics that the main characters need to consider now. It’s a truly excellent read.

Zaira is arabic, and that is the language she grew up speaking with her parents. Aden is Navajo, Japanese and Korean - and I do like how, especially with the protagonists, we don’t just have vague, ambiguous description but an overt clear labelling of them as POC. We see his parents as well (Japanese-Navajo father and Korean mother). We’re also have several members from previous books - such as Nikita Duncan, Sasha, Lucas and Devraj Santos all making an appearance as well as this story continues to bring on old elements

Remi, one of the alphas who becomes close to Aden is described as brown skinned and several of his pack, not filling major roles but still present, are described as POC as are several of the other Arrows. Vasic is prominent and, as a one armed man, is a disabled character. To a degree this doesn’t reflect our appreciation of the same disability as Vasic is a very powerful telekinetic; but it’s still notable along with his struggle to find a prosthetic.

There continue to be no LGBTQ characters. And on book 14 with this huge cast of characters the lack is glaring

I do hope we see more of the BlackSea Changelings led by Miane and the Russian Changeling pack, because both are led by women: with all the gender role tropes, especially around the Changelings, this is a nice subversion of what we’ve seen and promises for the possibility of more nuance.

I’ve always loved this series’s world and the writing while being frustrated by so many of the tropes. In this book the plot, the world and the character development are flying high, not eclipsed and the tropes that have driven me up the wall have taken a big step back. It’s an excellent book that showcases everything that is awesome about this series