Book Review: Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh

I’ve been slowly making my way through Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series since last year, which is a really interesting paranormal romance series with some fascinating worldbuilding. I picked up book four, Mine to Possess, along with book five at the used bookstore earlier this year. I’ve really been looking forward to getting through more of the series.

Alas, while Mine to Possess had a lot of the good that I’ve come to expect from Singh, I had such a problem with the hero, Clay, that it really dampened my enjoyment of the story.

mine-to-possessClay is a leopard changeling and a sentinel with the DarkRiver pack, a group that controls a large part of the San Francisco area. He wasn’t raised with the pack, though; he was raised in the city with his human mother, and was forced to keep his leopard half subdued for most of his childhood.

Talin, the heroine (and the first human main character to show up in the books so far), is a friend of Clay’s from childhood. She’s stayed away from him for the better part of twenty years for a number of reasons, and now she works for a group called the Shine Foundation, helping troubled kids get their lives back on track.

However, someone is kidnapping and killing Talin’s kids, and she goes looking for Clay to help her find out who’s responsible and stop them before they can kill again.

Now, the actual story of this book? Absolutely fantastic. Singh does a great job with the suspense and the mystery and balancing that with the romance. Plus, I love the futuristic world she’s built up here, which we’re introduced to in the first book, Slave to Sensation, and learn more about with each subsequent novel.

We have three major races: the Psy, who have a number of diverse psychic abilities, the Changelings, who are shifters, and regular old humans. The Psy have instituted a policy called Silence, which teaches young Psy not to feel any emotion, in an effort to curb the number of Psy who were going insane. It’s worked for about a hundred years, but things are starting to crack, and it’s at the beginning of this period of change that the books actually start.

I love this world, and I love what she’s done to build up the differences between the three major races while still creating romances that bridge those gaps. I love that she makes an effort not to cast all Psy as villains or all Changelings as perfect, but points out that there is good and evil on each side. (In some books, this is handled better than others.)

And for most of the book, I loved Talin as a heroine. She had a horrific childhood, was abused by her adoptive father. She got out of that situation, but throughout her teens and early adulthood, she didn’t make a lot of good decisions and has had a lot of trouble letting people in. Since then, she’s gotten better and is now trying to help kids who were in the same position she was. She’s fiercely dedicated and cares deeply about these children who have nowhere else to turn, and I really admired that.

And Clay himself was not bad as a hero. He’s clearly devoted to Talin, determined to protect her and equally determined to help her. The changelings in this world are generally very protective and possessive, which overall seems to work.

However. (WARNING: RANT INCOMING.)

One of the things Talin did, in her era of bad decision-making, was sleep around. She explains why, and while I don’t necessarily condone what she did, I get it. Besides, she was a consenting participant in all of it. She regrets it, but she doesn’t shame herself for those decisions, if that makes sense.

When Clay finds out she’s slept with other men? He flips OUT. He just cannot fathom why she would sully herself like that. (And yes, that is the DEFINITE impression I get from his thoughts: that sleeping with a lot of men has sullied her.)

And every time I saw that thought in his head, it took everything in me not to strangle him.

What fucking right does he have to get all judgmental about this? It all happened in the past, after they’d been separated and WELL before they get together again during the course of the story. It’s not like she was cheating on him. And it’s not even her reasoning behind it that seems to drive him crazy (although that is part of it); it’s the fact that she allowed any other men to touch her at all.

And I’m just like…dude. She was supposed to psychically know at age EIGHT that you two were going to be bonded, and thus to keep herself pure and virginal until you were both old enough to consummate the relationship? What the everloving HELL?

It just infuriated me to read. Because it was almost like if she’d been having sex because she genuinely enjoyed it, he’d still be pissed that she let other men touch her.

If Talin had, at some point, called him out on being a judgmental ass about it, I probably wouldn’t have had nearly the problem I did with it. Or if Clay had done more groveling than just a very, very little bit at the end. But that didn’t happen. In fact, at one point, Talin actually excuses his behavior because he is a changeling, and mentions that she would have put up more of a fuss about his attitude if he had been human.

And that just drove me absolutely nuts to read.

I don’t mind dominant heroes. I don’t even mind possessive heroes. But that has to be tempered with a heroine who can call them out on their bullshit, who’s strong enough internally to stand up to them. And that just didn’t come across to me.

That, combined with the overall feeling that this book was kind of a bridge book, setting up the next major conflict between the Psy and the DarkRiver pack, left me feeling kind of unfulfilled by the end of it.

A to Z Challenge – Q is for Queen of Shadows

queen-of-shadowsTrigger warning: Rape as a plot point.

It’s difficult for me to talk about how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed the hell out of the worldbuilding and the plot itself, the setting, all of that. On the other hand, the romance aspect left something to be desired.

Miranda Grey is a musician who’s been making a name for herself in the Austin music scene because of her ability to manipulate the emotions of her audience. However, her power is a two-way street: by looking in people’s eyes, she learns their secrets and feels their emotions. It’s slowly driven her away from human contact, and it’s just as inexorably driving her insane.

