It may sound strange but I’m always wary when I pick up a new series written by an author who has written a series I love. Will I enjoy this series as much? What if the writer was a one-trick pony and isn’t able to transfer their skills to another series? Or worse – what if this series is a poor copy of the other series I love so much? Fortunately my fears were totally ungrounded when it came to starting Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series. I wrote this review ages ago and forgot that I had saved it before I published my review of Archangel’s Blade. Hopefully this review will let you see why it’s worth giving this series a chance.
Different take on vampires, emotion vs power themes, hot angels, great world-building.
Quote that best sums up the lead (male) character:
He leaned a fraction closer. “My lovers have always been warrior women. Strength intrigues me.”
She refused to let him play with her like this, even if her body disagreed. Vehemently. “Do knives intrigue you, too? Because touch me and I will cut you up. I don’t care if you throw me off the nearest balcony.
Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series creates a world where vampires aren’t necessarily the biggest bad-asses on the block. Angels, with their beautiful wings and immortal lives control the world including the vampires they make in return for the vampires servitude. It’s when a vampire decides that he or she doesn’t have to fulfill the contract they signed that the angel hires a guild hunter to bring them back. And that’s where our heroine steps in. Elena is hunter-born. One of the rare people born with the ability to scent and track vampires. And she’s just been hired by the biggest bad-ass of them all – Raphel, the archangel of New York.
As usual Nalini Singh’s world building is brilliantly done. There’s almost a gritty realism to the world which helped counteract the fact that both angels and vampires are beautiful beyond compare. You are given most of the basic world building information in the first chapter which leaves it feeling a bit like an information dump as you follow Elena on a vampire hunt, however that does leave you free for the rest of the book to concentrate on how the plot is developing and infilling the world building with detail and texture. One of the things I enjoy most about Ms Singh’s writing is that you rarely feel like you are just being given information to make the story make sense, instead she intertwines the information you need to know into plot or character development sequences. She also isn’t afraid to have characters go to uncomfortable places in their emotions if that is what existing in this world would actually cause a person to be/feel.
You know the type of hero that is cold and taunting but you know that that is just really a mask that he shows the world? Well, that is NOT Raphel. Make no mistakes, Raphel is cold and calculating to his very core. He’s lived for a long time and exists in a world where weakness is used against you instantly. In the “quiet”, a time when an archangel has expelled a great deal of power, he is brutal. It’s not covered up or excused – he is brutal and without mercy and any sane woman would run far far away no matter how pretty he is. That’s not to say he is without emotion or doesn’t care. He’s surrounded by such loyalty in his seven most trusted advisors and those relationships have lasted too a long period of time for him to simply be the cold hearted creature that you first meet. However in meeting Elena he is at first intrigued by not only her but by his response to her. He considers her a diversion, a toy. As their relationship develops you can almost feel him weighing the possibilities and the consequences of becoming involved.
First impressions of Elena are refreshingly normal. She in her late twenties, works hard at her job, has created a sanctuary in her home that she treasures and is quietly worried about the fact that all of her friends are moving forward in their lives whilst she’s still in the same space. However she’s not normal at all. Being hunter-born she’s stronger than normal humans and can scent and trace vampires. Events in her past have given her a mindset about vampires that is gradually changed through her interactions within the story, an amazing feat considering that she was experienced horrific events as a child. Refusing to be anyones victim she has become a strong, emotionally generous woman who is also deeply vulnerable, with quite a few insecurities and abandonment issues. Unlike Raphel she doesn’t weigh up anything, instead it’s like she allows fate to deal her what it wants and then she just tries to make the best of things.
From before they even meet Raphel and Elena’s relationship is set firmly in Elena’s feelings of fear and insecurity. These are not two people who are equal in status, nor are they even contemporaries really. They live firmly planted in their own worlds and it is only because Raphel needs Elena’s hunter abilities that they even meet. Elena’s fear of Raphel is tempered with her need not to give in to a stronger person’s will, a lesson learnt early through her fathers complete rejection of her hunter abilities and, subsequently, her. It is this determination to stand toe to toe with a being of such immense power that makes this relationship so interesting. The heat and connection is there from the start, and their chemistry when they finally make it to bed is off the charts. However it is Raphel’s actions in the later part of the book, particularly given his nature, that make this relationship so remarkable. If the price of love is the possibility of having to give up the very essessence of who you are, then the the decision to pursue that love, to not distance yourself from that person, is so much greater that that of someone who can love but remain in their comfort zone.
The world created in Angels’ Blood offers a rich array of secondary characters, although I can’t say that I found any of them compelling enough to want their stories told (yet). In part this is because Raphel and Elena are such big characters and their story is so obviously only at a midway point that they don’t really leave room for wanting to hear other stories. But the other reason is that Nalini Singh has used beautiful restraint in the introduction and use of prominent secondary characters. Those that were introduced had solid reasons for being there and, as a result, enhanced the texture of the story. Aside from the wealth of characters in the Guild Hunters, Raphel’s “Seven” offer the possibility of seven characters with back stories and futures that could be told but we really only meet four in this book. As short a glimpse as we are given it is clear they are rich, obviously well developed characters that revealed just enough about themselves to intrigue. I also enjoyed what appeared to be a light hearted nod to J.D. Robb in the creation of Raphel’s butler (okay I might be reaching for straws there but I enjoyed it all the same).
All in all I’d say that my experience with the Guild Hunter series is off to a promising start. I certainly finished the book wanting to know more about Elena and Raphel’s story and the world they live in. By exploring what happens to a person’s emotions when you live for such a long time and how that relates directly to power, Nalini Singh has taken this series away from “girl falls in love with a handsome angel” territory into something thought provoking and, at times ghastly. I’ll certainly be reading the next in the series as soon as I can get my hands on it.
I read Angel’s Blood in both paper and audio format. I enjoyed both but in all honesty, felt that the interwoven storyline about Elena’s past reads a lot creapier in audio than in paper format. The narrator did an excellent job of portraying both Elena and Raphel’s emotions which were so intrigal to the plot, and the story had a flow to it that suited being told as an audiobook.
At the time of writing this, Angel’s Blood is easily available in Australia. I read the paper copy via my local library and was able to get the audiobook through an Audible download. I’m slowly going paper free on my fiction books, so no doubt I’ll be giving in to the need to own a copy of the written text and will be buying an ebook copy soon.