Today, my buddy reviewer is Cindy. Sweet Cindy wanted to try her hand out at buddy reviewing... We tried several books, but the only one we ended up both reading was Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh. Let me tell you, the Psy-changelings books are never easy to buddy review, because there is always so much to gush and talk about :P But we did it and with a lot of fun!! :)
***Warning: There are spoilers, be aware!!***
Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh
published by Berkley Sensation in July 2009
Though DarkRiver sentinel Mercy is feeling the pressure to mate, she savagely resists when Riley Kincaid, a lieutenant from the SnowDancer pack, tries to possess her. The problem is not simply that he pushes her buttons; the problem is that he’s a wolf, she’s a cat, and they’re both used to being on top.
But when a brilliant changeling researcher is kidnapped from DarkRiver territory, Mercy and Riley must work together to track the young man—before his shadowy captors decide he’s no longer useful. Along the way, the two dominants may find that submitting to one another uncovers not just a deadly conspiracy, but a passion so raw that it’ll leave them both branded by fire…
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Psy/Changelings, Book #8 (counting novellas)
The Story: Many events occur in this book and it’d be too hard to summarize them without giving away too many spoilers… However, the blurb sums up the story pretty well. Branded by Fire is definitively Mercy and Riley’s story :)
Nath: So Cindy, what did you think of the book?
Cindy: This one started with a fire and just kept on raging. I loved Mercy and the way she was just not going to back down but then neither was Riley. Clearly they irritated each other for years but once their story starts they don't have the horrid 'I hate you!' thing going on. No stamping of feet or wails of 'he done me wrong'.
Nath: I totally agree with you. I like how Ms Singh jumped straight into the relationship in Branded by Fire and made it the focus of the book. I think it was a clever move from her, since Riley and Mercy had already been introduced and readers already caught glimpses of their interactions (the “I hate you and you annoy me to no end”) in previous books. Seriously, Ms Singh did a great job at foreshadowing this relationship in previous books.
Cindy: The other part I liked was the sensuality. In the last few books because the H/H weren't two Psy or two changelings we've never been shown the sensual side of the animals. Normally I don't like books that start with a sex scene but it made sense and it was hot and heavy and dangerous. I liked that. In the other books the sex scenes came later because the H/H were of different groups - eg. Psy H/H have to get used to touch gradually so the sex scenes are normally later in the book.
Nath: I totally agree with you, Cindy :) Because they were both changelings and so dominant, neither of them held back – physically or emotionally. Not only that, but I think that having two changelings H/H, especially from two different species, gave us much more insight on the changelings and their worlds, even more on the way they feel, think and act.
I thought it was great fun to see two dominant changelings going at each other. What I appreciated the most in this instance is that because Riley and Mercy were both changelings and dominant, they understand each other so well. They might be different changeling animals, but deep down they are the same… or at least, Mercy has been around dominant males enough to understand ;)
Cindy: To me, it was more fun to watch how two different changelings had to come to grips with what the other was. The loyalty to the pack drives its members and having two people from different loyalty groups fall in love was interesting to watch. I also enjoyed watching how the leopard and wolf reacted to each other - they each knew that they had differences and they were able to look at it logically and not over react (okay those two times were allowed). When Riley finds Mercy in leopard form sleeping on a rock in the sun flicking her tail I could see it. Riley asks her a question and he can smile to himself as he watches the leopard act nonchalant and lazy in answering. Also, when Mercy got all pissy and wounded Riley's pride it was nice to see her have to go in and apologize.
Nath: I think that part was very cute and I liked that Mercy apologized. It shows that although she's dominant, she's not completely irrational :)
Speaking of different changelings, I was actually quite surprised at how rare mating between different species happened… to the extent that Mercy wouldn't know whether her children would change or not? That means it must be really, really rare...
Cindy: I actually thought it was rare because there are predators and prey per se and also because of pack ties. Also, and I might be remembering it wrong, but there were wars between the Changelings for many years so the alliances are so new that cross specie mating might have fallen off greatly.
Nath: I think you’re remembering it correctly, Cindy. There was a war for territory and there are some prejudices between species as well…
I wonder if the courting would have been easier if Mercy and Riley were not Sentinel and Lieutenant in their respective pack. They would still be two different types of changelings, but I think their degree of loyalty would be less, no? and LOL, that last part, where Riley tells Hawke and Lucas to not declare war on each other, because it'd be easier on their domestic life? :P So cute!! :)
Cindy: I don't think it would be much different except for the dominance part. The way it was told was that the pack is family so the loyalty is true for all members of the pack. What would be interesting would be if a non-dominant mated with a dominant of a different species whether the pack ties would still remain like they did with Mercy and Riley.
