Title: Angels’ Blood
Author: Nalini Singh
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publishing Date: March 3rd, 2009
Stand Alone or series: Book one in the brand new Guild Hunter series.
Why did we read the book: Ana is a fan of Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series and when she got an ARC of Angels’ Blood she nearly had a heart attack. She then got Thea to read because it was REALLY good.
Summary:Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux knows she’s the best—but she doesn’t know if she’s good enough for this job. Hired by the dangerously beautiful Archangel Raphael, a being so lethal that no mortal wants his attention, only one thing is clear—failure is not an option…even if the task is impossible.
Because this time, it’s not a wayward vamp she has to track. It’s an archangel gone bad.
The job will put Elena in the midst of a killing spree like no other…and pull her to the razor’s edge of passion. Even if the hunt doesn’t destroy her, succumbing to Raphael’s seductive touch just may. For when archangels play, mortals break…
Ana: In the interest of full disclosure: it is not a secret that I am a Nalini Singh fangirl, more like a nalinisingh-aholic -I think she is a truly gifted writer and I love her Psy/Changeling series. I was, of course, a bit concerned about this new venture and I wondered if she would be able to write two series at the same time and make them different but equally good? The answer is a resounding YES. From the get go Angels’ Blood grabbed my attention and I was completely engrossed by the story and captivated by the protagonist, Elena. I loved it so much, I was afraid my review would turn out to be a series of incoherent thoughts followed by a WOW, BUY IT (not very helpful is it?) so I asked Thea, who is not a fan of Paranormal Romance and had never read a Nalini Singh novel before, to read the book for a more balanced view on the book. So, here we go.
Thea: As Ana says above, I was kinda arm twisted into reading this book – not because I don’t like Nalini’s writing (in fact, this is the first book I’ve read by her), but because my experiences with Paranormal Romance have been pretty schizophrenic, more often negative than positive (hello, allergic reaction to Kresley Cole). That said, Ana absolutely LOVES Nalini’s work (as does a huge chunk of the blogosphere!), and I was curious. Plus, this new series is being marketed as more of an “Urban Fantasy Romance” which had me interested.
In any case, I decided to give this book a go…and I’m so glad that I did. While I think the Urban Fantasy label is a misnomer (this is indeed a paranormal romance at its core), and a number of the paranormal romance genre conventions that make me uncomfortable are present, I could honestly care less. This is a wonderful book, complete with intriguing characters, a tightly written plot, and a compelling universe. If Angels’ Blood is an indicator, I’ll have to read Nalini’s backlist! Suffice to say, I am a newly converted fan.
On the plot: Elena Deveraux hunts vampires for the Guild, tracking and apprehending those that are trying to get away from their contracts with their masters and creators: the Angels. She is Hunter-Born which means she has special tracking skills ( she can scent vampires) that makes her one of the top hunters of the Guild. That fact brings her to the attention of Raphael, the powerful, sexy, Archangel of New York, who has a new dangerous mission for her: to track a rogue Archangel who is bent on bloodshed – the mysterious reason behind his turning assassin a secret, deadly in itself. Elena is facing now beings that are crueler and more powerful that she has ever faced before but she will never back down from a fight.
Ana: Angels’ Blood is one of those perfect (yes, perfect) books where plot meet characterisation and everything is well balanced and everything just works.
At first it all may look familiar: vampires and angels and vampires hunters. Yet, it is not. In this world, Vampires are Made by the angels – usually because they want to, ex-humans who signed up for immortality and go through a series of tests and then become bound for a 100 year contract with their angel-Maker. A hunter, like Elena the protagonist, is in charge of hunting those who change their minds about keeping the contracts.
