Sunday, 4 October 2015

#CBR7 Book 105: "Of Silk and Steam" by Bec McMaster

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is the fifth and final book in the London Steampunk series. There will be minor spoilers for previous books in the series, and it's really not the best place to start. If you're interested, start at the beginning with Kiss of Steel.

The precarious power balance in the capital is becoming untenable. Human Queen Alexandra is more of a powerless puppet to her powerful and erratic blueblood (vampire) husband, the Prince Consort, than ever before. Even the ruling council of the Echelon (the nobility) have little control over his more and more unpredictable decisions. The common people, normal humans and mechs (humans who have had limbs replaced with mechanical prosthetics after accidents) are being pressed harder than ever before, with more extreme blood taxes and the situation is reaching a breaking point.

A number of people are working quietly to fortify Whitechapel, controlled by Sir Henry Rachinger, better known as Blade or the Devil of Whitechapel. Since his wife, Honoria, published the scientific findings of her dead father, leading to a vaccine against the blueblood virus, the Prince Consort's power over the Echelon has slipped further. The heads of the city's police force, the humanist party, Blade, his wervulfen sister- and brother-in law, as well as the heir to the Duke of Caine, Leo Barrons are all working together to fortify the walls of Whitechapel and get enough ammunition to incite a proper rebellion.

Unbeknownst to them, Lady Aramina or Mina, Duchess of Cassavian and one of the few blueblood women in London society, has been working diligently for nearly a decade, funding the humanists. The queen is her best friend and she hates seeing how the Prince Consort abuses and manipulates her. On the surface, she's all coldly correct, supportive of the Prince Consort's rule, even willing to help him physically reprimand his wife. Behind closed doors, she works tirelessly to keep the queen's spirits up, spending as much of her private funds as she can to arm the humanists. She has no idea that there are others working towards the same goal, including the man she considers her enemy.

Mina believes that the Duke of Caine killed her father and has sworn revenge against him and his son. She doesn't know that Leo isn't actually the duke's son, that he has three half-siblings, including Honoria, Blade's wife. While she wants to hate him, Leo on the other hand, is fascinated by Mina and wants to crack through her icy veneer to unleash the fiery, passionate woman he believes she is hiding. Unfortunately, when the Prince Consort gets access to the truth of Leo's parentage, through a duplicitous investigator Mina hired, he is forced to go into hiding. Believing Mina to be the one who betrayed him, he takes her hostage, dragging her into Whitechapel, the only place he can hide. When he runs, the Prince Consort declares he will burn the area to the ground. The plans for rebellion need to be put into action.

While I thought the first two books in the series were a bit slow, the last three were extremely entertaining and it was especially refreshing to see that the cold and frankly quite snooty-seeming Duchess of Cassavian not only had hidden depths, but was a full-fledged badass. On his deathbed, her father defied tradition and infected her with the craving virus and she was forced to kill any pretender to her title in order to protect herself. Having lost her older brother before the Duke died from mysterious causes, with her mother becoming catatonic with grief, Mina has lived a very lonely and dangerous life. She can't openly support and champion her only friend, having to work behind the scenes to remove the tyrannical Prince Consort. Because society believes that women are too weak and emotional to handle the craving virus, she has to work twice as hard as the Echelon males to stay in control of her bloodlust and urges, to prove them all wrong. She's had lovers, but is afraid to let herself go completely and therefore feels both tempted and frustrated by Leo's advances and refusal to give up courting her.

Leo is also very lonely, having been raised in an almost militaristic fashion by the Duke of Caine, who was treated the same way by his father. Having realised early on that he was illegitimate, Leo still feels guilty about refusing to help his half-siblings when they were in need, resulting in Honoria's bargain with Blade, which in turn led to her marriage. Leo became infected with the craving virus because of a botched experiment of his biological father, and as revenge doctored the vaccine Sir Artemus Todd was planning on taking, not realising that he also meant to give it to his son Charlie, Leo's half brother. Charlie became a rogue blueblood, and Leo has never been able to forgive himself for causing this. Even after his half-siblings have forgiven him and try to include him as much as they can, they can't openly show their connection. Once the Prince Consort discovers the truth for himself, and orders Leo executed, his sister and brother-in-law are the only ones he can turn to for help.

