Title: Archangel’s Kiss
Author: Nalini Singh
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Berkeley (US) / Gollancz (UK)
Publication Date: February 2010 (US) / March 2010 (UK)
Paperback: 352 pages
Stand Alone or Series: Book 2 in the ongoing Guild Hunter series
How Did We Get This Book: Review copies from author & publisher
Why Did We Read This Book: Both of us loved Angels’ Blood, the first book in the series. Ana is a confessed Nalini Singh-aholic, and Thea is on her way to becoming one too. The question should be, rather, what took us so long to read this book?
Summary: (from NaliniSingh.com)
Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux wakes from a year-long coma to find herself changed—an angel with wings the colors of midnight and dawn—but her fragile body needs time to heal before she can take flight. Her lover, the stunningly dangerous archangel Raphael, is used to being in control—even when it comes to the woman he considers his own. But Elena has never done well with authority…
They’ve barely begun to understand each other when Raphael receives an invitation to a ball from the archangel Lijuan. To refuse would be a sign of fatal weakness, so Raphael must ready Elena for the flight to Beijing—and to the nightmare that awaits them there. Ancient and without conscience, Lijuan holds a power that lies with the dead. And she has organized the most perfect and most vicious of welcomes for Elena…
Thea: Anyone that reads our reviews knows that I have an aversion to romance novels, especially of the mushy, sexually explicit variety. I’ve read some pretty bad Paranormal Romance in particular that makes my eyes roll up to the back of my head, where they can see my brain, which is pissed off at having to read the offending material in the first place. I can deal with mush and sex, but not when it is at the expense of a cohesive and believable story. Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter books are the clear exception to my PNR-dislike, because, quite frankly, her writing rules. The thing that drew me in with Angels’ Blood was how textured and real her characters felt – how Raphael is actually a terrifying, cruel immortal and has no mortal feelings. How Elena is fragile and insignificant in the grand scope of the supernatural world – and she not only knows this but respects it. The biggest problem I have with a lot of PNR (and a lot of UF to be honest) is how there are these supposed millennia-old immortal/super-sexy/supposedly dangerous dudes – but they act like they are in their twenties or thirties, and they are all big softies with hearts of gold, and even if they committed atrocities that was all in the distant past and they are atoning for it, and they are saved from an eternity of brooding by this fiesty hot little human thang (who of course turns out to be some super powerful fey princess/most powerful/magical creature in the universe) who has a scent and a way of sassing that is IRRESISTIBLE to said leading male. In Angels’ Blood and Archangel’s Kiss, Ms. Sing creates a world where deadly creatures are actually deadly, and her heroine Elena is valued because of her human heart and her frailty – even as an immortal, she is a young one and easy to kill. I LOVED that about this book. I love that the relationship between Raphael and Elena is far from “happily ever after” and that their story is continued here. I loved it all enough that I didn’t even mind all the renegade nipples, running rampant throughout the book. Well, I didn’t mind much.
Ana: I read Archangel’s Kiss a few weeks ago which makes it my first official 2010 book. I came to it in the middle of a serious reading slump after I tried and couldn’t finish about 6 books. Nalini Singh once more saves me from the brink of despair. Her writing is kick-ass as usual, the particular world-building of the Guild Hunter book as interesting as ever and the relationship between Raphael and Elena is not only smoking hot (unlike Thea, I tend to like the sexually explicit content when it is well done and part of the story. And oh boy. Can Nalini Singh deliver on that area) but also fascinating.
On the Plot:
Thea: While Angels’ Blood had more of a death-defying, high stakes plot, Archangel’s Kiss is more subdued. There’s an overarching problem of some cruel angel that siccing his/her vampires on Raphael’s vampires, maiming and sending a taunting message meant to threaten Elena’s safety. There’s also the distant, looming test for Elena on the horizon as Lijuan, the most ancient and powerful of the archangels, has broken her disinterested seclusion in China and has extended an invitation to Raphael and his new “pet” hunter. Lijuan’s age and power, however, have changed her into something beyond immortal. She has evolved and has power over death itself, creating her own amusements in the form of an army of the dead reborn – an army that feeds on the flesh of the living to sustain itself. And Lijuan likes to feed her pets – with Elena in mind. While there are these two conflicts going on, the bulk of the novel involves Elena trying to get back her strength and become accustomed to her strange new body, especially after a year of lying in a coma. The focus in this second book is not so much on another rip-roaring adventure (though there is a fair amount of action and a dramatic conclusion) than it is a character-centric book. The highest points of Archangel’s Kiss are in the growing understanding and relationship between Elena and Raphael, as Elena learns what it means to be “immortal” and yet so incredibly weak.