Similarly, The Angels are far from being angelic like in a Guardian Angel sense, and there is no mention of God or Heaven (or hell). It is very clear how inhuman they are , powerful , above and beyond anything in the realm of lower human beings and yet in an ironically paradoxical behaviour (and this is what is excellent about this world-building) there you have these Angels and Archangels involved in power –hungry scuffles that are so very… petty and human. And there is envy and gossip and inner conflict, and the more you look at the Cadre of Ten, the group Archangels that effectively, share and rule the world, the more you feel like you are observing a clique of earthly Politicians. But then you take a step back and like Elena, you remind yourself that they are NOT humans and of course their immortality and power and sheer force will make these power plays something that are more deadly and dangerous than anything an UN summit could ever be. And that is what is so thrilling about Angels’ Blood and what makes it unique – the fact that there are high stakes involved and never once you doubt it. It makes for a very tense reading to realise that the supposed hero can be at any given time cruel, forceful, and perhaps even eventually become evil – the Angels after all, have lived for such a long time, the lack of humanity and therefore of feelings can be truly ghastly.
The suspense of the Hunt for Uram (and why does exactly Raphael needs Elena’s help if she stands no chance against an Archangel?) is gripping and there is a race against time and a mystery that is not revealed until the final pages which presents a major Twist and a major WTF moment that was crazy–good in a most awesome way. And the action sequences – the chases, the fights, the confrontations between Elena and Raphael , Elena and Dimitri (Raphael’s second in command) and Raphael and Uram were cinema-worthy , edge- of-eat tense and exhilarating.
Angels’ Blood is hard to pin down in one genre: it has some strong elements of Urban Fantasy – the setting, the strong heroine , the anti-hero that is far from being your typical romance hero and the fact that they will be the leading pair of the second book as well – but in the end I guess it sits firmly in the Paranormal Romance genre, as no matter what happens in the end, it is Elena and Raphael’s riveting dynamics that takes most of its pages. I mean, an aloof Archangel that is attracted to a mere human who in turn is attracted to a being that will probably kill her when all is said and done? The result is pure gold.
Thea: First things first – I would stress again that Angels’ Blood has a very strong romance focus, and if you, dear reader, are like me and have a hard time not giggling through explicitly detailed intimate scenes, you should know that this novel does have these exchanges. I was not prepared for this, so when I came to page 69 (oho! the irony!) and read:
The lines of his face might’ve been starkly masculine, but at that instant, his lips were pure temptation, soft, bitable, sensual in a way only a man’s mouth could be. “If I were to splay you out on my desk and thrust my fingers into you right now, I think I’d find different.”
…it was something of an abrupt awakening. (Disclaimer: There is absolutely nothing wrong with explicitly detailed romance scenes as such; but I personally have an immaturity problem and tend to find this sort of thing corny and it makes me laugh. Fingering, nipples, the word “moist”…I cannot help it, I collapse into giggles. I am such a child. As such, my opinions are only mine and not meant to be a reflection of the genre – it simply is my personal bias.)
My point being: this is a paranormal novel with very strong romance elements, in addition to strong urban fantasy elements.
That said, this story is fantastic. Nalini Singh has created a new Manhattan, where angels and archangels rule, creating and commanding vampires, and hunters like Elena make sure these vampires stay in line and ensure the safety of mere mortals. While there isn’t really anything new here in terms of world building – angels and vampires (and vampire hunters, for that matter) are popular creatures in the paranormal cannon – the rules and hierarchies of Elena’s universe are clearly, simply, elegantly designed. Yes, the vampires and angels are predictably sexy per usual, but I liked the hierarchy of power Ms. Singh creates with the archangels’ Cadre of Ten, the loyalty (or disloyalty) of vampires, the bickering and distrust between ancient archangels, etc.
What I loved the most about these vampires and angels was how dangerous they are. So often in paranormal novels there are these supposedly ancient and dangerous characters…but they all sound like twenty-somethings, and are about as believably dangerous as my pet turtle Leonardo. There are no illusions here in terms of the brutality and ruthlessness of the angels in particular, and this image is enforced throughout the novel. Also, some of the archangels are truly ancient, having existed for millennia – and they behave as ancient, fickle, slightly crazed creatures would.
So far as the actual story goes, Angels’ Blood is another one of those tightly written, un-put-down-able books. The search for crazed, blood hungry Archangel Uram is an engaging mystery, with some solid twists and revelations made along the way. I’m excited in particular to see how the situation with Lijuan plays out in the future.