Mina is appalled that the man she paid to investigate Leo also reported to the Prince Consort. Being held prisoner by Leo and Blade in Whitechapel when the city is about to erupt in civil war is disastrous for her, though, as she needs to make sure the queen is safe. This leads to her trying her best to escape, while Leo keeps chasing her down, becoming more and more aware how important she is to him.

The romance in this was excellent and I was impressed with how well McMaster united all the various pieces that she's introduced in the previous books. With every book, she's introduced one more thread, bringing them all together here. Discovering that Mina was the financial source behind the humanists was a delightful surprise, and when she finally allows herself to give into her attraction to Leo, things get pretty smoking hot. With some Steampunk series, that element gets unnecessarily gimmicky, not so here. The world-building and character development has been excellent throughout, and it's always good to see a series that ends on a high note instead of fizzling out. I highly recommend McMaster's books to anyone who likes paranormal historicals and look forward to what she's going to write next.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 104: "The Legend of Lyon Redmond" by Julie Anne Long

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Before I begin this review, I have to say that in a genre where where so many books have absolutely atrocious covers, where readers pick up and love the books despite the cover art, this book has one of my favourite covers in years. It fills me with joy and perfectly encapsulates the contents of the book. I wish more romances had covers this great. 

While many of Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green books can be read out of order or completely independently of each other, this book is the culmination of the 11-book series, and as such, will probably not have the same impact on the reader as if it's read without some previous knowledge of the series in general and Olivia and Lyon's tragic romance in particular. There are SO many good books in this series, and one absolute classic. Go read some of them, then come back for this review.

It is said in Pennyroyal Green in Sussex, that the Redmonds and the Everseas have been enemies since the Dark Ages, but that once every generation, a Redmond and an Eversea will fall disastrously in love with each other. This generation's doomed couple - Lyon Redmond and Olivia Eversea, who met at a small assembly and almost instantly fell incandescently in love, despite knowing that their parents would never approve. Meeting an hour here and there in secret, conducting their courtship as secretly as they could, completely oblivious to the fact that everyone around them could see that they were besotted. Then Lyon Redmond suddenly left England, never to return. Gossip said it was because Olivia Eversea broke his heart.

Five years and thousands of hothouse flowers delivered to her door, Olivia Eversea shocks everyone by accepting the proposal of Lord Landsdowne, a quiet and unprepossessing viscount. Their wedding is the social event of the season, and as most of her siblings have had quiet weddings, Mrs. Eversea is determined that Olivia will get married with pomp and occasion. Yet at every turn, there are reminders of her long-lost love. A popular ballad is created, sung on every street corner. Illustrated prints depicting the possible adventures of Lyon Redmond appear in shop windows. He is seen as the dashing hero, she as the withered Miss Havishamesque creature who jilted him.

Lyon Redmond has spent the years away from England making a fortune, proving with every action that loving Olivia Eversea is what he does best. Now she is marrying another, and it's time for a reckoning between them. The last time he asked her, she refused to leave her family and go with him. Now Lyon will confront Olivia one last time and they will see if their love story is in fact a curse, or a blessing.

In each and every Pennyroyal Green book, the reader has got little snippets of the story of Lyon and Olivia. How they met and fell in love is never revealed, but that something Olivia Eversea said or did, made Lyon Redmond leave England and his family for good, is clear. That Olivia was never the same after he left, throwing herself into her worthy charitable causes and fending off eager suitors, seeming indifferent, yet never cruel, to all of them. Rumours of Lyon's exploits on the continent, making money hand over fist, possibly engaging in piracy. Olivia becoming thinner and more brittle, until one day she decides to accept a proposal, after all.

In this final book, which features cameos from many of the previous couples in the series, the reader finally gets to see how Lyon and Olivia met, what led to their separation and estrangement. It's become clear in the previous books that Isaiah Redmond is a strict and unforgiving father, whose four children all went against his express wishes in choosing their life partner. Lyon's refusal to bow to his demands, choosing to abandon his homeland and his family instead, probably spurred his younger siblings to exert their wills and make their own unpopular choices.

