Monday, August 1, 2011

Wings and Fangs: Review of The Guild Hunter Series by Nalini Singh

See, angels can be bad ass too. And wear trench coats.
When it comes to my all time favorite mythological creatures, angels are second only to fairies by a narrow margin. I guess I just really want wings. Anyway, there a a limited number of angels populating the urban fantasy/paranormal romance world--a world still mostly dominated by vampires and shapeshifters. At least, I've only found a handful worth the time it takes to read them. Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter books number among them.

Book 1: I hesitated to pick these books up, since the Psy-Changeling books weren't really my cup of tea. Plus, the start wasn't all that promising. Elena is a vampire hunter and by all initial appearances behaves like every female vampire hunter in every book series ever. Maybe it's me, maybe I've read too many vampire books, but come on--Anita Blake, Riley Jensen, the Night Huntress novels, Jane Yellowrock, the list goes on. All good books, but bottom line is, I have definitely seen vampire hunters before--show me something new.

As you might guess, the angels hooked me in. Back tracking a bit, in this universe angels are responsible for turning a very select number of humans into vampires. In exchange vampires are required to serve their angelic masters for a century (I believe) and if they try to go rogue, they are hunted and killed or captured as the case demands. So that's Elena's day job, and it's turned on its ear when she is summoned by the archangel Raphael to hunt an angel gone rogue. Archangels are the top of the angel food chain and so they rule everything and scare Elena and every other human out of their wits. Elena has every right to fear Raphael, because he demonstrates his violent streak and lack of conscience or humanity blatantly at the beginning of the story.

As the very dangerous hunt for the maddened serial killing angel goes on, Elena and Raphael start to bond. She is very much the typical butt kicking tough chick, and Raphael is attracted to warrior women. He first pursues her purely for amusement, but over time feelings on both sides seem to deepen. The relationship was handled decently on the author's part, progressing at a reasonable rate. Elena and Raphael challenge each other, fight, and ultimately come to a tenuous agreement to be together.

Trying to skirt around spoilers here, Elena's development in this book was largely physical rather than emotional. Yes, she comes to care for Raphael and she experiences huge life changes to be with him, but really she remains the same mentally and emotionally. Raphael, on the other hand, goes from cold and heartless and inhuman, to demonstrating softness, compassion, and desperate love. The transformation is all the more enjoyable to read because Raphael is completely aware of the changes happening to him. At first he's freaked out that developing a human-like temperament is going to weaken him and lead to his death. But then, watching the downfall of his fellow angel, he comes to embrace that bit of humanity, and Elena for instilling it in him.

I'm giving this book a solid 4.5 stars. I can't give it a perfect review, since it did make me suffer through some very cliched vampire garbage.

Book 2:(CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM BOOK 1) The bulk of the story takes place in the Refuge, which seems to be home base for angels and their families. Elena is recovering from her year spent in a coma and learning to use her new angel body. She is trained and looked after by Raphael and his Seven, all interesting characters in their own right. At the same time, the death of the archangel Uram has created a power vacuum, with several powerful angels hoping to take his place. Many think to prove their power by threatening Elena, because she belongs to Raphael. Then there's Lijuan, the oldest archangel, who has developed the power to raise the dead as zombie slaves. She decides to throw a ball in Elena's honor, and seems to delight in toying with her.

In this book we see Elena begin to develop much more then in the initial book. Even as she slowly gains physical strength and begins to learn about the angelic culture, the hurts and weaknesses buried in her past start to surface. There are times when she seems fragile, but she's never entirely helpless. She starts to develop a stronger backbone, but does so without sacrificing her human emotions.

The relationship between Elena and Raphael is lovely. Raphael is protective, and at times it seems he wants to shelter Elena from everything. But he quickly realizes that she's a warrior in her own right and that she has many useful talents. Power dynamics aside, the emotional connection grows more and they become more comfortable with one another. There were times when I almost felt they were too perfect together.

