Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh

Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh
Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh (Psy/Changeling Series, Book 6)
Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Series, Book 6)

Branded by Fire was one of my most-awaited novels of the year, and it has definitely been worth the wait. The sixth novel in bestselling author Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series is packed with political intrigues, explosions, beloved characters, and a surprisingly strong romance that’s placed firmly at the centre of the story.

Mercy is a DarkRiver sentinel, the frontline defence for her leopard changeling pack. She has an awfully strong itch, and it seems the only one who can scratch it is Riley Kincaid, a lieutenant for the neighbouring wolf pack, SnowRiver. That’s assuming she doesn’t scratch him first. Mercy and Riley are equivalently ranked soldiers in different packs, and neither is used to giving up control.

Alpha vs. alpha

For Mercy, it’s a particularly painful dilemma. As a sentinel, as a dominant female, her chances of mating are slim. She could never be attracted to a weaker male, and yet her leopard nature may never accept a dominant mate. Worse, she’s attracted to the wrong changeling. As in wrong pack. And she’s attracted in a big way. So is he. Also in a big way.

The first chapter of this book? Holy crap, it’s hot enough to burn the pages. I could not put it down.

When a changeling scientist is kidnapped, Mercy and Riley are forced to work closely to find him before it’s too late, and it becomes impossible to ignore their animal attraction (heh). Sex isn’t the problem, though. Their battle for control is. Riley’s dominant nature wants to protect Mercy when she’s put in danger—which, as a sentinel, she often is.

Mercy can’t stand it. Not only does she love her job, it’s not in her nature to hide behind a dominant male for protection. She despairs that she may never find a mate because of her inability to give up control, and she’s afraid that even accepting a lover’s bond with Riley will be enough to scar her emotionally when he eventually finds his true mate.

All that’s good about alpha romances

Singh is first and foremost a romance writer, and, whatever problems I may have had with this book, the romance is top notch. She understands what we love about strong heroes—and heroines—and knows just how far to push without turning the characters into bullies or stalkers or whatever else we hate about alphas.

The way Mercy and Riley’s relationship is unfolded, broken, repaired, strengthened and resolved is done so beautifully. Their conflict isn’t trivial, and the push-and-pull for control is both fun and excruciating. I was barracking for both of them the entire time, and not once did I feel like one should surrender to the other.

Of the Psy-Changeling heroines so far, Mercy is the strongest physically. Singh doesn’t downplay this, but uses it to provoke Riley and challenge his assumptions about what he wants in his mate. Riley’s over-protectiveness—a natural trait in dominant males—is exacerbated by his guilt over having failed to protect his sister Brenna from her brutal ordeal (in Slave to Sensation). But it won’t work with Mercy, because to protect her is to stifle her very nature.

The tiny steps that Riley takes to get to a place where he’s able to let Mercy be herself are beautifully done. Likewise, the concessions Mercy makes to reveal her vulnerability are subtle and lovely. Nothing about their emotional development seems contrived.

And because Singh likes to tease, she tosses is a couple of Portuguese cats into the mix. Mercy’s grandmother, alpha of her pack, sends 2 of her sentinels to pursue Mercy and see if they can be potential mates. Singh had a lot of fun with this subplot (and so did I).

Animal vs. human

Between humans, changelings and Psy, my favourite characters in this series have been—no contest—the changelings. I think this is because of the way that Singh handles the interplay between animal and human, and the way she captures nuances that add so much more depth to the characters and their emotions. They’re also very playful creatures, and Singh allows her characters plenty of fun.

For the first time in the series, we see an inter-pack relationship. Singh imbues their courtship with small but delicious details that reflect each character’s animal. Mercy is feline—she likes to lick and stroke and purr. Riley is wolfish—he likes to nip and chase and conquer. And although biology would seem to be a problem, Mercy and Riley’s humanity trumps their animal side when it comes to procreation.

The real issue is their blood oath to their alpha leaders, and the conflicting loyalties that being together brings. They’re privy to their pack’s secrets, and accepting the mating bond means that one of them will have to separate from pack:

“You’re not going to give up your mate to stay in your pack.” Ground out through clenched teeth.

She couldn’t argue with him. “No.” Having a mate was a gift, a brilliance of being. “But it’ll destroy a part of me. I won’t be the same woman. I’ll be less… I don’t know if my leopard can accept that.”

…”If that happens, if yours is the bond that breaks,” Riley said, sitting up to face her, “SnowDancer will treat you as its own, you know that. You know.”

“The woman understands,” she said softly, breaking his heart with her sorrow, “but the leopard doesnt. All it knows is that if I take my wolf, I might lose everything else that ever mattered.”

Beyond the romance

In between the jungle sex, Mercy and Riley are involved in averting a plot by the Human Alliance to show their strength by blowing things up. We also see some of the machinations within the Psy Council, the Ghost, and shifting loyalties and more ambiguity surrounding familiar Psy characters. Even the changeling world expands, and Singh introduces new characters from other changeling communities.

A lot happens in the background, and it doesn’t always intersect directly with Mercy and Riley. It’s impossible to follow these threads if you’re not familiar with the previous books, but at the same time, it’s easy to skim these parts if your main interest is the romance. The transitions between the Psy world and the human/changeling world are often abrupt and sometimes awkwardly placed. This is something I’ve been noticing more and more, and it’s due to the fact that part of the overarching series plot happens in places where the main characters of this book don’t go to.

Although I think too many plot strands are woven unnecessarily into this book, I appreciate that Singh holds back on revealing more about absolutely everyone. We see some of the secondary characters, but most stay off-page or pass through without fuss. I think Singh could have held back a bit more, but I doubt fans of previous couples in the series will mind.