Olivia and Lyon's romance is in part a tragic one. They were young when they met and because of the enmity of their families, their feelings for one another were not well received by their parents. When push comes to shove, Olivia can't handle it. She cannot follow Lyon into exile. Having not even experienced her first season, she is still young and innocent, and terrified of what the future might bring. She breaks his heart and her own with the choice she makes and has to live in shattered loneliness in the years that follow, constantly hounded by suitors, watching her siblings and friends fall in love and settle down.

It was always obvious that Lyon wasn't going to be happy with Olivia's decision to marry another. Yet he cannot be surprised that she's unwilling to pine forever for him, having heard nothing to encourage her for five years. Their reckoning is a necessary one, and there are hurt feelings on both sides, but oh such a passion as well.

Last week, I came to the realisation that The Legend of Lyon Redmond, a book I've been anticipating since I first heard it was being written, and pre-ordered months ago, would be released during my autumn break. With the stress of my work over the last few months, I have had much less time and energy to read, so the prospect of a whole day off when I could revel in this book was a gift from the fates. Like I suspect all long time readers of the series, I had very high expectations. Lyon and Olivia's story runs like a unifying thread throughout the other narratives and getting to read their story was almost too exciting to bear.

I adore What I Did for a Duke, the story of Olivia's younger sister and the Duke of Falconbridge. There are other books in the series that I am deeply fond of, but this is the only book in the series that I feel can rate as highly. Like in Genevieve's book, I got so caught up in the story that I literally shouted at the characters more than once. My husband seemed amused by my antics, assuring me that it would be a pretty unsatisfactory romance if the protagonists didn't end up happily together in the end. I nearly threw a cushion at him. Clearly both the Eversea sisters are determined to try my nerves by taking a really long time to realise what is best for them.

This is a wonderful book, but really does require the reader to have taken the journey through the series to fully appreciate the ending, not only to Olivia and Lyon's story, but to all the Pennyroyal Green books. I wasn't wild on the epilogue, where we are suddenly introduced to a current day descendant of the Redmonds and Everseas, and given insight into what happened to the children and grandchildren of all the heroes and heroines of the books in the centuries to come. I felt that was unnecessary, but it didn't ruin the perfection of the rest of the book. I will most likely skip it the many times I re-read this in future, though.

With this, I complete the Pennyroyal Green series and my double Cannonball.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 103: "Saga, volume 5" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Page count: 152 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Saga is my favourite comic book of the last few years and I feel like I do nothing but spend my days waiting for a new trade paperback to come out. I managed to save volume five for an unprecedented nine days from buying it until I actually read it, because I know that it'll probably be another six months at least until I get more. The writing is flawless, the art is breathtaking. The plot is never, even for a second, predictable. The six issues making up this trade had me grimacing in disgust, laughing, gasping, swearing and almost crying. 

Oh, if you're not caught up yet, there may be spoilers beyond this point. 

I found volume four extremely distressing, because Alanna and Marko were arguing and when fictional characters whom I love have relationship troubles, it affects me more than it probably should. Now they are separated, with Marko and Prince Robot IV having made an unexpected alliance to track down their missing children. Alanna and her mother-in-law are trying to keep Hazel safe from Dengo, the guy who kidnapped them. Elsewhere, Gwendolyn, Sophie, Lying Cat and the Brand (the Will's sister) are looking for the ingredients to a cure for the Will, the assassin sent to kill Alanna and Marko. As always, tiny Hazel narrates the story with aplomb, giving all sorts of heart-breaking foreshadowing, such as "she and her pals find what they're looking for...but at a much higher cost than expected".