Nath: I don’t think the pack ties would be as solid in that case. Didn’t the pack ties remain with both Mercy and Riley because they had a blood bond with their Alpha? If it was a non-dominant and a dominant, they’d probably know right away who would have to leave whose pack.
Cindy: We should mention Joaquin and Eduardo from Mercy's Grandmother's pack. Knowing how hard it is for a dominant female in a sentinel position to give up dominance to another, Mercy's Grandmother (an alpha in her own pack) sent two leopards up to 'court' her. Normally, pack members roam from pack to pack to meet their mate but because of the local disturbances and the threats to Mercy's pack she doesn't feel right about leaving her pack. So her Grandmother sends some help. I liked that Mercy in no way felt the need to needle Riley with these men. I mean, he was upset but Mercy never gave him reason to be. She was straightforward with everyone and the male cats only stayed for as long as they did because there was no mating scent on Mercy. Even still, Mercy knew her body and leopard only wanted Riley but it was the mating and loving part that took work.
Nath: I like the idea of the leopards roaming around to find their mates. As a result, it doesn't limit the mating to one pack... and it would explain how Mercy's family ended up in San Francisco given that Mercy’s grandmother is the Alpha of a pack in South America. LOL, and it was very helpful and sneaky from Mercy's grandmother to send in Joaquin and Eduardo - LOL, with Lucas' permission! That’s another aspect that I like about Mercy – she doesn’t play games with people (okay, teasing Riley doesn’t count LOL). I mean, she’s frank and to the point. She didn't have any interest in Joaquin and Eduardo at all (personally, I think that at point, she already knew there was something more between her and Riley than lust and an itch to scratch) - so she didn’t string them along and didn’t use them to bait Riley… actually, it was quite the opposite LOL.
In the end, I think the reason why Branded by Fire and the relationship were such a success is the characters. I loved Riley and Mercy for their strength, their intelligence and the fact that they didn’t compromise their personality. At the same time, they’re not brutes; they feel and they can be vulnerable. Their characters were very well developed with many layers and I liked that they stayed true to themselves. I think that is the reason why Riley and Mercy did not hesitate much about the mating. I think that once Mercy was reassured that her children would change, the mating was just a matter of time. For most couples, being from two different species would have been the biggest hurdle to overcome, but with Riley and Mercy’s strength of characters, it wasn’t. Actually, for them, the biggest hurdle was who would have to leave their pack... and in the end, the most important was for them to be together. I think the subtleties were well incorporated.
Nath: Did you notice that Mercy is actually the first changeling we meet that has a complete family? Parents and siblings? I thought it was great fun to meet her family :)
And oh, I thought it was really fun to see how the two packs interact and how much grief the kids are giving each other :)
Cindy: The kids! Hell, Hawke and Lucas can barely keep from knocking each other around. It was nice to see the alliance holding up and that even though they do have an agreement, each camp keeps some of its secrets.
Nath: LOL, you're so right!! I didn't think of it that way, LOL :P I think that as long as those secrets don't affect the alliance... it's fine.
What did you think of the overall storyline? As usual, the rest of the plot about the Psy, the humans and the changelings was solid... and quite interesting. I wonder if a balance between emotions and Silence can be achieved for the Psy that are like Judd. For now though, I thought that the idea of the Psy Council aiding people for whom Silence isn’t quite working was very clever, especially the way they did it, showing that for some Psy, Silence is necessary. They handled it like real politicians would ^_^; I actually wonder if Silence is really fragmenting in every Psy or not. Also, do you think it’s one of the councilors who is behind the mind manipulation that caused those terrorist acts.
Cindy: I thought the overall storyline was very complicated. I tell ya, this is not a series I try and skim because I know things are happening in almost every new chapter. I was surprised how the Council allowed for people to freely determine if they needed to go in ‘fine tuning’ with Silence. Not that any of them are above finding problems within the net – after all, that’s why Judd and his family left the net after finding out Sienna was going to be sent in for re-conditioning which would leave her as a vegetable. Scary stuff. Where I found things complicated involved some of the characters because they didn't have names like John or Mike but were 'The Information Merchant' etc. I think Tatiana (one of the councilors) was behind the Psy who were acting against their will. She was somehow linked mentally with someone who could do mind control and used him as a puppet and then killed him in the end. (Seriously, a lot happens in the last few pages) Wait. She was the one who tried to have the councilors killed right? So the other people who were used against their will were collateral damage, right?