The plot wasn't as complex as I'd prefer, but it keeps your interest. I enjoyed the political intrigue, power struggles, and bursts of horrific violence and gore. Most of all, I enjoyed the settings and characters. I was fascinated by descriptions of the Refuge and it's occupants.

Basically, this book is exactly the kind of thing I look for-- interesting characters, plot and world building, and romance. I'm giving this book 4.5 stars

Book 3: (CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM BOOK 2) I'm a tiny bit disappointed in this one. Not crushed fan-girl, never-going-to-buy-another-book disappointed, just sort of underwhelmed. I had very high expectations and this book just fell a little short. First off I want to say that I think series style authors have a very difficult task in keeping their books interesting to readers as the series progresses. The task is even more difficult when the series focuses only on one or two main characters. The author must try to tell complete stories, letting the characters grow and develop while keeping them likeable--a daunting task in one book, but even more challenging over three or four. I think Nalini Singh is stumbling just a bit on this front.

In a nutshell this book is about Elena's return to New York and her adjustment to her new life. She is still somewhat weak and untried as an angel. Plus, she struggles to balance her Guild Hunter loyalties and all of the elements from her old life with the demands of the new. Meanwhile, a series of disasters and disturbing events lead Raphael and others to believe that his mother, Caliane, is rising from Sleep after centuries of being hidden away. No one knows if she will return insane, and her close connection to her son could prove seriously problematic.

Things I liked: The romance is lovely. I like Elena and Raphael as a couple, and I feel like they are starting to fit better and better with each book. There's a lot of sex, almost too much of it. It starts to detract from the plot, actually. But it's written fairly well. There's a lot of wonderful imagery, bedroom antics aside. The cast of characters is rich and interesting, and I'm starting to feel like some of them need their own spotlight soon. Illium, for one, has more depth then you initially imagine. Finally, I think the mother/son connection between Raphael and Caliane seemed pretty complex and shows decent potential.

Now, the problems. This felt like a bridge book--wrapping up some slightly loose ends from the previous book, setting up some details for the next one. As a result the plot when taken by itself is a bit rambling and unfocused. There just isn't much to it in terms of mystery or detail. It starts to redeem itself toward the end, with the characters making some baby steps forward in terms of developing, but still it's left very incomplete. It's also starting to show some repetition, as though the author thinks readers have forgotten the details of Elena's childhood or her current Daddy issues. Explaining how her mother and sisters died a dozen times starts to desensitize the reader, and really it's just pointless filler.

I really liked the first two books and rated them very highly. I'm hoping that better things are yet to come in this series. 3 stars


  1. I had pretty much the same reaction to each of these books as you did. ;-) I think the middle one was my favorite, followed closely by the first. Mainly, that's because Elena & Raphael grow as a couple in the second, whereas in the first, it's more of just an attraction. The third was definitely, as you said, "a bridge book." While I'm definitely going to continue with this series (as it's still one of my favorites), I was disappointed with the third in the sense that Caliane didn't show up until the very end. Just when it was getting good w/ Caliane, it ended. While I hope she explores the relationship between Raphael & Caliane more in a future Raphael & Elena book, I'm glad she's switching to Dmitri next(and hopefully Illium & other members of the Seven)to give them a break. I think she's going to need to come up with a really good plot for Raphael & Elena in order to keep their books "fresh."

  2. Yes, I was really excited to see that Singh is branching out and focusing on other characters within the universe. Dmitri is perhaps not one of my favorite characters, but he intrigues me just enough that I'll preorder Angel's Blade without a second thought. I really hope Illium gets a book, as he is certainly a favorite of mine.

  3. Illium! *sigh* He's probably my favorite of the Seven, along with Jason. Dmitri always came off as kind of sleazy; however, some of the ARC readers for Blade absolutely loved him and his story (some even had a similar opinion of Dmitri as me going into it). Thus, I'm suddenly very excited for it as well.


Thoughtful comments are appreciated! I always respond to them, and I usually return the favor! Happy reading!

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