If you're not already reading Saga, with all the glowing reviews out there on the internet, I honestly don't know how this is going to change your mind. It's just so good, and you're missing out if you don't give it a chance.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Books 101-102: "The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace" and "Forged by Desire" by Bec McMaster

Page count: 595 pages
Rating: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace - 3 stars
Forged by Desire - 4 stars

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace is a novella set three years before the events of the rest of the London Steampunk series. In it, Nighthawk partners Garrett Reed and Perry Lowell work together on a case involving a missing theatre actress who may or may not have been abducted. Perry, the only other known female blueblood (vampire) has been in love with her partner for years, without ever really being bothered by jealousy, despite knowing that Garrett is a ladies' man. Now, seeing him flirt openly on the case, she has trouble keeping herself focused, which leads to conflict between the two, and causes complications during the investigation. In the story, Perry is abducted and nearly drowns and determined never to lose track of her again, Garrett gifts her with a dagger containing a tracking device, making her promise to keep it with her always. Said tracking device becomes significant in Forged by Desire.

Nine years ago, the Duke of Moncrieff was exiled to Scotland after it was believed he murdered his thrall, Miss Octavia Morrow, an earl's daughter. Her body was never found. Shortly after Miss Morrow's disappearance and believed death, an emaciated, bedraggled, terrified young woman infected with the craving virus showed up at the Nighthawk headquarters, asking the guild leader, Sir Jasper Lynch for help. Miss Peregrine "Perry" Lowell was taken in by the Nighthawks and trained to control her new animalistic instincts. Trained by Lynch himself, she rose in the ranks to become one of his right hand people. Now, as Lynch has been elevated to a dukedom, he can no longer lead the Nighthawks. His successor is Garrett Reed, Perry's partner for most of her nine years on the force.

Reed is struggling with his new leadership duties. Lynch led the Nighthawks for more than forty years (bluebloods being near immortal and impervious to ageing) and his subordinates didn't realise just how tricky a balancing act his job entailed. Garrett can't ask Lynch for help, as the man blames him for betraying a sworn oath, endangering Lynch's beloved Rosalind, in order to save Lynch's own life. After an attack that nearly ended his life, Garrett's virus levels are extremely strong and he is worried he's going to tip over the edge into the Fade (when bluebloods lose all control and become mindless vampires, attacking everything in sight). He is suffering from horrific nightmares, where he dreams that he attacks Perry, who he's come to realise he considers more than a friend and a work mate. Because he fears he'll hurt her, he's been keeping away from her for a month, and it's making him utterly miserable.

When two young women, clearly of highborn birth, are found murdered in a factory, the cause of death makes Perry flash back to the terrors in her past. She's convinced that she killed the madman who held her captive, infected her with the craving virus and tortured her in the name of medical science, but further investigation into the dead girls all seem to paint a gruesome picture. Moncrieff has been recalled from his exile, and has tasked Garrett with locating the missing Octavia Morrow to prove his innocence. Perry ran once before and created a new identity for herself. She realises that she'll have to flee again, but how can she leave Garrett when he finally seems to return her feelings?

In the world of McMaster's London Steampunk, the sons of the ruling classes, the Echelon, are given the craving virus that makes them faster, stronger and near immortal when they come of age. Once they have the virus, they have to feed on blood, but will be immensely powerful until the point when their virus levels go so high that they enter the Fade, and have to be put down, so as to not become ravening monsters. Any non-nobles who are accidentally infected with the virus can either join the Nighthawks or the Prince Regent's royal guard, or they will be executed. No women are given the virus, as they are believed to be too emotional and weak to handle it. The exception is the Duchess of Casavian, whose father broke the edicts, and Perry Lowell, who was infected in a horrific medical experiment she was lucky to escape.

A female blueblood has to be beyond reproach, so as to not confirm the rumours that women are inferior. Perry lives a strictly controlled existence, trying to appear as masculine as possible to blend in with the other Nighthawks. She has worked hard to overcome the trauma of her past, training with Lynch personally at fencing and fighting. Her sense of smell is unparallelled and she's one of the best trackers the guild has. She's also loved her partner, Garret Reed, for nearly as long as she's known him. Now her past appears to be catching up with her, and she's terrified that he's going to get hurt as a result. She's willing to do anything and risk everything to keep him safe.

