Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh
ORDER A COPY: Shield of Winter (A Psy/Changeling Novel)
Publishing Date: June 3, 2014
Hardcover: 448 pages
Rating: 5 stars (Awesome!)
Assassin. Soldier. Arrow. That is who Vasic is, who he will always be. His soul drenched in blood, his conscience heavy with the weight of all he’s done, he exists in the shadows, far from the hope his people can almost touch—if only they do not first drown in the murderous insanity of a lethal contagion. To stop the wave of death, Vasic must complete the simplest and most difficult mission of his life.
For if the Psy race is to survive, the empaths must wake…
Having rebuilt her life after medical “treatment” that violated her mind and sought to stifle her abilities, Ivy should have run from the black-clad Arrow with eyes of winter frost. But Ivy Jane has never done what she should. Now, she’ll fight for her people, and for this Arrow who stands as her living shield, yet believes he is beyond redemption. But as the world turns to screaming crimson, even Ivy’s fierce will may not be enough to save Vasic from the cold darkness.
Last year’s Heart of Obsidian left us at the dawn of a new Psy world. Kaleb Krychek had declared the fall of Silence as a new way of life for the psy people. There would be no more rehabilitations and no more training out emotions by pain or torture. The psy people would be allowed to once again free to feel love and joy, anger and pain and they would no longer be persecuted for these imperfections. But has the fall of Silence come too late?
There is a virus which is oozing its way through the psy-net and when it finds a weakness, it breaks through into the minds of the unsuspecting psy and is causing madness on a mass scale. And it is not just those who are infected that are suffering. The maddened psy are going on a violent rampage and no one is safe from their attacks, not human, changeling or other psy.
Kaleb believes it is the missing E designation, the ones Silence tried to breed out, that hold the answer to stopping the virus but with 100 years of suppression and hiding, he must first find powerful E’s hiding among the population and then train them how to use the abilities they were always told didn’t exist.
Kaleb brings in the Arrows to help locate his test group of E designation and get them to agree to train with Sascha Duncan. He has made an agreement with the cats and wolves of Dark River and Snow Dancer to create a training camp for the E psy near Sascha and far from an infected site of the psy-net.
Kaleb needs the Arrows not just to locate the E’s but to protect them since not everyone is in agreement that the E’s can save the failing psy-net. There are many who fear that the re-emerging E designation are the cause of the infection itself.
Vasic has been trained as an Arrow since he was four. The Arrows have always worked in the shadows, being used by the now fallen Council as assassins. After two decades of bringing death and pain at the command of those who lied to bloat their own power, Vasic is at the precipice of darkness. He carries too much guilt on his soul and he can’t imagine anything further in his life but his own death. But it is his training and his loyalty to his fellow Arrows, that makes Vasic take the assignment to protect the E’s who he believes will save the psy people.
As the E’s learn and stretch their abilities, an usual side-effect is occurring, the emotional E-psy are bonding with the Arrows and healing the most Silent of the psy race.
Vasic’s charge is Ivy. Ivy was a gradient 9.8 on the scale for the “non-existent” designation of E, and after years of trying to suppress that power, in her late teens she volunteered for rehabilitation only to have her brain nearly butchered. If she can work past the damage done, she could be an asset in repairing the psy-net.
When the man who’s Silence is such a part of him meets the woman who has never been able to submit to the harsh structure, she sees past the blackness in his soul and accepts Vasic shadows and all, and he vows to protect this most precious treasure with his last breath. But choices Vasic has made on his descent into darkness are coming back to haunt him, and now that he has finally found a measure of peace, he might not be around long enough to enjoy it.
Nalini Singh shows us that gaining freedom is just the beginning. You then need to learn what to do with it. Kaleb Krychek announced the end of Silence, but after 100 years of the protocol, the psy people don’t know what is the next step. The psy were trained not to show feelings so those who survive the attacks by the insane psy are just as afraid of the rescuers as the attackers since showing fear would have gotten you rehabilitation for your flawed Silence. They are also afraid that maybe the announcement was just a way to get the flawed to reveal themselves. There are also those who fear that the fall of Silence and the re-emergence of the E-psy are the reason for the infection through the psy-net so the E’s are constantly under attack.
After 100 years of suppression, these hidden E’s are also being asked to fix an escalating and deadly flaw when they don’t understand the powers that they have and were always told didn’t exist, only to find out that different E-psy have different abilities and they don’t all accomplish the same purpose.
I like the fact that the fall of Silence doesn’t mean just rainbows and puppies. “Great, we’re free to live without fear of failing, but now what?” We see that even Kaleb has to sit down and figure out what needs to be done next after the fall of Silence. Where do they go from here?
As far as Vasic’s story, I find that I have enjoyed most the stories which involved Kaleb, Judd and now Vasic, the three most powerful psy’s who were basically tortured into accepting and being controlled by Silence, but who found a way to break that control for the right woman. I actually thought this would be a story of Vasic and Aden who is his best friend. Even under Silence, there was a strong emotional connection between the two men which shouldn’t have existed under Silence, and we will understand better the two young boys who should have trained against each other and competed against each other, and who grew a bond that made them the strong leaders they are of the Arrows. Aden has been watching Vasic spiral into a depression for the last few years and not knowing how to save his friend. Even he is amazed by the transformation after only being around Ivy a short time.