Nath: Ms Singh is doing a great job at world building... I like it that she introduces new things in each of the books and that the overall storyline involving humans, changelings and Psy is becoming more and more complex with each book. I think the way she introduces all these things is very realistic as well.
I guess that those names: the Ghost, the Information Merchants - it's either because she doesn't want us to know their identity yet... or because giving them a name such as John or Mike is not important.
As for the mind controller, I don’t it was Tatiana... her shadowing/controlling the Human took out so much of her energy already... I don’t think she could have handled anyone else. Also, it looks more like what was done to the hyenas... mind programming in which case, it would probably be Ming and his faction. Kudos to Tatiana though, it was really gutsy of her to attack the other councilors... Seriously, those Psy councilors are scary!! Everyone has a hidden agenda! LOL :P
Cindy: The Psy are definitely power hungry and their agendas are crazy confusing. Tatiana wanted to rule the net. I think the Ghost also is looking to preserve the net but in his own way.
Nath: By the way, what do you think is Nikita's purpose, sending Sascha that book?
Cindy: Nikita was thinking about power - whether she has figured out that the net might not survive and is hedging her bets or what, I'm not sure. I see Nikita as so ruthless she wouldn't hesitate to use her daughter as a weapon if given the chance. Now that I think on it, maybe she wants Sascha to know everything about her powers so that she reaches her full potential and could be used by Nikita.
Nath: You’re probably right on that point, Cindy. One thing is sure, that woman has no maternal instincts at all.
Cindy: What did you think of the big birds at the end of the story? Like, what the hell? They are obviously birds of prey but the fact it took Mercy and Riley to move one that was unconscious makes me envision something enormous!
Nath: LOL, I think Adam is simply a huge man... I don't think that's a trademark of the human form of the eagle... but then, Adam is the new Alpha right? So perhaps his being huge was an indicator. LOL, just imagine a football player, that's what I do :P
I’m hopeful that Ms Singh introducing a new pack means that she will give us a little bit of variety in the changeling heroes and heroines we had so far. I think it'd be interesting... I also would like to know if what types of changelings exist... So far, obviously, we know about wolf, leopard, wild cat, hyena, rats, swan, eagle and one other I can't remember (they're non-predatory and were attacked in one of the book... doe?)... I wonder if there are horse... and if there's leopard, are there lions, tigers, and so on...
Cindy: Yes, the deer pack and this time there was the bear pack that Riley and Mercy checked on. But I'm not sure I would be that enthralled with say a Swan H/H because they are not as fierce.
Nath: Right, deer... I couldn't remember the word. Hmmm, wonder if those bears are predatory... and LOL, probably not as fierce, but it'd be interesting to see a swan H or H. Different... I'm just Ms Singh would make it work :P
Cindy: I read the preview for the next book and see it's not Hawke's story which I hope is with Sienna but who knows.
Nath: I'm actually happy that we're not getting Hawke story right away. I think that both Hawke and Sienna need time. What do you actually think of Kit and Sienna? That really came as a surprise for me!! Actually, age-wise and personality-wise, Kit and Sienna could really work... but then, now that we have confirmation that Hawke and Sienna both have feelings for each other... I can't imagine another couple.
Cindy: I have a horrible memory so having someone named Kit show up was just like being thrown a ball I didn't know was coming. I'm sure he's been mentioned many times in the previous books but I don't remember him. Anyway, I’m not loving it, but I get cranky that way. Also, I think Sienna is going to be so strong that Kit would feel inferior in some way or was Kit that one that everyone knew was going to become an Alpha?
Nath: Yes, Kit is the cat that people believes will become Alpha in the future. As a result, I think he would be able to handle Sienna... I don't think there would be any inferior complex... and Kit has an advantage: the way he was raised, completely loved by the Pack and knowing who he really is. He's not searching like Sienna and he's not emotionally stunted like Hawke... Sigh, I can't wait to get his book :) But he'll have some growing up to do :P I think that if the foundations weren't already laid down for Hawke and Sienna, I would really like Kit and Sienna. Right now, I wonder if it's not only friendship between Kit and Sienna.
Cindy: I'm all right with her having a relationship outside of what might happen with Hawke. After all, I imagine Hawke is not a virgin ;) And the Changelings are very affectionate and open with sexuality. It's just I have my heart set and now I have to hope it don't get broken!