Garrett is the son of a prostitute from the East End and worked hard to become Lynch's second in command. No one had expected Lynch's elevation to the Echelon, and the mantle of guild leader sits heavily on his shoulders. His newly discovered attraction to Perry is complicated by his fear that he'll hurt her if his virus levels go too high, and with Lynch giving him the silent treatment, he has no one to talk to about all his fears. Once he realises that Perry isn't indifferent to his advances, he's determined to win her, to spend what little time he has left before he loses control, happy with her. He just needs to figure out what secrets she's keeping from him.

Perry and Garrett's love story is a complicated one, not helped by both being far too honourable and brave for their own good, willing to make audacious sacrifices for the sake of the other. The found family aspect of the Nighthawks really comes into play in the latter half of this book, though, and while Perry is a hell of a heroine, brave, fierce, independent and capable, it's clear that she needs to learn to trust those around her and allow herself to feel happiness. A lot of the overarching story of the series is also coming to a head over the course of this story, and I look forward to seeing how it all ends in the final book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 100: "Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things" by Jenny Lawson

Page count: 352 pages
Audio book length: 8 hrs 20 mins
Rating: 5 stars

Back in October 2012, when I finally decided to see what all these Cannonballers were on about when they kept gushing about a strange-looking book with a taxidermied mouse on the cover, and gave in and read Let's Pretend This Never Happened, I didn't actually know who the Bloggess was. What a sad and empty place my life was up until that point. Once I actually read her first book, I also went out and bought it in audio book (She sings the chapter titles - it's beyond delightful!) and now I check her blog at least a couple of times a week, often reading her posts out loud to my husband.

While I may have been sadly unaware of Jenny Lawson and her amazing writing back then, I have known about and anticipated her second books since it was first mentioned on her blog. While I think Ms. Lawson is wonderful when sharing funny anecdotes, cat pictures, strange polls, recounted arguments with her long-suffering husband Victor, craziness about taxidermy, what really truly speaks to me about her writing are the stories when she honestly talks about her depression, her anxiety and her other health problems. So the fact that this book was going to be about her mental illness made my expectations soar even higher.

I needn't have worried that Ms. Lawson was going to let me down. Her first book was "laugh until your ribs hurt" funny in places and very very sad in others. This book (which I also got in audio and because of that, I got a bonus chapter - yay!) deals with the long list of ailments that Jenny Lawson suffers from, physical and mental. It covers a range of very serious issues and had me crying in sympathy in places, but I also laughed so much that people gave me funny looks as I was running errands or travelling on public transport. It's a book that will shed a lot of valuable light on what it's like to suffer from crippling depression, anxiety and the like and which can help those sharing the life of someone suffering similar things maybe understand a bit better. I can promise that while it gets really dark in places, which is especially affecting as this is NOT a work of fiction, but a very honest memoir - these things are Jenny Lawson's life, the book is also stomach-achingly funny and follows a similar structure as her first book, with very serious topic followed by wonderfully absurd sections.

As well as talking honestly about her depression, rheumatoid arthritis, her social anxiety, her self esteem issues and the like, Ms. Lawson shares tales of going to Japan and Australia, life lessons from her dad, the story of Rory the raccoon (who's on the cover), many many arguments she's had with Victor and generously gives the reader the appendix to the book in the middle, because why would you want to put that stuff at the end?

In chapter 31, where she talks about nearly being attacked by a possum by her pool (there are a lot of possums in this book), she claims that she would much rather be attacked by baby penguins, because they aren't even vaguely scary. Just in case Ms. Lawson ever reads this review - I was bitten by a baby penguin at a zoo in Sweden when I was little. They may seem cute and fluffy and oh so harmless, but they have vicious, scissor-like beaks and I bled profusely. The lessons she learned about swans should be applied to penguins as well, just saying.

If you liked her first book, buy this. If you haven't read her first book, buy and read that first, then get this one. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, get this book. If you know anyone or suspect you may know someone who suffers from these things, get this book. With so many books I read, I want to quote Bernard Black from the extremely funny TV show Black Books: "You'll laugh, you'll cry, it'll change your life." In the case of Jenny Lawson's books, it's all too true. Her first book was spectacular, this one is even better. Why are you not reading/listening to it right now?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 99: "My Lady Quicksilver" by Bec McMaster

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is book 3 in an ongoing series. While it can be read as a stand alone, the world building and the overarching story line will make a lot more sense if you start at the beginning, with Kiss of Steel.