Miranda’s in a bad place when we meet her. She’s become adept at not looking at people, at making herself invisible on the city streets. She uses alcohol to dull her senses and abilities so she can rest.

It’s by sheer chance she meets David in the line at the grocery store. He’s the first person in a long time to notice her, which is unsettling, to say the least.

What she doesn’t know is that David is a vampire, and not just any vampire, but the Prime of the Southern United States. And unbeknownst to her, she’s about to fall headfirst into his world and all its darkness and dangers.

Easily, the best thing about this book is the world that Sylvan’s created. I like the society of the vampires, how ancient it is, how their leaders have been chosen in much the same way for thousands of years. The concept of the Primes, Queens, and Signets was really cool, and the parts where we learned more about vampire lore were some of my favorite in the book.

It was neat to read about an ancient culture that holds to its past while still trying (well, OCCASIONALLY trying) to move into the modern day. However, like David says several times, vampires tend to be slow about it.

I also really liked Deven, the Prime for the Western U.S. and David’s best friend. Because this is what he says when we first meet him:

“I have two lectures prepared for you, one on the perils of ignoring your destiny and the other on gluttony, specifically related to drinking your weight in Jim Beam every night.”

“I’m not drinking.”

He could practically hear Deven roll his eyes. “I’m intimately acquainted with your vices, David.”

“It’s Jack, not Jim.”

David leaned his head in his free hand. “How about the second lecture?”

He could hear Deven rolling his eyes over the phone. “If you’re going to become a drunk, at least spring for the good whiskey. Jack Daniels? Honestly. Have I taught you nothing?”

(Other things you apparently notice when you’re typing up an excerpt for a review? An author using identical dialogue tags on the same page. Yeesh. Ignore those. The dialogue is the good part.)

Really, Deven and his Consort, Jonathan, were two of my favorite characters in the story. I wished we’d gotten to see more from them.

And overall, the mystery aspect of the plot worked well, the search to uncover just who is responsible for the attacks on humans and why. Those were the most tense and interesting parts of the book for me.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just straight urban fantasy; it’s urban fantasy/paranormal romance, which means we have a romantic subplot to contend with. And that, sadly, is where the book falls flat.

When David is being Prime vampire, he’s awesome. Scary, badass, generally excellent. When he is being David the love interest, he is…less so. I have absolutely no idea how you manage to make a romance with an otherwise cool character bland, but it manages to happen. Every time he got to thinking about Miranda he went from cool to mopey, and at one point, I lost just about any interest I had in him as a character because of it.

(Highlight for spoilers, because this happens near the end of the novel and I damn near threw the book down when it did.)

About 3/4 of the way through the novel when Miranda is presumed dead, David shuts himself in his room, curls up in his bed, and doesn’t come out for THREE. DAYS.

I will buy that reaction from a teenage girl. I will not for one SECOND buy it from a centuries-old vampire who is responsible for the entire southern United States, and particularly not when he’s in the middle of a freaking CIVIL WAR.

Fight your battles, handle your responsibilities, and then you can break down as much as you want. I lost so much respect for him there, not because he went comatose, but because of when he did it.

No matter how many times the novel tells me David and Miranda are meant to be, I just didn’t see it. Every time they’re together at the beginning, she is (rather understandably) freaked out. And even though David often thought about the reasons he found her attractive, we weren’t shown them. All I saw was Miranda being a tiny, fearful child who wanted to die.

While I get what Sylvan was trying to do with Miranda’s character arc, it just didn’t work for me. It was so…jarring. She intrigued me at the beginning and I liked her after she started growing into a stronger character, but the transition between the two just wasn’t realized well.

And the tropes. My God, the tropes. Soul mates? Check. A psychic/telepathic bond that allows David to tell where she is and answer questions she doesn’t ask? Check. A teacher/student relationship as he trains her in her powers? Check. “Good” vampires who don’t kill humans vs. “bad” vampires who see them as cattle? Checkity check check.

Alone, any one of these tropes would probably be fine, but man, throwing them all into the mix like this just had me sitting around waiting for the sex pollen to show up.

And then there’s an element to Miranda’s story (and actually Faith’s background as well) that made me go “Really? Did you have to do it this way?” It’s not really a spoiler (since it happens within the first few chapters), but it is potentially triggering, hence the warning at the top of this post.

I really, really was not a fan of the rape. It was handled well—at least, as well as it can be handled and MUCH more believably than the rape in Impossible. But it bothered me that it had to be a part of her story—and not just hers, but also Faith’s, which puts us 2/3 for named badass women in this book. And at least one minor female character was nearly raped as well.

I know this is a dark story and therefore dark things will happen, but it felt like it was used as a crutch here. Oh, I need to traumatize someone? Let’s go with rape! Need to show that a guy is a douchebag? Let’s have him try to rape someone!

Overall, the book just wasn’t my thing. The parts I liked weren’t enough to overcome the parts I didn’t, and from everything I’ve read, the series goes downhill after this one. It’s a good idea, just not executed well enough to merit much more than checking it out of the library.