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Monday, 30 September 2013

Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh

I seem to be on a bit of a paranormal romance kick at the moment, don't I? As far as I'm aware, this is the last of it that my reading list contains for at least some time. If I'm enjoying the genre though, might as well read it; that and it tickles me that I was inadvertently filling my fiancé's Google store recommendations with vampire romance books. In any case, I had heard something of Nalini Singh's work prior to reading Angel's Blood: specifically that she was quite good at smut. So at the very least there was going to be something to talk about afterwards.

There's a bit of setting info that I should probably mention before continuing with the actual plot bit. Okay, so the Guild Hunter series takes place in a universe in which vampires are created by angels, for reasons that humanity is ignorant of. (If that basic concept seems absurd to you, then I can state emphatically that this will not be a book for you.) As payment for granting them immortality, vampires are charged to serve their angelic masters for 100 years, after which they are allowed to have their freedom. These circumstances don't sit well with some vampires, who take the chance to escape. This is where our heroine comes in. Elena is an individual born with certain abilities that allow her to track and capture vampires, making her an incredibly valuable asset to those wishing to regain those who have run away. Her skills are potent enough that she is hired for a rather unusual job: she must help Raphael, the archangel who unofficially rules North America, to find another archangel who has allowed his power to completely corrupt him. Along the way, sexual tension ensues. As a plot, it certainly has a lot more at stake than other paranormal romances that I've read recently: as much as I liked the two Argeneau Vampire books I reviewed recently, all that was really at stake was the personal happiness of the two leads. In Angel's Blood, the paranormal aspects actually lend a tangible possibility of peril: if Elena and Raphael fail in their endeavour, then there is the risk that the status quo of the entire world could be upset, and all the ensuing panic and chaos with it. It had a couple of pacing issues, but for the most part I really liked it.
So, to the romance. I think I'm still making my mind up about that one. On the one hand, it most definitely falls into the romance stereotype that makes me cringe: that of the super-possessive alpha male. There was so much reference to Raphael's absolute masculinity as his primary attractive quality, as well as the result of making Elena feel intensely feminine, that it began to feel rather silly. Maybe it's just me, but I find individual aspects of people sexually attractive, for instance a deep voice on men or curves on women, as opposed to their inherent masculinity or femininity. When romance writers point to "masculinity" as the reason for the initial attraction, then I can't help but think that they've created a heroine with confusingly low standards. Additionally, at the beginning Raphael has an alarming lack of consideration for Elena's personal boundaries. After mentally influencing her and constantly making reference to how much he wants her as a sexual toy, I find it quite insulting for him to call her sexually frigid. On the other hand, Elena makes an admirable stand against someone she has no real chance of harming when it comes to staking out the boundaries between their personal and professional lives; that she manages to piss off pretty much everyone that Raphael consults for help as a result is also rather impressive. The fact that she does feel sexually attracted to her archangel suitor do help alleviate their uncomfortable initial relationship somewhat, but overall it does feel somewhat dubious in the consent department.
Since I was just talking about the sexual tension, I might as well talk about the sex scenes. They were kind of disappointing. Having heard of Nalini Singh's reputation for smut, I was kind of expecting something that would be more...scandalous, somehow. It's not that the scenes are written badly, they're just a bit on the short side, especially considering the heat and in-depth nature of the flirting beforehand. It just feels like it's balanced wrong.

In conclusion, while there's a much grander scale to Angel's Blood than most paranormal romance, the relationship between the leads leaves something to be desired. The sexual tension is set up well through flirting, but the result is ultimately kind of disappointing. That their relationship starts with some rather dubious consent issues only complicates my feelings about it. 4/5

Next review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Signing off,

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