Another thing I should point out about this wonderful novel is how cleanly written it is – instead of wasting hundreds pages, Angels’ Blood is perfection in terms of pacing. I would compare the level of writing to Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books – they waste no space with excessive detail, there are no unnecessary, droning dialogues. This is no small feat, and I give huge props to Nalini Singh; Angels’ Blood never falters, packing a huge story into 350 pages. I never once found my attention slipping or getting bored with elements of this damn near flawlessly plotted story. Bravo, Ms. Singh.
On the characters:
Ana: The characters of Angels’ Blood shine bright – Elena more than anyone else. It’s been a while since I have been so consumed with love by a heroine to the point where I breathed her every single word and waited for her reactions with unabated attention. And applauded with effusive delight and came away with a unique feeling, I hardly ever feel for romance novel heroines, that of undying RESPECT. Elena is one of those characters that are aware of her own weakness and strengths, or faults and rights. She is strong but she is not a fool. She knows this job can make or break her but odds are she will end up dead. I loved how faced with the prospective decision of either being killed or having her memory erased (after all, she does know too much) she picks being killed. Because Elena without her memories is not Elena. She’d rather die (but she won’t go out without a fight, mind you).
The first encounter between Raphael and Elena is a perfect example of Nalini Singh’s wonderful characterisation. It is very early in the game and already we know what Raphael is capable of and how Elena will face it. They have met in his tower, and she is having these thoughts on how incredibly handsome he is. And how he is so seductive. But Elena knows her own mind and she knows these are not her thoughts and she realises he is controlling her mind. If there is one thing she refuses to be is an Angel-toy, a puppet, she will never bend her knees to him, no matter what. This is what happens:
Her thoughts derailed again as she watched the fluid grace of Raphael’s walk, so seductive, so –
Standing up, she sent her chair crashing to the tiles. “Get.Out.Of.My.Head.”
Raphael came to a standstill. “Do you intend to use that knife?” His words were ice. Blood scented the air, and she realised it was her own.
Looking down, she found her hand clenching on the blade of the knife she’d drawn instinctively from the sheath at her ankle. She’d never make such a mistake. He was forcing her to hurt herself, showing her she was nothing but a toy for him to play with. Instead of fighting, she squeezed harder, “If you want me to do a job for you, fine. But I won’t be manipulated”.
I mean, he makes her hurt herself. She does not cower – she squeezes the knife HARDER. At this point I can completely understand how Raphael, aloof, cold, detached, inhuman can feel a spark here because there is this humanity in Elena, this life that is alien to him because it defies him and there isn’t much he hasn’t seen in millennium he has been alive. Defiance by a human is a rare thing and maybe enough to initiate a connection. The interesting thing is that it takes a long time for some real feelings to take hold between them – if you discount the initial, immediate lust, anything else came with time and working together. But the sense of danger and of imminent disaster is always there – Raphael continuously ponders about Elena’s future death and so does Elena, who, as already mentioned, is no fool. The fact that Raphael gave me the creeps and I was absolutely terrified of him (regardless of how hot he was) up until very late in the book only goes to show how far Nalini Singh takes his character and mind you, we are NOT talking about redemption here. He is who he is and Elena coming into his life will make him a little more human but he is an Archangel in a world where Archangels are not do-gooders. There is no back-tracking here and this is absolutely fine within the confines of this book. The fact that remains is this: they are a match for each other and I can’t wait to see where Nalini Singh takes them next.
As for the other characters: as usual, this author excels at writing relevant and interesting secondary characters. From Dimitri, the vampire that is Raphael’ s second in command to the other Archangels and Angels (I sort of developed a soft spot for Illium, the Angel with blue feathers) and the other hunters of the Guild, there isn’t one that wasn’t well written.
What else can I say? I am clearly, a fan.
Thea: Just as the plotting and pacing of this book is impeccable, the characters are wonderfully, wholly real. Elena, our heroine, is fantastic. She’s a layered character with a troubled past, the best at what she does, but she’s not a brash, cocky loudmouth. Furthermore, she’s a rational character that makes refreshingly intelligent decisions. She doesn’t try to go it alone, nor does she rush impulsively into danger (ala Rachel Morgan). Like the aforementioned Mercy Thompson, Elena knows exactly who she is and what her strengths – and more importantly, what her weaknesses – are. As a hunter, Elena is singularly talented with her strong sense of ‘scent’ – that is, she can smell vampires and follow their trail. Raphael finds her talents useful in tracking down the blood born archangel Uram, but both Elena and he know that she does not stand a chance against Uram himself. The most endearing thing about Elena is her level-headedness and her rationality. She has that elusive, heady blend of kick-ass-ness and vulnerability that the best, most well-written heroines do…and this extends to her relationship with Raphael.
