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Title: Archangel's Kiss (Guild Hunter Book 2)
Author: Nalini Singh (@nalinisingh; NaliniSingh.com)
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Page Count: 321
Publisher: Berkley Sensation




Basic Plotline: Waking up after a year in a coma, Elena Devereaux finds that she is now a fledgling angel and immortal. Unfortunately, she won't have long to learn how to fly. Not only is she invited to a ball by the most dangerous and oldest of the Archangels, a invitation she can't turn down without risking the position her lover Raphael holds as an Archangel. Worse yet, not even the angels' Refuge is safe. When a vampire belonging to Raphael is found savagely brutalized in the Refuge, he and Elena both become targets of a conspiracy that escalates to the violent kidnapping of an angelic child and even murder. Even as she tries her best to master her new powers, she must call on all her skills as a Hunter to help get to the root of the conspiracy, a root that's closer to her own past than she imagines.

The Positives: I make no apologies (in advance) for reading this book without having read the prequel, Angel's Blood. I picked this one up and got engrossed in it immediately and just didn't want to stop to get the first one unless I had to. Luckily, I didn't. Which may be a good thing, because some of the first chapters are spent rehashing things from the end of the last book (something that sometimes bores me), so it might be good that I came to those details with fresh eyes.

This book may not be high brow literature, but it is what I think the best paranormal romances ought to be, delicious and addictive and emotive and intense and unabashed. Plus, it presents a romance that I actually liked. I've seen other reviews that were bothered by some of the gender dynamics, and I have to say that I would have been too but I got the feeling, mostly from Elena's own thoughts and actions, that she was aware that what was going on between her and Raphael was not a normal, perfectly healthy relationship. And the rest of this book bears it out. The fact that Singh owns that this is not them thinking they're playing Happy Families, but indeed, two people who are coming to a relationship with a shit ton of emotional, mental, and even supernatural issues is what makes this work.

Singh also does a good job of explaining Raphael without excusing him, by showing that if he is a cold, domineering bastard it's because he's had centuries of having to be a cold, domineering bastard to everyone around him, that for the angel groupies out there, being in any kind of intimate personal relationship is very much foreign to him. I wish more paranormal romance writers would get that it's not writing two very messed up people in their whirlwind messed up relationship that bothers and annoys and even offends me, it's the lack of acknowledgment. Own that a man wanting to dominate a woman is fucked up to the point where he controls her life is FUCKED UP, own that it's going to cause problems, own that the dynamic is not healthy and can be very problematic, own where it crosses the line into abuse. Just don't pretend like I'm supposed to see it as being perfectly natural and normal and okay and not at all needing deconstructing.

This book shows why someone who has spent every waking minute of their many centuries being in command, having to decide who to kill and who just to maim, having to defend that position viciously when necessary would have a hard time being a gentle, loving soul even when they truly are in love with someone and why such a person might automatically reach for a position of dominance. I don't know if the author intended it or not, but I found it a very wise choice that the book shows that being in power does not make you a nice person. The more power, the less nice you get. Power doesn't just corrupt through greed, it corrupts through messing up a person's equilibrium when it comes to other people and their ability to empathize and concede and admit wrongdoing and give up control.

But neither does Singh erase what Elena thinks about this or how it affects her or that it is damned annoying and hurtful and even infuriating. Indeed, what's great about this paranormal romance is that it isn't just about "will they get together", it's about "will it work and how?" which is a question so many writers seem to think unworthy of writing a book about. And it makes for a truly, gorgeously, it's-so-wrong-but-it's-so-right delicious book. Because it's messed up - it knows it, you know it - and you just can't stop watching.

As for the worldbuilding, I can't comment too much about it having skipped the first books. Over all, I think it's one of the more original or at least convincingly developed worlds I've seen. It's not that angels and vampires are a new thing, or even the meeting of the two, but that Singh remembers that the rest of the world exists. It's sad when I get excited to see someone remember that places like India and China where the majority of the world's population LIVES exist and has archangels who come from those places. That alone got a thumbs up from me, especially since so many paranormal romances available here in the U.S. seem to posit that European mythologies rule over the whole world and that all angels, vampires, werewolves, etc are white and that somehow, even if they're said to be spread all over the world, they're still all white U.S.-European people.