Again, I found myself in awe of Nalini Singh’s worldbuilding skills. Her hierarchy of humans, vampires, angels and archangels is staggering in its complexity and in how utterly believable it all is. As I said before, these immortals are dangerous, cruel creatures and they act as such. I LOVED that Raphael’s Seven would try to kill Elena if she slipped in her vigilance – not because they hate Elena, but because her very presence weakens their leader. She is a liability, plain and simple, and I liked this aspect of the story (but more on that with characters later!). From a writing perspective, I only had a few minor complaints – there was a high level of repetition (especially regarding Elena’s suppressed memories, resurfacing) that needn’t have been there, and a whole bunch of not-sex/almost-sex scenes that I’m admittedly not a fan of (but, of course, this is personal taste! As Ana would say, it’s “hawt” but I’m an emotionally immature reader). Overall though, Ms. Singh’s writing level is awesome, and I found myself swept away in this wonderful novel.
Ana: As Thea says, plot-wise, there are several threads that run parallel in Archangel’s Kiss. The angels and archangels are scheming as ever and with a seat open in the Cadre of Ten, one is stepping up step up to fill up that place. This is expected and almost all Archangels are ok with it. Thea mentioned that the creatures created by Nalini Singh are cruel and terrifying immortals. This is even clearer in Archangel’s Kiss: as the mystery of who wants to be part of the Cadre builds up what seems to be the problem is not necessarily that people are being killed in a cruel manner. And that is fascinating even if albeit a bit uncomfortable.
The problem stems from the manner which this is being done, the overstepping of the boundaries and the fact that children are being targeted. Similarly when it comes to Lijuan’s age and power – a plotline that one day might be applicable to Raphael – the importance comes from the connection (or lack of) with what is like to an archangel versus being human – hence the relationship between Raphael and Elena being the central theme of the series.
I mentioned that Archangel’s Kiss saved me from a reading slump and it was so. But I did have a couple of problems with it. I actually agree with Thea that there was a high level of repetition -one more “mine” from Raphael and I would explode. Having said that, I absolutely adored the book.
On the Characters:
Thea: Here’s where things really get going. Archangel’s Kiss is very much a character-centric novel, exploring Elena and Raphael even more as characters, and building on their relationship together. Following the dramatic ending of Angels’ Blood, Elena has been Made an Angel and now is immortal. Except…immortality isn’t everything you think it is. She heals more quickly and will never grow old or fall to illness, but Elena is still at the very bottom of the power totem pole. She barely has the strength to walk (as she has been in a coma for a year), and she must learn how to carry and use her new wings. I absolutely loved that Elena isn’t automatically All Better (nor is she SUPER!POWERFUL!) because she’s an Angel – in fact, in many ways she’s even weaker and in a worse position as an immortal than she was as a hunter. As a mortal, Elena knew exactly who she was. She wasn’t a mark for an angelic power play, and she never had to worry about becoming overpowered or a slave to Raphael’s possessive will. But, as an Angel and as Raphael’s mate, she is essentially a walking bullseye for those who want to hurt or take Raphael down – which means even Raphael’s loyal servants want her killed, because she weakens him; she makes him vulnerable. But isn’t that the coolest thing? That’s what love does – it makes one vulnerable to be hurt, but that trust and vulnerability make it all the more special. And THAT is why I love this couple. Elena is strong willed and refuses to be Raphael’s slave, and Raphael – utterly inhuman Raphael – learns and respects this. It’s a beautiful dynamic.
