Tuesday 29 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 98: "Archangel's Enigma" by Nalini Singh

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is book 8 in a series, not the place to start. There is far too much stuff in this book furthering the ongoing story arc for this to be an especially satisfying book to start the series with. Start at the beginning with Angels' Blood.

There are dark rumours that Lijuan, the Archangel of Death, is about to murder one of the sleeping Ancients (powerful archangels who have gone to ground to sleep for millennia so as to stave off insanity). As this goes against everything angelkind considers holy, Raphael sends one of his trusted Seven, the mysterious Naasir, his most skilled tracker, to find the sleeping place of Alexander. Naasir has decided that so many others in his family have found happiness with their mates, he too wants one. He's been searching for seven months, with no luck, but will postpone his quest for his mate to aid his archangel.

Andromeda is a young angelic scholar, fifteen days away from coming of age (when she turns 400). The granddaughter of the archangel Charismemnon, dealer of poisons, disease, pain and debauchery, Andromeda fled his court and has been working to prove herself at the Refuge, devoted to learning, record keeping and all manner of other scholarly arts so despised by the kin at her grandfather's court. She knows that on her birthday, she has to return, bound to serve there for five hundred years, a service she dreads with every fibre of her being. Because her specialised field of study is the burial places of the Ancients, Andromeda is asked to help Naasir locate Alexander. At first she is startled by his strange manner and mysterious origins, but it doesn't take long before they form a bond - making the thought of five hundred years away from him seem even more unbearable to Andromeda.

 It's clear that while working on furthering the plot of the ongoing arc of these books, the building war between Raphael and Lijuan, the dangers of the ongoing Cascade, the changes and threats to angel-, vampire- and humankind, Nalini Singh is also determined to have fun, playing around with different sub-genres. Archangel's Shadows was mostly a police procedural, this is an adventure novel, with a quest and a chase against time at its centre. Andromeda and Naasir are the unlikely pair who have to join forces, solve the puzzles and finish the quest before their rivals catch up to them. Yet there is also the complication of Andromeda's family obligations and the service she's expected to offer at her grandfather's court. The book doesn't end when the quest is complete, there is more to solve before the two lovers can have their HEA.

Naasir's origins have always been a mystery. He is clearly unique, in that he appears to be both a vampire, yet not. He has silver eyes and hair and an unparallelled ability to track. He can sprout claws, seems to occasionally purr and in previous books, there have been hints that he may sport stripes in the right light. He is both a ferociously efficient hunter and almost childlike in his manner. His found family means everything to him, and those close to him hold him in great affection. In this book, his brutal and heart-breaking origins are revealed, and it's clear why there is only one of him. I have always liked Naasir as a supporting character in the previous books, and he was a wonderful hero in this.

Born into the court of the Archangel of plague and pestilence, with parents who went out of their way to break any sexual, physical or moral taboo, Andromeda had enough and fled while she was still considered too young to take care of herself. Lying about her obligations to her family, she found a new home in the archives of the Refuge, immersing herself in ancient texts and languages, doing her very best to forget the day when she has to return. Yet knowing she can't be weak, she's been training herself in martial arts and swordplay, so she can defend herself when she finally has to return. Because of the debauched surroundings she grew up in, Andromeda has sworn a vow of celibacy, only to be broken if she is presented with an ancient Grimoire, believed to have been lost forever. Before she meets Naasir, Andromeda never had cause to regret her vow for a second.

Naasir initially doubts that Andi, as he calls her, can be his mate. She appears soft and bookish and no mate of his would swear a vow of celibacy. He quickly discovers that the angel has secrets, however, and that there is much more to her than he first expected. As the two grow closer, and their attraction to each other increases, Andromeda declares herself willing to break her vow for Naasir. He refuses to let her, because he's learned that it is imperative to keep one's promises, especially to oneself and swears he will track down her stupid Grimoire, and afterwards, she will let him do whatever he pleases. She willingly agrees, hoping that he can fulfil his promise before she has to start her forced servitude in her grandfather's court and give him up for centuries.

For all the darkness that is spreading in the the universe of these books, and for all the pain in both Naasir and Andromeda's past, their courtship is a playful one and this book was so much fun. It's by far my favourite of the Guild Hunter books since probably the second book in the series. I hope that some of the lightness can continue in future books, even as the overall story takes a more serious turn.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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