Repeatedly, Elena reminds herself that Raphael is not human. For all his beauty and his human mannerisms, he is an archangel; an immortal who could care less for the human lives that pass in the blink of an eye. He is, perhaps, the best “hero” I have ever read in a paranormal romance novel because he is terrifyingly, convincingly dangerous. At one point in the story he goes into “The Quiet,” and it is truly cold and frightening for Elena. In fact, Raphael is more anti-hero than hero: he frequently thinks about killing Elena, he bends her to his own will against her wishes, he threatens the lives of her friends and family without remorse, he maims, tortures and kills those who cross him. He’s not your tough guy with a good warm heart, in other words. Though he’s more human than the others in the Cadre, the rules of humanity do not apply to him – and that’s the most impressive thing about Nalini Singh’s characterization here. How often writers try to “humanize” characters that are not human! Be they vampires or werewolves, trying to create a human personification for them is a losing battle. Ms. Singh does not attempt to idealize or romanticize Raphael here – and he resonates so much more as a palpable, real character because of this.
My only criticism for these two characters lies in the nature of the romance. The problem inherent with novels like this, where a supremely powered uber-god alpha character picks the under-powered pretty girl is – WHY? Why on earth would an archangel all of a sudden start developing feelings for this little, regular mortal creature? Why would he form such a strong attachment so quickly? I understand this is the nature of the story and how the genre works, but Raphael’s interest in Elena initially feels rushed and out of place with the otherwise brilliant characterization. At least, this is my personal qualm and I take these romances with a mountain of salt. But where Angels’ Blood succeeds where almost every other story of this type fails is that even though there is an implausible attraction between Elena and Raphael, there’s still real danger to their relationship. Raphael doesn’t attempt to keep Elena out of harm’s way, and for much of the novel it is clear he would kill her as soon as sleep with her, thus taking the edge off the implausible nature of their relationship.
Besides the leading pair, the other secondary characters are similarly beautifully written and wholly believable. I loved the interactions between Elena and her friends, in particular her gutsy, loyal best friend Sara. But the true scene stealers would have to be Dimitri, ancient vampire and effectively Raphael’s number two, and the other archangels in the Cadre – particularly the age-crazed Lijuan, the voluptuous and fickle Michaela, and the blood-born Uram himself. As I mentioned earlier, I cannot wait to read more with the complications Lijuan introduces…
Final Thoughts, Observations, and Rating:
Ana: I have little else to add except repeat my initial reaction: WOW. BUY IT. Angels’ Blood is THAT good. It goes straight into my top 10 of 2009.
Thea: This is a wonderful novel, and one of the strongest first books in a series I have read in a very long time. Angels’ Blood took me completely by surprise, and I loved every second of it. I cannot wait for the sequel (on another note, I am SO stoked that Nalini is sticking with these two lead characters of Elena and Raphael as opposed to moving on to some other couple in the universe). What Ana said. Buy it.
Notable quotes/ Parts:
Ana: The ending! The final fight between the two Archangels, oh dear lord, someone CRIES for the first time in one thousand years.
Thea: The entire ending. Although it’s a “twist”, I totally called it. Heh.
Additional Thoughts: TOMORROW: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THIS FANTASTIC HEROINE ELENA DEVERAUX. WHAT IS HER FAVORITE WEAPON? WHAT DOES SHE THINK OF RAPHAEL? HOW IS HER RELATIONSHIP WITH NALINI SINGH? THOSE AND OTHER QUESTIONS ANSWERED PLUS A CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF ANGELS’ BLOOD.
Ana: 10 – (what else?)
Thea: 8 Excellent – and as of right now, one of the best books I’ve read in 2009.