Ivy’s complete lack of Silence is why her parents kept her hidden from the net. After the brutal rehabilitation, she managed to reclaim her mind but still couldn’t even maintain a pretense of Silence as many others did. Just Ivy being herself around Vasic is what draws him to her. She doesn’t have to beat at his shields or fight to break him down. She accepts him as he is with his shadows and with his Silence and you see the subtle changes in their relationship in allowing a touch or leaning into her when she speaks or the telepathic contacts which he allows with her. The building bond comes through in simple things like getting Ivy a warmer jacket; as a TK Vasic can pull one from anywhere, but he brings her his jacket. He even learns to accept her dog when Psy don’t keep pets since that would require an emotional connection but it is all done subtly where Vasic is having a conversation with Ivy and picks up the stick to throw for the dog. No fanfare, no big declaration, just a subconscious decision to play with the dog, which is something the well-trained Arrow should never have been able to do.
Psy don’t have sex. They sign conception contracts and use in vitro to make children. It is fun to watch the previously unfelt sexual attraction build between them and the slight fumbling to get it right. Vasic keeps teleporting them out of the room any time things start getting out of control so they need to keep building up things between them.
Especially moving is that this subtle change in Vasic to accept and show affection for Ivy has a rippling effect through the Arrows since for the first time these trained killers and assassins can see that maybe they too can have a regular life some day. Maybe they aren’t all lost to a dark future in the new world.
This was a very enjoyable story and a wonderful addition to the series. I wasn’t sure where Nalini Singh would take us after Heart of Obsidian, which was a highly anticipated book and tipping point for the series, but there is no disappointment to be had for fans of the series. She is taking us in a whole new direction and it will be a bit of a bumpy and intriguing road for all.
Received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Ivy, Aden said you asked after me.
A crowd of butterflies took flight in her abdomen at the sound of Vasic’s telepathic voice, her nipples going painfully tight in a response that left her breathless. Intellectually, she’d known about sexual attraction—but no one had ever told her that all it would take was the sound of a certain male voice to make her lower body clench, her breasts aching and swelling as her pulse rate rocketed.
She thought of how he’d looked at her the previous night, pure Arrow concentration and ruthless focus, and bit down hard on her lower lip as her mind whispered that she should’ve pushed the strap down instead of pulling it up. Maybe then, he’d have put those strong fingers on her needy flesh.
I just missed you, she said through the sensual storm, unable to see him in the compound.
It was a simple errand, he said after a pause, and a good time to take care of it with Aden free to cover me. I’m walking in from the sentry line.
Heart skipping a beat at the fact her Arrow had actually explained himself to her, as if she had the right to question his movements, she flexed and unflexed her fingers atop his jacket…and then she did something either very brave or so stupid she’d never live down the humiliation. She sent him the erotic visual her mind had created, of her peeling down both straps of her camisole to reveal her breasts.
The silence echoed.
Groaning, she hid her flaming face in her hands. What had possessed her to, to—”Oh, God.”
Ivy…I may have caught an accidental image from your mind.
He was giving her an out. Chest heaving as her blood scalded her skin from the inside out, she grabbed some snow and pressed it to her cheeks. It wasn’t an accident, she admitted before the knots in her stomach tied her up into an incoherent ball. It was for you.
Vasic remained on his knees in the snow where he’d fallen when the picture of Ivy had slammed into his mind. It might as well have been a roundhouse punch to the jaw, his head was spinning so hard, his heartbeat erratic and a roar of blood in his ears.
It was for you.
No one had ever just given him something he wanted so much. Even though he knew he should erase the image from his mind, that it went against every one of the rules that helped him stay sane, stay stable, he opened it again. This time, the punch hit him directly in the solar plexus.
She was all shy smile and a peach-colored blush as she tugged down the straps of her top to reveal plump breasts topped with dusky pink nipples. The flesh of her breasts was a creamier shade than the skin of her shoulders, and he knew it’d mark easily Unable to resist, he ran a mental finger over one of those nipples, felt his rigid penis throb. The line of her neck drew his gaze, the curve of her shoulder, the slenderness of her arms. The lush softness of her lips.
Overwhelmed and incapable of processing the sensory input, he did the only thing he could: He shut it all down with jaw-clenched focus, sense by sense. It took several minutes, but he had both body and mind under control when he rose to his feet—after using a handful of clean snow to wash the sweat off his face and the back of his neck.
Then, instead of reprimanding Ivy for doing something that had cut his legs out from under him, he said, Thank you. He wasn’t going to erase that image. Not now, not ever. It was his.
No one could take it from him now, steal the piece of herself she’d handed him. He would keep it in his private mental file of all things Ivy Jane, and he’d look at it any time he needed an instant of beauty in the darkness.