It’s interesting how so many books now touch on BDSM within a relationship. If done right it can enhance the readers feel of connection and trust between a couple, if done wrong then it can feel awkward and unreal. I’m going to give readers of this review a warning right from the start – this review contains SPOILERS. I normally try to stay away from major spoilers but because of how my opinion of this book changed because of a single scene at the end it hasn’t been possible this time. So read ahead at your peril.
Seeing another side of the archangels world, hot scene in a car, great heroine.
Quote that best sums up the lead (male) character:
“Ever had a woman say no to you, Dmitri?”
“Once.” He turned the corner with a smile that made her want to cup his face, trace those beautiful lips with her own. “I married her.”
I started Archangel’s Blade with an intense feeling of excitement, almost like a kid unwrapping presents on their birthday. I love the world Nalini Singh has created with this series. Even the pretty boys have ruthless edges and there is a different (but believable) take on vampirism. The first three books in the series have focused on Raphael and Ellie, his consort. And if you’re thinking that you can pick up here without reading the first three – don’t. This book makes the assumption that you know how the world operates. Go back and read the first three – they are amazing and will set you up to enjoy this book.
This book is about Honour, a guild hunter who is recovering from being held prisoner by rouge vampires for two months who brutally raped and tortured her, and Raphael’s second in command Dmitri, an ancient vampire with a streak of cruelty running through him. We’ve gotten to know him over the last three books and this book expands on how he has been shaped by events in his past. I absolutely fell in love with Honour. She is brave and tough and so heart-brakingly traumatised from her ordeal. I thought she was the perfect balance to Dmitri’s ruthlessness and the chemistry between them was off the charts. Seeing Dmitri help Honour get justice by those who abused her showed a softer side to the ruthless warrior. However…. WARNING MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
Intwined throughout their story is the story of Dmitri’s wife and children from before he was made into a vampire. Flashing back through the book you get their love story from the beginning to the horrific end including sex scenes. For me this disrupted the growing connection between Dmitri and Honour. Perhaps if I was reading it in paper format the effect wouldn’t have been as pronounced but in audiobook format you couldn’t get away from it and it felt like half the book was devoted to Dmitri and another woman. Dmitri and Honour had amazing chemistry when it was just the two of them with no interference from the past. There’s a scene in Dmitri’s car that is beyond hot. Not so much because of the details given but because of the chemistry between the two. Unfortunately that was then followed closely by a sex scene with Dmitri and his first wife during which I didn’t feel the chemistry (mainly because it felt like he was cheating on Honour). Now keep in mind that I’m reading this through audiobook format so there is two distinctly different voices for the two women. I could have forgiven the time taken except for…. WARNING REALLY MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
There a point in the story where as a reader I HATED Dmitri. The kind of hate where you know that if this was a real life situation and Honour was your friend you know you would be getting her away from this guy fast. He deliberately and physically invokes memories from her capture to make her tell him something. And it breaks her. All the work she had done to come out from the protected environment she had put herself in after the attacks was gone. All the feeling of trust and connection between her and Dmitri – gone and rightly so. Following that scene she forgives him pretty much straight-away because he gets down on his knees. It was the equivalent of a “sorry baby I didn’t mean to hit you but you just made me so mad” scene. It had taken her so much courage to get to the point where she was ready to welcome him to her bed that I just didn’t see how she could forgive him straight away. I felt like there needed to be chapters in the story between them where he works to earn her forgiveness and trust again, chapters where she has to build herself back up after he tore her down.
It was so rushed that it ended up with them together in bed that same night. It’s not just for Honour that I felt the rushed nature of the plot line diminished the emotional story being told, because Dmitri needed time to work through his guilt and come to terms the fact that he would do that to a woman that he had genuine feelings for. During the sex scene that follows, he thinks about the fact that he would show no compassion against those who scarred her yet that same night he was the one who had traumatised her. Sure the abuse is mental instead of physical but it’s still abuse all the same. There are other issues that I have with the scene (like her asking him to kiss her throat so soon after the incident – an action similar to the one that caused her to break down) and most of them come from the story’s pacing. Given that the substance of Honour as a believable character comes from the fact that she is working through these issues the rushed timing doesn’t work. Afterwards Dmitri goes straight back to the cocky-arrogant s.o.b. we all love even thinking about how easily he could destroy their relationship in a way that makes it sound like the other scene hadn’t happened.
When the truth comes to light about why Honour is having flashbacks of Dmitri and his wife it feels like a cop-out. As a reader I was left confused as to who Honour actually was and why she didn’t have the knowledge beforehand. Surely if the premise is that she has been through torture and rape in a past life then her going through it in this life would have triggered flashbacks before she had met Dmitri. Instead she goes from being Honour in one scene and in the next is talking to Dmitri as his wife but referring to herself as a hunter… as I said confusing. I’ve read other books that have used a similar plot device and it has worked but I’m afraid it didn’t work for me in this case. I felt confused and ultimately robbed of the time that Dmitri and Honour could have had in the book because their story alone was worthwhile and full of beautiful possibilities. Oh, and I’m sorry but you are not going to convince me that a woman who has been through what Honour has been through would be comfortable with BDSM games in the bedroom straight away. Not gonna happen.
This is the first time that I have not LOVED a Nalini Singh book, and in all honesty a bad book of hers is still, in my opinion, miles ahead of most other authors. I’m not sure if she was pressured to have a certain number of sex scenes and a BDSM theme to meet the current trends in romance but the story didn’t need it. And in fairness, it might also be a case of the different sense of timing you get from listening to the story in audiobook format as opposed to in written format. But this particular story I had issues with… fortunately I can always go back and do re-reads of her other books until the next one comes out.
I really enjoyed Justine Eyre’s narration of this book. She kept the characters consistent with the same voices from the other three audiobooks so it “reads” really well if you listen to them in sequence. Unfortunately I had to jump through hoops whilst leading a pony wearing a sequinned vest to get my hands on the audiobook. If there’s one thing I would love to see it’s the publishers of audio and e-books sorting out the international publishing restrictions that mean Australians (and other countries I’m sure) aren’t able to easily purchase content that is available on the same site to American readers.