It’s so easy to get bogged down in detail in the first book of a series. Particularly when you are trying to put across concepts such as a psychic race or the presence of a hive mind. If the author doesn’t put the time and effort into their world building so that it is seamlessly integrated into the story then the existence of such concepts can be alienating to the reader. It takes real skill as an author to make such things acceptable and at that Nalini Singh has excelled.
Shifter vs Psychics, net mind concept, solid world building, contrasts (cold vs feeling, tech vs nature, control vs elemental), new cover!
Quote that best sums up the lead (male) character:
“Driven by his instinctive need to keep his people safe from harm, he pushed past the enticing voice of decades-old despair and gave his body the command to change.
Ecstasy and agony.”
Slave to Sensation introduces us to a futuristic earth where three distinct species exist together. Shifters are elemental, valuing nature, the warmth of touch and the concept of pack. Psy are emotionless, cold and oriented towards business. Psychic, they exist within a net of psychic links that join their race together. They undergo a conditioning treatment when they are young, removing all emotion leaving them cold and logical. (Humans are around but aren’t really discussed.) When a psy serial killer that hunts shifter women is discovered by the local shifter pack, the alpha implements a plan to get close to a psy in order to hut the killer.
The world building in Slave to Sensation treaded the fine lines between imagination, detail and relate-ability with balance and ease. Technology or concepts were described in terms that allowed the reader to grasp the concepts easily. By the simple means of describing the net mind as similar to the human internet and not giving too much detail as to the technology used I found myself automatically believing that such things were possible in the world created. Most importantly I didn’t have to spend time on pondering the technology within the story and instead could concentrate on the characters that existed in the world. And boy, do the characters shine. Not only did the main leads have emotional depth and backstory but the secondary characters promise a range of personalities for future books.
The female lead is Sascha Duncan who comes from a powerful Psy family. And yet she has grown up knowing that she is different. Despite undergoing conditioning Sascha feels emotion. And that for a Psy is a dangerous situation to be in. I was worried when I began to read the story that I wouldn’t like Sascha. I rarely like characters who are immersed in the fact that they are different to everyone else. But I was pleasantly surprised. Sascha is strong, gritty and when she finds out what is going on, determined to make a difference before her shields fall and her differences are discovered. The scene where she tries chocolate for the first time gives the readers a glimpse as to how much she has had to contain herself and the masks she has to keep in place.
Sascha took a careful bite. Sensation flooded her. It was all she could do to stop herself from crying out. No wonder the church had once termed chocolate an enticement of the devil. Pacing herself, when she wanted to gulp it down and snatch the whole plate for herself, she finished it off. “It has an unusual taste.”
Lucas is an alpha shifter. And oh, boy is he an alpha. I loved Ms Singh’s take on the shifter species. She addresses an issue that I’ve had with most shifter stories – the expectation that alphas and soldiers fight till they’re old enough to lose. This well thought out pack structure means that alpha’s and soldiers don’t fight into their old age, instead moving into roles as advisors and elders allowing the pack to retain their knowledge and wisdom and allowing younger members to gain experience as Sentinels. There’s also a slight difference in the way the animal part of the shifters personality is portrayed. Unlike other shifter stories where the shifters are the animal, a shifter in this world has an animal inside him. Not quite fully integrated and not quite separate. Through Lucas’s eyes you get a feel for not only what Lucas the man is feeling but also what his panther is feeling as well. Lucas is an extremely tactile being, needing to touch constantly which makes a contrast from Sascha, who as a Psy rarely touches at all.
And that’s the brilliance of Slave to Sensation. This book is almost a study in contrasts. The relationship between the two leads was allowed time to develop partially through the use of psychic dream sequences to push the heat level up a notch in their own minds but not within their day to day dealings with each other. By doing so Lucas and Sascha were given breathing space for their relationship to grow and to explore the contrasts that existed between not only their worlds but between their own personalities. Both have had traumatic childhoods. Lucas due to events that occurred at the death of his parents and Sascha by having to supress who she was from a very young at for fear of being forced into rehabilitation. The pairing of these two wounded souls made for a great story that considering the depth of emotional dispair at times, felt surprisingly angst free. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.