Heart Of Obsidian by Nalini Singh
Two Psy, each damaged in different ways. Ill-fated lovers. An emotionally repressed virgin hero who moves the earth for his true love. And all the feels. The feels! This one is definitely a keeper.
Before we start, let’s get this out of the way: I’m not going to tell you explicitly who the Ghost is in this review, but it might be guessable. Also, we don’t have a spoiler filter in the comments, so if you haven’t read the book, I’d suggest avoiding the comments until you do.
If there’s any criticism I could level at the last few Psy-Changeling books, it would be that the romances tended to be overshadowed by the worldbuilding. It’s clear that New Zealand author* Nalini Singh has been building up to some big revelations, and many of them culminate in Heart Of Obsidian.
* In true Aussie fashion, I propose claiming her for our own. It’s a long-standing tradition. We have precendents—the pavlova, Phar Lap, Keith Urban. And now Nalini Singh. Let’s start the rumour today and make it happen.
Kaleb Krychek has always been billed as the ruthless Councillor who has had no compunction in assassinating those who stand in his way, but as the series progressed it’s clear that he has his own agenda, which might not align with my first impression of him. (Jane at Dear Author posted this awesome cheat sheet on what we know of Kaleb up to Kiss of Snow.) After seven years, two week and two days, Kaleb has finally found the woman he has been searching for.
Except she’s not quite right. Sahara Kyriakus, Faith Nightstar’s long-lost cousin, has been imprisoned and tortured in an attempt to unlock a secret in her mind that could be used as a very powerful weapon. When she was captured, Sahara triggered protective mechanisms in her mind to prevent her from accessing her memories—whenever she attempts to do so, her mind rearranges itself into a labyrinth.
Kaleb and Sahara are a perfect pairing—emotionally, psychically and physically. Kaleb’s extraordinary telekinetic abilities, and the skills he developed as a serial killer’s protege, enable him to protect Sahara as she attempts to heal. Her mind is unprotected, and Kaleb constructs an obsidian shield around it to segregate herself from the NetMind, where she would instantly be vulnerable. Sahara’s vulnerability forces Kaleb to temper his responses, and it’s gorgeous to watch Kaleb navigate emotion and Silence as he tries not to inflict any more damage on Sahara. His methods of helping her are not always predictable, and this provides a lot of delicious tension and, let’s be honest, masterful alpha male behaviour of the best kind.
At the heart of Kaleb’s conflict is an incident in his past that he believes to be unforgivable. As soon as Sahara regains this memory, he believes that his greatest betrayal will be brought to light—and despite a promise he makes to set her free once her mind is strong enough to protect itself, he knows he isn’t willing to give her up, even if she asks it of him.
While this is happening—all within Kaleb’s highly secure and deeply secluded estate—Pure Psy’s activities are escalating. Singh does well to keep Kaleb’s agenda unclear for as long as possible, but given that he’s the hero of this book, it’s difficult to fall for some of the misdirection. (Good try, though. :D) If that’s not enough for our dashing super hero, he’s on the hunt for Sahara’s captors—he might be a noble romantic hero, but he’s not above seeking vengeance for the wrongs done to Sahara.
The external plot has never been the strongest aspect of the Psy-Changeling books for me, but it’s difficult to fault the way in which Singh has pulled the threads from previous books together to weave a nuanced backstory for Kaleb, Silence and the NetMind. Everything comes back to seeds sown all the way from Slave To Sensation, and it’s a fabulous reward for faithful readers of the series. It’s amazing, then, that I believe you can pick this book up and enjoy it out of series order. But I don’t recommend you do that, because this book is, I think, the climax of the series. The ending changes everything we know about the world that Singh has built.
I was also concerned that Singh might be a little heavy-handed—given the Big Things that happen in this book—either with the plot or the romance. It’s rare to get to book 12 of a series—particularly in romance—and still feel like you’re reading something fresh and, I guess, carefully crafted. Singh does not do her fans a disservice here. The pacing, the tension, and the transitions between the romance, the internal conflicts and the external plot are seamless and make for a fabulous page-turner.