And one more thing…

I have to talk about Hawke. My anticipation of his book borders on being unhealthy.

*** SPOILER (about Hawke!) ***

If I was in any doubt about his heroine, my mind is settled after reading Branded by Fire. I love that he’s in the book, but for the first time Singh leaves us with an unresolved emotional plot. I understand that this is important because many things have to happen before Hawke and Sienna get their book, but I hope this doesn’t become a habit. I loved Mercy and Riley’s story, but the question marks over Hawke and Sienna dampened the ending for me.


Yay or nay?

I did say this is a keeper. Branded by Fire is my second favourite book in the series (after Slave to Sensation). It’s worth catching up on all the previous books in the series to get the most out of this book, but the romance stands on its own and ticks all the right boxes for me. It’s good to know we won’t have to wait long for the next book in the series: Blaze of Memory comes out in November.

Branded by Fire is published in the US by Berkley Sensation (Penguin). Its official release date is July 7, but it’s already available in some Australian bookstores. (I got mine from Galaxy Bookshop.) You can read an excerpt here (NSFW).

This review is part of the Pub Challenge. Click on this image for more details.
This review is part of the Pub Challenge.

Title: Branded by Fire
Author: Nalini Singh
ISBN: 9780425226735
US release: July 2009
Publisher: Berkley Sensation (Penguin)
Format: Mass market paperback

Where you can buy this book

AUSTRALIA: Booktopia | Dymocks | Ever After | Fishpond | Galaxy | Intrigue | Nile | Rendezvous | Romance Direct | Romantic Reflections | Siren | More
EBOOKS: Books On Board | Dymocks | | Fictionwise | Kindle
WORLDWIDE: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Book Depository | Borders

Other books in the Psy-Changeling series
Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Series, Book 1)Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Series, Book 2)Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Series, Book 3)Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Series, Book 4)Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Series, Book 5)Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Series, Book 6)Blaze of Memory by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Series, Book 7)


  1. katiebabs says:

    Very excited for Hawke’s book even though Nalini may keep things very interested with Kit now in the mix.

    Also, anxiously awaiting for Kaleb’s book.

  2. Kat says:

    I expect we won’t get it until—earliest—Sienna is 19. No, no Kit! I can’t take the tension! LOL I have to reread all the Psy bits and wrap my head around the politics of the Psy Council. Do you think we’ve met Kaleb’s heroine?

  3. Livie says:

    Mercy’s grandmother, alpha of her pack, sends 2 of her sentinels to pursue Mercy and see if they can be potential mates.

    Ohhhh…Mercy’s grandmother is an ALPHA??? As for pursuing sentinels, wonder whether Riley will get jealous! *squeal* I cannot wait for July 7!!!


  4. Kat says:

    Livie, the Portuguese cats are hot! And they refuse to be intimidated by a wolf, so you can just imagine how well that went down with Riley. *g* Just 4 days to go!

  5. CindyS says:

    I’m so excited that I only read the opening where you said ‘oh, yeah, it’s good’ and the part about Hawke cause like you, I’m worried about my mental health when it comes to him. I’ll be back after I finally get the book in my hot little hands – I try to go in spoiler free ;)


  6. Kat says:

    I went in spoiler-free for this one, too. I didn’t even read the blurb! Let me know what you think when you’ve read it. :-)

  7. CindyS says:

    I LOVED IT!!!  A post will go up at Breezing Thru with some of my thoughts in a buddy review with Nath.
    I think this book has beat out all the others.  I don’t normally like books that start off with sex but it was such a nice change from her previous books where the sex scenes might come very late in the story.
    And agreed about Hawke and Sienna (if they don’t end up together I might just break!).  I guess you and I are feeling the ‘yearning’ between these two.  Damn, it’s painful!
    Glad you liked this one too.  I do find the politics to be almost too involved in that I have to pay super attention to things or try to remember who exactly the person is.  I now have Nikita and Kaleb down and I remember Henry and his wife but others who zip in and out make me pause and wonder ‘have I met this person before?’
    I didn’t finish the Clay/Tally book (I didn’t make it to a sex scene because wow, how they spun around each other so I didn’t know who Dev Santos was/is so the preview for the next book left me wondering who everyone was.  I might just save that one till the new year, closer to the next release date as long as I can stay as spoiler free as possible.

  8. Kat says:

    chu6216067 – Glad you enjoyed the book!

    Cindy – Looking forward to the buddy review! I’ve volunteered to write the cheat sheets for this series, but OMG it’s taking me a while. (I ended up rereading Slave to Sensation without taking notes because I was enjoying myself too much.) I don’t remember much about Clay/Tally. I didn’t find their book as compelling as the others.

  9. Edie says:

    I just started this today, have been saving it and saving it.. But I am in trouble already with it..
    I tripped over comments about not being able to accept a submissive weak male, so does that make all the previous submissive female heroines weak?
    And Riley overpowered her too easily.. she is a freakin sentinel and he is same level, yet he overpowered her in seconds?
    Is all the book like that?
    Is it going to be the first Nalini Singh I throw against the wall?
    Help me here I am struggling! *pout*

  10. Kat says:

    Edie, where are you up to in the book? I think Mercy shows her strength more as the story progresses, and she does challenge Riley’s assumption that he can make decisions for her. Also, I wouldn’t give up until you at least meet the two Portuguese cats. Rawr!

  11. Edie says:

    I only got up to them dropping the kit at the healers house.
    Was muttering to myself outloud by then, so thought I had better put it down for a while.
    What about physically?
    I am sure I will get back to the book eventually, just had a couple romances pushing my occasionally militant feminist buttons lately and the much anticipated Singh pushing them made me throw a tanty.

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