Nath: I know what you mean!! LOL, Hawke as a virgin - I think not. The thing is, if Sienna is going to open her heart to someone and be comfortable enough to have sex with someone, I’d prefer it to be Hawke. I mean, I’d prefer for the person to get to Sienna, touch her core, be her hero… Also, I’m afraid that Kit might get his heart broken ^_^; So friendship between Kit and Sienna, I’m okay with… Kit can show Sienna a lot of things and he can help her… but anything more? Big no, no.
Cindy: See, we’re both on Hawke’s side ;) Where I keep tripping up is the mate idea. The wolves know that Hawke's mate died when they were kids. A) How did he know she was his mate? Is it because they are in the same area so they instinctually know? B) Is there an assumption by the Changleings that there can only be one 'mate'. I should re-read the short story with Tammy and her mate as she grew up knowing they were mates. I just don't know how that would work because I do think her mate was sexually active before he realized she was his mate. I'll have to check on that.
Nath: From what I understand and remember, wolves and cats only mate once in their life... once you mate, it's forever even if one dies. I think that in Hawke’s case, he recognized his mate when she was still a kid, but died before they could mate. I don't know how early you can figure these things out, but seems like you can. Eg. Tammy and Nathan. In their case, Nathan waited for Tammy to be ready and once he knew she was his mate, he didn’t have sex with anyone else. Since they weren’t mated, I don’t know if Hawke can still mate with someone else or not ^_^;
Cindy: From what I remember Hawke was either 12 or 13 when his potential mate died (she was 6 or 7?) and yes, once they mate they are mated forever and usually die if the other does. But because Hawke was never mated I would have thought he would still be open to the fact that there could be another potential mate. Except, he did say to Riley in this book that the bond is a once in a lifetime chance. So we know he is mourning the fact that he'll never be mated.
Nath: I’m not sure about that. I mean, didn’t Sascha refuse to mate with Lucas in the first book because she was going to die and therefore, that would be it for Lucas? I’m also not sure about the dying thing… Yes, perhaps it’d be likely they would die from grief once they lose their mate, but just die because the other died?
In any case, I wonder if it possible for Hawke to develop a relationship with Sienna without being mated... That’s an option; however, given Hawke’s craziness, I think that being mated would make him more stable. Ah well, we'll have to wait till Ms Singh writes it, right?
Cindy: Yep, you're right but I have to say, the woman would have to be strong to know Hawke would continue to mourn his mate. I'm not sure I could handle it!
I'm impatient when I see characters that appeal to me and Hawke and Sienna do. I'm just terrified that Singh could do what Suzanne Brockmann did with her last book and match Hawke and Sienna with completely different people. YIKES!
Nath: Oh, I think that Ms Singh is going to do a better job than Ms Brockmann... because when it comes to Hawke and Sienna's book, it will focus on them... not on 50 other characters and 3 other storylines. I have absolute faith in Ms Singh :) I think that we can be reassured that Hawke and Sienna will have some kind of relationship in the future – we pretty much got confirmation in this book, no? Unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll be in the near future, since Riley mentioned that everyone would be against it if Hawke made a move on Sienna at the moment, since she’s not ready.
I’m glad we got to see Hawke from Riley’s point of view… also, I’m so happy though that we finally get an idea of what power Sienna has!
Cindy: I'm all curious about what an X-Psy is and what they are capable of.
Nath: Me too! X-Psy - it sounds all powerful and dangerous and powerful, LOL :) And she’s an X-Psy cardinal as well!! I wonder if it means she has all of the Psy abilities… Hmmm. I do feel bad for Sienna, knowing that she’s responsible for her family being sent to rehab... Must be hard for her. Although, it did lead to their defection and a much better option for them. I'm also glad we got to see her little brother, Toby. We saw Marlee and Sienna a lot in the past, but never Toby.
Cindy: It's probably wrong that I'm also interested in Sienna's father. What is he doing, does he interact as much with the pack?
Nath: You mean her uncle? Well if Judd got his story, why not Walker... although so far, he's been very quiet and in the background... it'll be interesting to find out what he can do.... as it turns out, the Laurens are a very powerful bunch no? No wonder the Councilors were afraid.
So, Cindy, what grade would you give Branded by Fire? While I really enjoyed Riley and Mercy and the book in general, I felt like Branded by Fire was missing a little bit of oomph. I mean, it was really solid… but something was missing for it to be a wowzer for me.
Cindy: For me it was a KEEPER, KEEPER, KEEPER! I’d grade it a straight A. This book has to be one of my Top Ten Favourite books of all time. Seriously, I loved it that much!
Nath: I'm giving it an A-. Loved it, but the wowzer factor... Perhaps it's my fault and I inhaled it too fast ^_^; Luckily, next book in the series comes out in November!!