As for the Ghost, the revelation is deliciously low-key. I love that Singh stretches the moment out—she’s so cruel that way—and when it happens, it’s just so normal: ‘Of course it’s me.’ This made me chuckle. And the wonderful thing is that Singh even finds a way to make the moment significant not only to the series plot but to the romance.
Any niggles I have about the worldbuilding are minor compared to the enjoyment I derived from the story. It bothers me that the Silence described in Heart Of Obsidian is so far removed from the Silence we were introduced to in the first book—where it was such a Big Deal not to break conditioning—but I’m willing to concede that this is something Singh has been working up to. It’s not a complete surprise, and I’d be lying if I said that two Psy experimenting with touch and physicality didn’t thrill me to bits. I know many readers loved Judd’s romance, but he left me cold, and I wondered if any Psy hero would ever work for me. The answer is yes, it really can.
Heart Of Obsidian feels a lot more romancey than previous books—some of them are hotter and more explicit, but for pure romance, this book gives Slave To Sensation a run for its money. There’s nothing more irresistible than an emotionally repressed hero who is just aching to be saved. To me, the romance has a very Mills & Boon dynamic, with just the right amount of hero alphaness, nobility and marshmallow centre. And for someone who starts out broken and almost catatonic, Sahara is never a doormat or inherently weak.
But is it hot??? I hear you yelling at your screen. Well, duh. Singh has never had a problem with turning up the heat in the bedroom. (Or in this case, the bathroom, the treehouse, the…okay, settle down, people!) Yes, there’s a lot of clenching (womb clenching—not my favourite), but there are also some deeply romantic—and, yes, humorous—elements to these scenes. ‘We’ve shared DNA,’ Kaleb tells Sahara after their first time together. Later, she asks him where he learned ‘what we just did’ and he offers to share his porn stash with her. Heh.
It also amuses me that it would probably be very difficult for Kaleb to hide the fact that he’s getting a hard-on if every time it happens there’s medium-scale destruction around him. His response: ‘I suggest we don’t engage in sex in populated areas.‘
A lot of the backstory in this book revolves around Kaleb and Sahara’s childhood romance. I challenge any readers who aren’t already in love with the Kaleb they know from the series so far—and I was one of them—to resist the charm and innocence of this younger version. Part and parcel of this is also falling in love with Sahara and her ability to recall aspects of his younger self and anchor him to the better parts of his nature. Kaleb is broken, too, and she helps him reconcile his fragmented identity.
I need to reread this book—probably the entire series—to absorb the nuances I no doubt missed because I was too busy trying to get to the last page. There are a million ways Singh demonstrates how perfect this couple is. But one of my favourite moments is when I realised that Sahara’s defence mechanism—the labyrinth in her mind, which was triggered by instinct—could only be unravelled by Kaleb. He is her safe place.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, the memory one he’d carry to his grave, ‘that I’m not the man you remember. Too many things happened while you were gone.’ If she’d been with him through that time, the bright light in the nightmare, he might have battled to retain some sliver of ‘humanity’. But they had stolen her from him, stolen the only being in the universe about whom he cared, and in so doing, they’d changed the course of the world.
Sahara’s fingers tightened on his arm. ‘You’re mine.’ Simple, quiet words that were a punch to the chest. ‘I will fight for you, today, tomorrow, and all the tomorrows to come.’
After so many changeling romances, it’s time for the Psy heroes to shine.
Yay or nay?
Readers eagerly anticipating this book will find it difficult not to enjoy the way in which plot elements throughout the series come together in this book. Anyone who has read the series closely will be rewarded with the many clever ways in which Singh incorporates seeds of plot and character from previous books. At the same time, anyone who picks up Heart Of Obsidian with fresh eyes won’t be short-changed—despite being book 12 of a continuing series, it holds up surprisingly well, and there is only little evidence of backstory building. But really, you need to start from Slave To Sensation and work towards the climax that is this book. There are two more books left in the Psy-Changeling series, and I think Singh will have to write the hell out of them to surpass this one.
Who might enjoy it: Anyone even remotely invested in this series
Who might not enjoy it: Fans who believe in Silence
Advance reading copies of this book were generously provided by the author and the publisher. The hardback edition comes out today, but if you can wait a week, the Australian edition comes out in C format paperback.