During the holiday season, Lora Leigh was featured in a anthology, The Magical Christmas Cat. (Extremely cheesy title, I know, but go with it...) Now, anything Lora Leigh is basically an instant read for me (except for the August brothers, but that's another story). So, I was very excited for another Breed novella. But what hooked me in was a new author, Nalini Singh.
I'd seen her books on Border shelves before but I wasn't interested because I felt like the graphics was poorly done and therefore didn't catch my eye. Yes, covers are that important. I do judge a book by the cover. But when I read the anthology, I didn't recognize the name and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
It was a basic were/shape shifting story that featured animals. But the thing that really hooked me in instead of wincing at the attempt to be another Lora Leigh was the description of the animal counterpart. For the Breeds, and for most other "were" stories, the animal is the man. There is no separation between the two. For the Breeds, they are man spliced with animal DNA. Other explanations for it is the typical "infection" or conversion explanation, and other more fantasy inspired explanations such as alien or just a separate being from humans.
What made this unique was the description that man and cat were separate but equal. Make sense? The character would speak of the cat (or whatever animal) as a separate entity within them even though they are part animals from birth. So in the anthology story, Stroke of Enticement, the hero speaks of his leopard like a personality within his personality. Sounds confusing when put like that, but basically the cat will react to things that the man might find unnecessary. Unlike the Breeds who are animal, these weres have a separation between the animal and man.
For instance, when the hero, Zach meets the heroine for the first time it's written like this: "Her delectable scent whispered over on disturbed air currents, ruffling the leopard's fur in the most enticing way. He barely bit back a responsive groan. Sometimes, adults had trouble with the cat too." (Singh, 10). Zach's cat is written very clearly as having his own reactions and pleasures. Another example of how these weres are different is how Zach can feel the rough rasp of his leopard's fur on the inside of his skin. This new way of writing the were story was very interesting to me.
So, I picked up the series.
I loved the first story, Slave to Sensation. Absolutely loved it. It was the first in a long time since I read a story that gave me the sign of a good story. For me, the sign is a clenching of my stomach and a big question mark about the ending even though in the back of my mind I know that the book must end happily for the couple because it is a romance book. I was really into the story even though I was slightly confused about the state of the world and the differentiation about the Psy and changelings, and humans. But after a while, the story became about the hero and heroine, Lucas and Sascha, and the dangers of their world.
The connection of the characters was strong with each being confused and cautious about the other. There was a great layer of "hidden facts" to which the reader was privy to but the characters did not know about each other. I liked how this mystery of Sascha's ability to feel emotions (as a Psy, she responds to logic and necessity not emotions and wants) wasn't drawn out. Lucas had his suspicions and even though his initial responsibility was to his pack, being Alpha, he later turned his allegiance to include Sascha as his number one.
Basically, I loved the twists and turns and was thoroughly delighted in finding out that his debut novel had more than one stumble block on the way to a happy ending and that the reader was left wondering how that ending will occur all the way up until the end. It's hard to keep a jaded romance reader guessing all the way up the end. (One of the reasons I love J.R. Ward. She has an uncanny ability to get the reader wonder "How the hell will this end happily?")
No surprise that I was made an instant fan once I read Singh's first full length book. I simply adored Lucas and Sascha. I rushed out to buy the next book. When I finished it I felt...eh. It was okay. Okay, but definitely lacking. Not bad enough that I would drop the series. So, I plowed onto the third book. And then the fourth. By then, I was flipping through the pages of so-so scenes and just getting to the end.
I loved seeing Lucas and Sascha and other Pack members come into successive books and make a strong appearance as secondary characters, but I felt like Singh was way too caught up in developing this future world. For one thing, discoveries made in the first book were made and/or explained again and again in following books. It got repetitive and redundant (and repetitive and redundant...) and the connection of the characters took a back seat.
While there are romances that have a plot take precedent and the characters secondary (like in J.D. Robb's In Death series where the crime is the driving force of the story and Eve and Roarke's story is secondary), Singh didn't start off that way and I was expecting character first and plot second in her series. I felt like the level of the connection between the hero and heroine was never matched to that of Lucas and Sascha. I understand that not every couple in a series will measure up, but something in Singh's writing just tapered off from great to mediocre.
Where did she loose me as a loyal reader? Besides the redundant facts and discoveries, the complexity of the plot was never achieved to the level of the first book. And I never got that gut clenching feeling while reading her books again. I lost that feeling I mentioned before. And for me, I was disappointed.
All the elements that made Slave to Sensation great wasn't apparent in full force with the other books. The first book was a delightful combination of mystery, humor, and feeling thrown in with a protective super Alpha male who loved his heroine with depth, and a heroine who wasn't afraid to fight for what she believed in (and for her man) but was still able to be seen as vulnerable to the harsh realities of the world. The equation that made the first book wonderful was absent in the books that followed.
Singh has created an interesting world with good characters but the spark that I felt from the first book slowly fizzed out with each successive book. Do I think she's still worth reading? Yes. I think many fans of paranormal romance will find something unique about Singh and the evolution of her writing is evident. Her more recent books show this explicitly through her sexual descriptions. With Lucas and Sascha it was much more metaphorical and the "heat factor" was a bit toned down when compared the other more established writers. But in the later Changling books, readers can pick up where Singh explored a more direct way of writing sex as her characters got bolder.
I honestly could not recommend Slave to Sensation more. It definitely sits as a reread copy on my bookshelf. But would I recommend the entire series without tagging on a caveat? No.
I can understand how Singh has so quickly built up a fan base while I will continue to be devoted to the first book, I won't be so eager to buy any future publications unless I find them for free on BookMooch or fifty cents (or a dollar) at the library bookstore. I own four plus a novella and while I can appreciate new talent, I feel like the series didn't live up to the debut.