I think Singh plays well with the idea of angels and archangels and vampires and I liked that she brought biology into it, indeed Elena wonders if her connection to Raphael is little more than a weird form of symbiosis rather than true love (that one line alone earn major respect from me as a reader).

Elena is actually a rather enjoyable heroine. I didn't like Raphael as much, but he was fascinating. I didn't find him boring, and a lot of the usual paranormal romance heroes leave me yawning.



The Negatives: This is by no means a perfect book, and while it was delicious, there were times that it was a little overboard in places. I found myself constantly wanting to smack some of Raphael's lieutenants, particularly Dmitri and it was frustrating that he continued to use his ability to evoke erotic feelings against Elena even as others lorded their superior strength and age over her.

I also found Lijuan underdeveloped as a villainess, and this may be due to missing the first book, but in this volume of the series she's one of the main challenges presented to Elena and she's got some very nasty things going on, but it seems that after one big fight everything collapses and she drifts off. I suppose I would have liked an entire book about her, or about Anoushka and Neha, especially since they seem like delightfully dark, dastardly femmes with lots of power and the wonderfully wicked dispositions to get what they want. And given that Singh did a good job of giving Michaela a more rounded portrayal than one usually gets of the Designated Bitch in romance and paranormal romance, I thought that stories about those three characters could've made for terrific, terrifying tales.

I also was disappointed to see that the sexual content of this novel seemed to follow the standard paranormal romance line of "penis in vagina sex is the bestest most ultimate most pleasurable sex ever!". While it was nice that Elena's needs were seen to when Raphael held back for fear of hurting her, it seemed to read as though it wasn't "real" sex until it was penis-in-vagina sex. I've got a massive rant building up about how I'm really tired of this. It's not that I don't believe there are partners who get a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from such activities, it's that when EVERY. SINGLE. BLASTED. BOOK. portrays sexuality, even if it's just heterosexual sexuality, in this way, I find myself wanting to tip bookshelves over and set them on fire. Sadly, this genre seems to believe this one activity is the pinnacle of All Sexuality Ever, which I think tends to erase the experiences of people who don't have this kind of sex for whatever reason or those who find that while it's nice, it doesn't really do it for them all that much and they need more and different types of stimulation.



CoC Score: 9/10 - Many COC's in this book, from the heroine Elena to Lijuan and Anoushka and Neha and others. While two of those die (although Lijuan's death is not really a traditional death and some of her essence remains afterwards), and at least three were villains or at least difficult characters, pretty much everyone but Elena was power hungry, aggressively ambitious, and borderline sociopathic.

Gender Score: 9.5/10. While there are gendered imbalances between Elena and Raphael and the constant reminder of Elena being attracted to him due to his "maleness" and some sketchiness (which the book owns up to a point), the book does a fairly good job with it's female characters. While most of the female characters here are not nice people, most of the characters of any gender are not nice people. Again, save Elena and Jessamy and the child-angel most of the people in this book are deeply troubled and even outright evil. I also thought Singh did a good job of rounding out both Neha and Michaela even when it would have been extremely easy to turn them into one dimensional villains and misogynistic tropes at that. And all female characters have a good deal of agency, and even when put at a disadvantage, Elena acts out of her agency.

GLBT Score: 0/10. I'm kind of sad about this. Because while I didn't expect to see a featured queer relationship, I'm kind of wondering why there couldn't at least be some mentions of queer or trans or non-binary angels or vampires. I mean, come on. They can't all be heterosexual and cissexual. Standard for the genre.

Ablism Score: 0/10. I didn't read any characters as being disabled or situations involving disability. Though I fully admit that I may have missed something. As always, for all my reviews and categories, I'm definitely open to suggestions, corrections, call-outs, and different opinions in comments.

July 2013

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