Archangel’s Heart (Guild Hunter #9) by Nalini Singh Review

uk-archangels-heart_mOf all the couples so far in the Guild Hunter series, Elena and Raphael are my favourite so while many people were disappointed that we were getting another book focusing on these two, I was thrilled. Unlike the previous books which were more plot-centric in the broader sense, Archangel’s Heart is a more contained book. In that, while it too is plot-centric, the focus is relatively narrow. The overall plot doesn’t necessarily progress much, but we do learn more Elena’s heritage and her mother’s side of the family.

I thoroughly enjoy the Guild Hunter books and Archangel’s Heart was just what I needed. Even though I started working on a project, I still took out time and finished it in two days flat. I could not put it down. Nalini Singh created such an amazing world and with every passing book, she keeps adding to it, making it richer and more detailed. Every book takes us to a new place and Archangel’s Heart was no different.

The book picks up after a two-year time jump. Lijuan was last spotted two years ago when she attempted to kill Alexander and killed his son and daughter-in-law. Things have also been peaceful with reference to the Cascade and everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop. This time jump, in my opinion was a smart move, it gave the readers to catch up with all the major players while still moving along the plot. So we knew that Lijuan had been missing for a while with no news about whether she died or simply went to Sleep.

Most of the book takes place in Lumia, the stronghold of the Luminata, in Morocco. Once there, the action is contained within its walls. I will attempt to keep this spoiler-free but it’s unlikely that I’ll succeed because when I finished this last night, there were so many things I wanted to talk about. But more on that later. I was thrilled to learn more about Elena and her mother’s parents. And the book also shed some light into why, even among Hunters, Elena was as powerful as she was.

The stronghold of the Luminata, Lumia, was so well-realised and detailed that it was easy to get lost in its tunnels, or the Gallery which was truly astonishing and yet, even with all that art and beauty, the feeling of rot was unmistakable. Singh made it feel stifling, the absence of natural light, the endless tunnels, as if the wall were closing in on the characters. It was easy to relate to their feelings of claustrophobia.

As far as characters are concerned, the list of those who appeared in Archangel’s Heart was thin. It featured Illium briefly and Dimitri and Honor even more briefly. The rest of the Seven, with the exception of Aodhan were only mentioned. We also didn’t meet Elena’s sisters or Gwendolyn or even Sara and Deacon, which was disappointing, it’s always a pleasure meeting those two. In addition to Raphael and Elena, the book featured Aodhan very prominently, giving us more pieces of his past.

Raphael and Elena have reached that point in their relationship where they’re not thinking about sex every minute (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just gets old after a point) Their love was each other is abundantly clear and it’s there for everyone to see. We also see a more playful side of Raphael that seems to rising to the surface more often. Elena has come to terms with the fact that she does live in two very different worlds. Their relationship is also more stable with them losing more of their ego when it comes to their relationship; feeling protective but not holding the other person back. One of the things I love about this couple is that there was never any angst or those pesky love triangles. Once they fell in love, that was it, they were fully committed to each other but because they were so different, it wasn’t smooth sailing, they each had to get used to the other person and learn to rely on them, something that was difficult for both of them.

Aodhan, with the exception of Venom is a Seven we know very little about, aside from what has been implied and hinted at. He went through something horrible in his past and has only just started to re-enter the world. Archangel’s Heart shed some more light and highlighted his relationship with Illium. Their bond is close enough that if we were to get an Aodhan-Illium pairing in the next book, it would not seem odd. But that’s unlikely mostly since Singh doesn’t write LGBT romances. Having said that, I don’t mind them being friends, it’s beautiful how they balance each other out so well.

Then there was the Cadre, we spent quite some time with them in Archangel’s Heart. We got to see them interact with each other in a more extended setting. I like Astaad and Titus, they are solid and play no games and their ties to Raphael are getting stronger. Elijah has become a trusted ally and a friend, someone Raphael can rely on should he ever need assistance, while at the same time Hannah and Elena are truly becoming friends and genuinely like spending time together. Neha still hasn’t forgiven Raphael for killing her daughter but we get the feeling that, while they were never friends, they still respected each other. Michaela was her usual self if a little understated. Charisemnon was odious as ever, I don’t know why he isn’t dead already. I actually prefer Lijuan to him.

I’ve always liked Favashi, as the youngest of the archangels, one cannot even imagine how hard she needs to work to hold her own amongst the others who are considerably older than her. I admire her steel and her strength and that she doesn’t back down. She and Alexander agreed to split Persia two years ago but you can tell their presence in such close proximity to each other is raising tensions on both sides. In addition, they are both archangels and therefore neither side will cede the territory to the other as that would be a sign of weakness. I don’t know why Singh keeps implying that maybe she’s not trustworthy when she hasn’t done anything that the others haven’t already. If anything, she openly opposed Lijuan when she used her powers which had so far been unconfirmed. I like her and I hope that Singh doesn’t turn her evil.

Caliane is present as well. She also seems to have gotten used to Elena and even respects her. Unfortunately that also meant that Tasha was present and while I did start to like her, she keeps trying to make Elena jealous, which thankfully doesn’t work. And finally, there was Alexander and his grandson, Xander who was pretty sweet and reminiscent of Izzy.

Beware, spoilers below:
The Luminata themselves were suspect from the beginning. They were supposed to be angels seeking luminescence or enlightenment but they were so secretive that it was hard to believe that story. Then there was their attitude, one of superiority and where archangels were concerned, that was a bad mix. Their view of humans was even worse than most of the archangels. Gian, the leader of the Luminata was slimey from the beginning and I never bought his nice-guy act. He seemed too good to be true.  He deserved everything he got and then some.

I am so glad that we finally learnt more about Elena’s grandparents, Majda and Jean-Baptiste Etienne. The book kept implying that her grandmother had died because of Gian and I could not have been happier that not only were they alive but they were both vampires. Elena had already lost her mother and sisters but it was nice to know that she also regained some of her family. I am glad that they got a happy ending.

Archangel Hearts ends with confirmation that Lijuan has indeed gone to Sleep which opens up a few possibilities. Since an archangel’s Sleep can last for hundreds of years, we might get a new antagonist in the next book. Even if she doesn’t Sleep for too long and is only in Anshara, it’s still unlikely that we’ll see her in book 10. I also have a feeling that book 10 will focus on Illium as the main character while setting up Aodhan to take over in book 11. Phew! this review was longer than I anticipated….

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Bad Blood (The Naturals #4) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes Review

bad-bloodSynopsis:

When Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI’s Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother’s murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far.

As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock.

New victims. New betrayals. New secrets.

When the bodies begin piling up, it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren’t just hunting serial killers. (Via Goodreads)

 

I’ve enjoyed this series from the very beginning and reading Bad Blood was a bit of a bitter-sweet experience. I loved Bad Blood, it was every bit as good as the previous books (perhaps even better) and a worthy book to close the series with. I was sad that this was the last book in the series meaning that once I finished it, it would be like saying goodbye to these amazing characters. The journey was intense and the road to the end was rocky and filled with pain and heartbreak and I could not have hoped for a more fitting end.

Bad Blood, starts like the previous books in the series, with a case of the week but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. This book is dedicated to solving the Master’s mystery and it was a good thing that the narrative wasn’t hampered by another case. Bad Blood also gives the reader a look into Cassie’s past and also sheds some light on Lia’s. In the previous books I was a little put-off by the way everything either seemed to happen to Cassie or be connected with her but then I realised that while there are other secondary characters who share a lot screentime with her, she’s the main character. It is her story and her journey to find out what happened to her mother all those years ago. From that point of view, it makes sense, that this time too, Cassie seemed to be in the middle of everything. Having said that, it’s not as if the other characters fade into the background, far from it. In fact, what I loved about this series was that it was always a joint effort. The others were just as integral to the plot as Cassie.

I expected the pace of the narrative here to be fast and fairly chaotic, and I was so wrong. The pace was actually measured and constant with the intensity rising as the story progressed. One of the best things about The Naturals series was how well-crafted the mystery was. There were so many threads and they were so intricately woven that it was a pleasure to try and piece together what had happened and keep guessing right along-side the characters. The series is so well written that it was easy to completely immerse oneself in the mystery and feel like we were right there with the characters. The level of detail found in these books especially with regard to psychology is truly amazing. That’s part of what makes the series such an interesting read and Bad Blood was no exception.