Sir Jasper Lynch is the head of the Nighthawks, basically the mostly nocturnal police force of the Steampunk London that Bec McMaster has invented here. All of the nearly four hundred Nighthawks are rogue bluebloods, people who have caught the craving virus by accident in some way (become vampires) and who are not of the Echelon, the nobility who rule the country. After an assassination attempt on the Prince Regent, Lynch is tasked with finding the notorious human revolutionary, Mercury. If Mercury is not brought to justice within a short space of time, Lynch's life is forfeit instead.

Using his enhanced senses and his decades of experience with detective work, Lynch manages to track down Mercury, and is shocked to discover that the revolutionary is a woman. Not only that, she manages to get the better of him by using her feminine wiles to distract him, then she escapes. Now the reason he wants to find her is as much professional as it's personal. Little does he realise that she's much closer than he is expecting.

Rosalind Fairchild needs to find her missing brother, who was involved with the rogue group of revolutionaries who tried to blow up a large part of the Echelon and visiting dignitaries from Scandinavia. She needs to infiltrate the Nighthawks, and gets herself hired as Sir Jasper Lynch's personal secretary. She knows that if he discovers that she is also Mercury, he will arrest her and hand her to the Echelon to be executed, but Rosalind has been trained for subterfuge by the very best, and has no intention of getting caught. She needs to locate her brother, rescue him and then she can go back to ridding the world of all bluebloods.

Rosalind is a humanist, one of the disenfranchised humans who believe revolution is necessary, as the Prince Regent and the Echelon keeps making further demands for blood taxes and humans and mechs (humans who have had to get mechanical prosthetics after injuries) are being treated worse and worse. Few know that Mercury, the infamous revolutionary, is in fact a woman. Recently, a small band of her former followers went rogue, clearly sick of waiting for results. Not content with trying to kill a large group of people with an explosion, they are now working on some sort of weapon that turns bluebloods crazy with bloodlust, slaughtering everyone near them. Rosalind is as determined to stop these rogue revolutionaries as Lynch.

Lynch is the nephew of one of the ruling Dukes on the Echelon council, but was cast off by his family when he refused to fight his cousin in a duel for the rights to be the Duke's heir. Instead he founded the Nighthawks, non-noble bluebloods trained to police the city, solve crimes and bring criminals to justice. What Lynch fears most of all is losing control, and he keeps himself in check, never drinking more than the minimum required amount of blood, never letting himself get emotionally involved. So when Mercury gets under his skin so very quickly, it awakens needs in him he'd almost let himself believe he didn't have. He knows he can never have Mercury, but his newly awakened emotions draw him towards his impudent new secretary, a lovely widow who seems determined to drive him to distraction, even as she tidies up his private life.

Less involved in the larger politics of this world, and more on investigation and police work, My Lady Quicksilver may be my favourite book in the series so far. By now, all the pieces of the world building are firmly in place and McMaster can just let her characters play. The opposites attract story at the centre of this book is delightful. Rosalind is an outlaw, Lynch an officer of the law. She's all about temptation, sensuality and fun, he's all about control, order and work. Neither wants to fall for the other, but they are helpless to control their emotions.

As well as Lynch and Rosalind's romance, I very much liked the supporting cast of Nighthawks in this book. Family is very important in these books, and Rosalind's relationship with her brothers and with her werwulfen friend also adds depth and complexity to the world. Teased in this book, and coming up in the next one, is the romance between two of Lynch's most trusted lieutenants, Garret Reed and one of the few blue blood women, Perry Lowell. I very much liked their banter in this one and hope their book is as satisfying as this one.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR7 Book 98: "Archangel's Enigma" by Nalini Singh

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is book 8 in a series, not the place to start. There is far too much stuff in this book furthering the ongoing story arc for this to be an especially satisfying book to start the series with. Start at the beginning with Angels' Blood.

