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Book Review: Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh

Title: Hostage to Pleasure

Author: Nalini Singh

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Stand Alone/ Series: Book 5 of Psy-Changeling series.

Summary: Separated from her son and forced to create a neural implant that will mean the effective enslavement of her psychically gifted race, Ashaya Aleine is the perfect Psy--cool, calm, emotionless...at least on the surface. Inside, she's fighting a desperate battle to save her son and escape the vicious cold of the PsyNet. Yet when escape comes, it leads not to safety, but to the lethal danger of a sniper's embrace.
DarkRiver sniper Dorian Christensen lost his sister to a Psy killer. Though he lacks the changeling ability to shift into animal form, his leopard lives within. And that leopard's rage at the brutal loss is a clawing darkness that hungers for vengeance. Falling for a Psy has never been on Dorian's agenda. But charged with protecting Ashaya and her son, he discovers that passion has a way of changing the rules...

Why did I read this Book: Hello, my name is Ana and I am a nalinisinghholic.

Review:

To be Psy is to be perfect – after all only an emotional being can be flawed. The greatest flaw of all is Love – an emotion that is lost to all Psy that chose to accept Silence when it was first implemented. The ones that made a different choice – to break away - could only but to hurt upon realising that their loved ones chose sanity over love – not an easy decision. Years later, that choice is no longer in question for any Psy. Or is it?
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Hostage to Pleasure continues a story arc that began back in Caressed by Ice when we were first introduced to Ashaya Aleine, the M-Psy (M is for Medical, her Psy denomination) who was working for the Psy Council on the Protocol 1 project. In Mine to Possess we learn that Ashaya is working under duress – she is against the Protocol but the Council is holding her child hostage, which is the catalyst for her to put a plan in motion. It starts with her helping the leopard pack in rescuing Jonquil in the end of Mine to Possess, a help that comes with a price – she is to call to ask their help when her own child, Keenan, needs rescuing. That was the first time Dorian and Ashaya set eyes on each other, from afar – but still enough to get Dorian’s cat aroused and curious.

This fifth instalment in the Psy - Changeling series opens with Dorian, Clay and Judd responding to her IOU call and coordinating a rescue operation (Note: coolest team ever) They get Keenan, and the plan was to cut him from the PsyNet and connect him with the LaurenNet via Judd but there is an immediate link between Keenan and Dorian, and his mind is thereby connected with the DarkRiver’s Web of Stars instead, via Dorian. Dorian is more than ok with that since his major weakness is to protect the vulnerable and he develops a soft stop for the kid almost immediately.

With her child safe, part 2 of Ashaya’s plan starts. With some inside help from the rebellious forces she manages to fake her own death just for the right amount of time for her to be able to defect. She then join forces with the DarkRiver pack to bring Protocol 1 down but not before some significant clashes of force with Dorian.

Places to go, people to kill.

Long standing readers of the series have been waiting for Dorian’s story since book 1. Described as having the looks of a poster boy for a surf board advert, he is quite possibly the most lethal of the Sentinels of the leopard pack which says a lot about his personality because Dorian is a latent leopard. He was never able to shift, to become the very thing that he is and in order to overcome this “flaw” he fought to become the best at everything he did – he is the Pretty Boy, but also the Boy Genius and the most kick-ass sniper of the lot. Everything about him is cat expect the cat itself. The beast clawing from the inside trying to get out hurts, physically and emotionally but he has done the best he could.

Dorian is also a man consumed with rage, with hate against the Psy ever since his sister was butchered by the Psy serial killer Santano Enrique (Slave to Sensation) .His inability to shift did not keep him from tearing the man apart with his bare hands, and from that hatred comes the main source of conflict between Dorian and Ashaya, as his attraction to her is mingled with a sense of guilt for falling for one of the race that killed his beloved sister.

Especially because at first, everything pointed that she was just another perfectly cold Psy. The accepted view amongst that race is that each mind is an independent mind, an autonomous unit. Only Ashaya had always known different because there an unmistakable bond between her and her son and once he is cut out of the Pysnet and entered the Wed of Stars – she feels the impossible, she feels the bond that was not supposed to be there. A bond she also shares with her sister, Amara. As a Psy, she is not supposed to care for Keenan. She is not supposed to care for her sister. She is not supposed to be anything that she is.

Silence has been broken inside Ashaya a long time ago, which helps Dorian accepting her more easily. But she had to keep it not for her sake but for someone else’s. Not spoiling whom she is protecting but her choice means she has been protecting a sociopath just like Enrique for her entire life – and that drives Dorian insane backtracking his acceptance of her until he figures out why she is doing what she is doing and which speaks to the very core of him.

I wondered who his heroine could be – Dorian is one of those larger than life characters whose mere presence in the other books begged for the centre stage. When he finally got his book, it was everything I could hope for and Ashaya was just the perfect match for him. She is one of the smartest and strongest female characters in the whole series, one that can absolutely hold her ground against one of the most dominant of the males.