The series is from Cassie’s point of view with the killer’s perspective thrown in at regular intervals. But with Bad Blood, I found myself wishing that I could read the other characters’ points-of-view. There were times when I would have loved to know what they were thinking. But that’s just me being greedy.

Of course, the other major strength of the series are the characters; I liked each and everyone of them. I liked Cassie and sure she had her Mary Sue moments, but I didn’t think they were a bad thing. Through the course of the series, she has come to see the other Naturals as her family and rely on them to help her. She lets them in, in a way that she hasn’t with her paternal family. I liked that she wasn’t self-obsessed, she didn’t go barging into dangerous situations out of a misguided sense of being heroic. I liked that she was careful (a trait so rare in YA heroines)

Then there’s Dean, the other profiler in the program. I’ve always found Dean to be a little bland, a little too broody but I suppose it makes sense. He was groomed by his father to be a serial killer and it is something that he has to deal with everyday, the fear that maybe one day he’ll snap and turn into a monster like his father. It is his deepest fear. But through the course of the series, we see him beginning to open up to the others. He is like the older brother in the group dynamic and protective of everyone in the program even if he doesn’t always like them (read Michael) He is a steadying presence in the group.

Initially, I wasn’t too thrilled with the Cassie-Dean relationship (I preferred Michael) but I slowly came to like their dynamic. They were good for each other and anchored each other to keep from going too deep into the abyss. I also loved how normal their relationship was. Especially in Bad Blood, their relationship was in the background, and that was a good thing. I loved how supportive they were of each other.

We finally learn more about Lia’s past and while Barnes had already given us hints along the way about what Lia had gone through, it was still shocking to see just how bad things had been for her. Her knack for lying and being able to spot lies was literally what kept her alive. I love Lia and I love that she never lets anyone pity themselves for too long (herself included) She is hard as nails and doesn’t need anyone to ride to her rescue. She too opens up more in Bad Blood and we see a more gentle and caring side of her (but she’s gentle and caring in true Lia style)

Sloane, our very own facts expert. Of the entire group, Sloane is probably the only person who never lies. She is socially awkward and I could not love her more. She is also the most vulnerable member of the group, vulnerable to harsh words that the speaker may not necessarily mean or random comments that most people would not think twice about. But that doesn’t make her liability, she is a formidable hacker and her skills are just as valuable as that of the others. I loved that the others in the group are so protective of her. She too cares for those in the program, reaching out to comfort them when she feels that they might be hurting.

Now onto Michael, the resident emotion-reader. We finally meet his father and even though he didn’t feature too prominently, I still felt like punching him in the face. Michael’s self-destructive streak seems to have mellowed down a bit. He’s starting to realise that The Naturals won’t hurt and abandon him. But seeing where he comes from, it is easy why he’d lash out the way he does.

We also meet Celine Delacroix, a friend of Michael’s and someone from his past, someone who cared about him when no one else did. She’s also a Natural and I liked her. There were also hints that she likes Sloane and I would have loved to see if that led somewhere. We didn’t spend too much time with her but it was clear that she was fiercely independent and had a strong personality. She also didn’t let Lia intimidate her, which was impressive.

Judd and Agent Sterling were present as always although, in Bad Blood we spent more time with Agent Sterling. Agent Briggs was absent for most of the book, appearing mostly through phone-calls and emails. Sterling started as someone who was opposed to The Naturals program but we see her start to rely on this group but always with their safety as her first priority.  Every time she was on the page, I couldn’t help but think of Agent Clarice Starling.

Bad Blood threw up so many red herrings that try as I might I just could not guess the outcome of the book. The end was bittersweet both in the way it ended and that fact that the series had concluded. It is an excellent book and so cleverly written. It was a pleasure to read Bad Blood and I have a feeling that I’ll be revisiting it sooner than usual simply because there were quite a few interruptions while I was reading it and I can’t help but think that I would have enjoyed it a lot more if not for those. I can’t recommend Bad Blood enough, trust me, you won’t regret it.

P.S. – I am going to go off-topic here to talk briefly about the other series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Fixer. Can we please have a third book for The Fixer series, it was left hanging and unresolved and it would be so unfortunate if that is where the series ended. If it was supposed to the end, I wish it had ended differently. It’s an awesome series but feels incomplete.