There are dark rumours that Lijuan, the Archangel of Death, is about to murder one of the sleeping Ancients (powerful archangels who have gone to ground to sleep for millennia so as to stave off insanity). As this goes against everything angelkind considers holy, Raphael sends one of his trusted Seven, the mysterious Naasir, his most skilled tracker, to find the sleeping place of Alexander. Naasir has decided that so many others in his family have found happiness with their mates, he too wants one. He's been searching for seven months, with no luck, but will postpone his quest for his mate to aid his archangel.

Andromeda is a young angelic scholar, fifteen days away from coming of age (when she turns 400). The granddaughter of the archangel Charismemnon, dealer of poisons, disease, pain and debauchery, Andromeda fled his court and has been working to prove herself at the Refuge, devoted to learning, record keeping and all manner of other scholarly arts so despised by the kin at her grandfather's court. She knows that on her birthday, she has to return, bound to serve there for five hundred years, a service she dreads with every fibre of her being. Because her specialised field of study is the burial places of the Ancients, Andromeda is asked to help Naasir locate Alexander. At first she is startled by his strange manner and mysterious origins, but it doesn't take long before they form a bond - making the thought of five hundred years away from him seem even more unbearable to Andromeda.

 It's clear that while working on furthering the plot of the ongoing arc of these books, the building war between Raphael and Lijuan, the dangers of the ongoing Cascade, the changes and threats to angel-, vampire- and humankind, Nalini Singh is also determined to have fun, playing around with different sub-genres. Archangel's Shadows was mostly a police procedural, this is an adventure novel, with a quest and a chase against time at its centre. Andromeda and Naasir are the unlikely pair who have to join forces, solve the puzzles and finish the quest before their rivals catch up to them. Yet there is also the complication of Andromeda's family obligations and the service she's expected to offer at her grandfather's court. The book doesn't end when the quest is complete, there is more to solve before the two lovers can have their HEA.

Naasir's origins have always been a mystery. He is clearly unique, in that he appears to be both a vampire, yet not. He has silver eyes and hair and an unparallelled ability to track. He can sprout claws, seems to occasionally purr and in previous books, there have been hints that he may sport stripes in the right light. He is both a ferociously efficient hunter and almost childlike in his manner. His found family means everything to him, and those close to him hold him in great affection. In this book, his brutal and heart-breaking origins are revealed, and it's clear why there is only one of him. I have always liked Naasir as a supporting character in the previous books, and he was a wonderful hero in this.

Born into the court of the Archangel of plague and pestilence, with parents who went out of their way to break any sexual, physical or moral taboo, Andromeda had enough and fled while she was still considered too young to take care of herself. Lying about her obligations to her family, she found a new home in the archives of the Refuge, immersing herself in ancient texts and languages, doing her very best to forget the day when she has to return. Yet knowing she can't be weak, she's been training herself in martial arts and swordplay, so she can defend herself when she finally has to return. Because of the debauched surroundings she grew up in, Andromeda has sworn a vow of celibacy, only to be broken if she is presented with an ancient Grimoire, believed to have been lost forever. Before she meets Naasir, Andromeda never had cause to regret her vow for a second.

Naasir initially doubts that Andi, as he calls her, can be his mate. She appears soft and bookish and no mate of his would swear a vow of celibacy. He quickly discovers that the angel has secrets, however, and that there is much more to her than he first expected. As the two grow closer, and their attraction to each other increases, Andromeda declares herself willing to break her vow for Naasir. He refuses to let her, because he's learned that it is imperative to keep one's promises, especially to oneself and swears he will track down her stupid Grimoire, and afterwards, she will let him do whatever he pleases. She willingly agrees, hoping that he can fulfil his promise before she has to start her forced servitude in her grandfather's court and give him up for centuries.

For all the darkness that is spreading in the the universe of these books, and for all the pain in both Naasir and Andromeda's past, their courtship is a playful one and this book was so much fun. It's by far my favourite of the Guild Hunter books since probably the second book in the series. I hope that some of the lightness can continue in future books, even as the overall story takes a more serious turn.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.