This book is all about choices: Ashaya for example, can break silence, her denomination is not one of those that need Silence to be kept in check. But she chooses not to until she has to make another choice in a moment of despair. In one very interesting conversation, she tries to convey to Dorian that Silence is not all evil and that some of her race do need it in order to be fully functional.

Both Dorian and Ashaya were surrounded in terrible circumstance that could have disabled them - his latency, her bond with a twin sister - but both got what life gave them and spat on its face. I loved that Ashaya made her choice on how to deal with her sister very early in life and how she stood by it to very end. It would have been easy to just relinquish her link with Amara and just let it go, to quit her sister but she didn’t - and the fact that now she has the whole support of Web of Stars is only a great gift life has bestowed her. Similarly, Dorian is a self made man, not accepting his fate and choosing to become much more than any one could ever hope. He hurts inside SO VERY MUCH for not being able to shift with his cat wanting, struggling, fighting to get out of his skin but never being able to. He has a lot of choices to make in this book and sometimes it’s painful to watch. But oh, so very rewarding.

Meanwhile at the Psy’s den of iniquity we see that Protocol 1 is to make the Psy minds into one huge hive mind with no room for renegades or dissention but since Ashaya, before defecting, was given the task to devise different types of implants –in different grades, we learn that the Council has plans to control the entire race. This seems to be a desperate attempt to control things because at this point it is more and more apparent that more Psy are breaking conditioning, becoming flawed, needing rehabilitation. And in that wave, of course there is a new movement of Psy on the move: The Pure Psy.

In the midst of the Psy - changeling war (any doubt that this is what happening here?) the humans are coming into the game as well, trying to show to the Psy they are not as powerless as they think. Whatever could come from it, it remains to be seen. Always and forever expanding her world, Nalini Singh is. And let’s not forget the power play amongst the councillors, Henry and his wife Shoshanna, Anthony Kyriakus and his connections with the rebellion and of course, Kaleb Krychek, whoever, whatever he is.
And, in this book we meet another member of the rebellious forces: a powerful Traveler Psy (another cool denomination, hooray) named Vasic and I can hear his siren call for his own book.

Having said that, something happened to me whilst reading this book and I am starting to pity the Psy, a race whose very own traits turn against them, making them afraid of themselves. The council may be evil (or are they – all of them?) but the majority of the Psy are just people who are afraid of what they can do. Turning themselves against the very own qualities that make them Psy. It is a tragedy, really.

Anyways, I loved this book. Caressed by Ice remains my favorite but Hostage to Pleasure comes in a close second and if Judd is my favorite hero, Dorian is my favorite changeling.

And the epilogue? A present from Nalini Singh to her long standing readers and ultimately a gift that only a writer that truly loves her characters could ever think of granting to a most beloved hero. It made me cry. I have said before that the world building and the Psy race make this series unique. But the changelings are the series’ heart and soul.

I am so emotionally committed to these characters, I feel like I am pack. So, don’t mind me. I will just be sitting here growling and waiting for the next one. (If only I could have skin privileges too…..)

Notable quote/ parts: There is an amazing conversation between Dorian and Ashaya. Dorian knows she is his mate, and whilst the leopard relishes the thought, the man is torn with guilt, because he knows that he wouldn’t trade her for anything , not even for his sister’s life. That is a very powerful feeling. That moment is when Ashaya makes her decision to give in and embrace Dorian and she goes to him and she is crying and he says “don’t cry” and she days “then don’t hurt” and then he talks about his love for his sister and it’s so sweet and it’s so tender and then, and then Dorian breaks down and CRY. I can not bear to see a man cry, people. I just can’t.

Additional Thoughts: I got an ARC and it came with an excerpt for Branded by Fire, next book in the series to be released next year. This is Mercy’s book and her hero is……Riley! Yes, you heard me right, Nalini Singh is pairing a cat and a wolf. The thought alone of the amount of teasing these two will probably endure by their fellow pack mates would be enough to make me want to read it ASAP. Couple that with the fact that they are both soldiers, both very dominant .....and by reading the excerpt which has a very heated sex scene and I am all…. Mama Mia! I think Nailini Singh should consider asking her publisher to put a warning on the cover: “Beware, danger of spontaneous combustion.”

The excerpt will be available on Nalini Singh’s website from early September so be sure to check it out!

Verdict: Nalini Singh takes her story a step further by adding new characters, new Psy denominations with a sense that everything has a purpose and a goal in mind. Above all, this book has a heart and it’s called Dorian.

Rating: 9 damn near perfection

Tomorrow: Nalini Singh Extravaganza Day 4 - an Exclusive interview with Nalini Singh and a chance to win a copy of Hostage to Pleasure!