Beyond the leading pair, all of the other characters are textured, diverse, and brilliant in their own ways. In particular, Ilium (one of Raphael’s Seven, the only one to love Elena) and Michaela (another powerful archangel in the Cadre of Ten) are standouts. Michaela’s character is one that you cannot help but despise, especially in her cruel, cold venom towards Elena, but the brilliance of Ms. Singh’s writing is that she shows another, more relatable side to this villain too. And I can dig that.
Ana: I have to agree with Thea again. I think that this is where Archangel’s Kiss truly shines. As Elena awakens from a year- long coma that changed her forever and is faced with a whole new set of challenges. She basically has to learn a new life. Heck she even starts to attend school for Angels. I love how different both Raphael and Elena are from who they used to be and how they both have evolved as characters. And it couldn’t be any different. Not only one year has passed but their love for each other and their personalities have influenced each other. They are BOTH softer people they once were and I think that is a good thing. Not only does Elena make Raphael vulnerable (and how amazing are the last lines of the book- Raphael gets the bests last liners!) but he makes her too. But at the same time, they haven’t completely changed their personalities: Raphael is still cold and ruthless and finds it hard to HAVE to respect Elena’s wishes for independence. It is a working, developing and yes, beautiful dynamics.
I really hope that this hasn’t be the last we see of them. Now that she has become an immortal angel, I want to see what happens with her role as a Hunter and how this dynamics will play when they return to New York.
As for the secondary characters, I am completely fascinated by Michaela who both terrifies and befuddles me. When I think she is completely evil and potty she does something that makes me feel sorry for her. This is the mark of a good villain. And then there is Illium (or Bluebell) and his blue eyelashes and the hint of a sad past AND NALINI SINGH YOU MUST TELL US MORE ABOUT ILLIUM.
I can’t stand Dimitri though – is it just me, dear readers?
Final Thoughts, Observations and Rating:
Thea: I truly enjoyed Archangel’s Kiss – heck, I loved it. It’s not as powerful as Angels’ Blood, but it is a solid, captivating second installment in the ongoing Guild Hunter series. I loved the deeper look at angels, their laws, their powers and their politics, just as I devoured the ongoing romance between two very moving protagonists. I cannot wait for the next book in the series – and the return to the world of mere mortals!
Ana: Although not as refreshingly powerful and original (have I lost that first spark?) as Angels’ Blood, Archangel’s Kiss delivers in every possible ways to make this a great Paranormal Romance series that even the naysayers can safely pick up: a solid world-building, good writing, a great character-driven central arc and an amazing romance.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the official excerpt:
Elena gripped the balcony railing and stared down at the gorge that fell away with jagged promise beneath. From here, the rocks looked like sharp teeth, ready to bite and tear and rip. She tightened her hold as the icy wind threatened to tumble her into their unforgiving jaws. “A year ago,” she murmured, “I didn’t know the Refuge existed, and today, here I stand.”
A sprawling city of marble and glass spread out in every direction, its elegant lines exquisite under the razor-sharp burn of the sun. Dark-leafed trees provided soothing patches of green on both sides of the gorge that cut a massive divide through the city, while snow-capped mountains ruled the sky line. There were no roads, no high-rises, nothing to disturb the otherworldly grace of it.
Yet, for all its beauty, there was something alien about this place, a vague sense that darkness lurked beneath the gilded surface. Drawing in a breath laced with the biting freshness of the mountain winds, she looked up . . . at the angels. So many angels. Their wings filled the skies above this city that seemed to have grown out of the rock itself.
The angelstruck, those mortals who were literally en thralled by the sight of angelic wings, would weep to be in this place filled with the beings they worshipped. But Elena had seen an archangel laugh as he plucked the eyes out of a vampire’s skull, as he pretended to eat, then crush the pulpy mass. This, she thought with a shiver, was not her idea of heaven.
A rustle of wings from behind her, a squeeze from the pow erful hands on her hips. “You’re tiring, Elena. Come inside.”
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Angels are everywhere these days – in books, in films, in video games… For example, last week Legion came out in theaters (which we haven’t seen yet, but Thea is feeling the urge even if it does look silly).
Do you have any favorite portrayals of angels in film or literature?
Thea: 7 – Very Good. (But leaning toward an 8 )
Reading Next: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor