by Nalini Singh, fantasy (2010)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23336-8
Archangel's Kiss is a genuine sequel to Angels' Blood. While the plot of this book is actually self-contained and can stand alone very well, I'd still advise anyone new to the Guild Hunter series to start with the first book. You see, not only will this book spoil the first book completely, the appreciation of the relationship between heroine Elena Deveraux and the Archangel of New York, Raphael, can only be enhanced if one follows the whole thing from the first book, at the very least enough for you to overlook the more annoying quirks of the author's writing style present in this book.
Oh, and it goes without saying that while I try to avoid bringing up too many spoilers here, I won't be able to give a synopsis of this story without revealing one major spoiler. If you haven't read the first book but intend to in the future, be a dear and come back again after you have finished that book.
Okay, where we last left them, Elena has been Made into an angel by Raphael. A year has passed since she aided Raphael in defeating Uram, but now that Elena has awakened from her recuperative coma, she is literally learning to fly. It isn't easy, adapting her somewhat compromised Hunter senses to her angelic senses, and she also has to learn to fight while taking into account her new wings. However, time is not on her side. Someone has infiltrated the angelic HQ, the Refuge, to kill the Archangels' vampire minions and leave taunting evidences of his - their? - activities. It seems that Elena isn't the only target - whoever is behind this may be planning to start a war among the Archangels and then utilize the classic strategy of divide and conquer to become the new boss of everyone.
And with so many halfway crazy psychopath Archangels around, there is no shortage of suspects in this mystery. Is it Zhou Lijuan the Chinese Dragon Lady? Neha the Indian Snake Lady? Those warring Desert Overlord Dudes, one of whom is a pedophile?
I have to hand it to Ms Nalini: once more she manages to keep me reading to the very end through the strength of her fantastic storytelling ability. Raphael is an uninspired alpha male, a more eloquent version of Christine Feehan's Carpathian beefcake revue, and I still have no idea why Elena is so enamored of this illegitimate son of the X-Men's Archangel and Vlad the Carpathian Beefcake. Then again, like many paranormal stories featuring alpha heroes, this story has Elena having little say in the matter of whom she falls for. Look, she's now an angel. It's not like she can spurn Raphael's attention even if she wants to because she's entirely dependent on him in this story no matter what she says otherwise. Nonetheless, the author manages to provide a compelling case for his emotional codependency on Elena to keep him from going crazy like his parents. Ms Nalini provides a believable bond between Elena and Raphael here on the basis of their shared angst about nasty daddies.
Until the last two chapters, Ms Nalini also has a tight grip on the pacing of her story. The last two chapters unravel mostly due to an anticlimatic and rather incoherent showdown that seems to be inspired by too many Hong Kong fantasy horror movies. The anticlimatic showdown is most disappointing after all that build up in the story. But until that point, I cannot stop reading, and half the time I'm reading at the edge of my seat.
The world building isn't the most inspired, due to the plethora of Mary Sue elements (any woman who doesn't adore Elena is a skanky psycho or a jealous homicidal maniac) and central casting (see Chinese Dragon Lady and Indian Snake Lady). There is also the unfortunate implication of anyone outside of Raphael's circle being evil or deviant and displaying stereotypical "evil foreigner" traits. But despite all these issues, I still find the setting fascinating enough to want to read more.
But what eventually has me gritting my teeth is Ms Nalini's constant repetition. Raphael and Elena are always saying the same things over and over again. Raphael is always saying that Elena is his. "Mine! Mine! Mi-iii-iii-ine!" Elena is always saying that she doesn't need protection, but of course she will end up screaming out his name eventually. I don't blame her in this case since she's not capable of defeating the bad guys, but I get annoyed with her constantly repeating her "I am a warrior!" spiel. She is also constantly being horrified by what the Archangels are capable of, and she is always telling Raphael that she will never allow him to turn evil. Listen, Elena, the novelty is still there, so of course the romance is exciting. Tell me again how wonderful love is after 500 years of living under the suffocating protection of a man who sends his henchmen to stalk you 24/7 in order to keep you safe. And then, these scenes will inevitably end with Elena and Raphael shagging, with Elena having the mother of all multiple orgasms as a result. Try not to play the drinking game every time Elena calls Raphael "beautiful".
Michaela is always jealous of Elena. Michaela is also beautiful. After so many constant reiterations of these two statements, I am feeling like Michaela myself, wanting to rip somebody's face out. Meanwhile, every one of Raphael's Seven is beautiful (of course) and smug. I suspect that Ms Nalini is aiming for the "mysterious and elusive" quality for these vampires, but it's all smug to me. Oh, and let's not forget, Lijuan is the oldest elder out there who has gone crazy because she plays, sleeps, and eats with her reborn army. After so many times this is brought up, I feel a bit like a living dead myself, numb and stiff. All the constant circular chatter and reiteration and repetition of phrases make me feel as if I'm reading the work of an author who is in danger of adopting Laurell K Hamilton's repetitive rambling prose style.
I think it says a lot in the end about Archangel's Kiss that I am compelled to keep reading and even liking this book despite the fact that I am this close to pulling my hair out due to the author's repetitive style. If this book isn't the perfect example of literary crack, then I don't know what is.
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