Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

Review: Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

slave to sensation nalini singh1 Review: Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

With a half-Italian background and a birthday smack in the middle of the Leo section of the Zodiac, it would be a touch misleading for me to claim to be a mild-mannered and unemotional person. According to my stepfather, my favourite place to be is on top of my soapbox, from which position I happily rant and rave about all manner of extremely important things, such as whether it's necessary to wear matching socks if no one can see them, or the fact that Smarties are most certainly not an inferior product when compared with M&Ms. Needless to say, if I were one of the Psy in bestselling author Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling world, I'd be considered rather definitively broken.

The Psy are a deeply eerie race, coldly logical and starkly emotionless as the result of generations of Pavlovian conditioning under a program known as Silence. While this program was ostensibly implemented in order to ensure unerring efficiency amongst the highly intellectual Psy, there is frequent allusion to the fact that this conditioning program has its roots in a movement designed to quell the Psys apparent propensity for violence and madness. Still, with their pesky emotions swept and smothered beneath a carpet of brutal stoicism, the Psy are able to engage in a variety of intellectual pursuits in a way that may not be otherwise possible. The cerebral nature of the Psy is such that each individual demonstrates certain mental abilities of varying strengths: telekinesis, telepathy, foresight, among others.'And its the among others where Sascha Duncan comes into the picture.

For Sascha Duncan, the conditioning has not taken as expected, and rather than being privy only to the typical emotional radio silence of the Psy mind, she finds herself dealing instead on a daily basis with a white noise of emotion whose effect she struggles to conceal from the cold suspicions of other Psy. It is agreed that Sascha is in some way wrong, but any effort to pinpoint the reason for this, or exactly in which way she is deficient is carefully avoided. Sascha, after all, is the daughter of powerful Psy Council member Nikita Duncan'although this means less than one might imagine, given that the Psy, in a way reminiscent of the film GATTACA, carefully plan and control the nature of their offspring through emotionally bereft genetic probability calculations.

Sascha's daily struggles are compounded when she is sent to deal with the DarkRiver changeling clan over a contentious housing project. Despite her careful efforts to control her problematic mental feedback, she finds herself deeply affected by the presence of Lucas Hunter, the leopard pack Alpha and a man whose interest in her steps rather quickly over the bounds of the business/personal divide. Lucas, for his part, finds himself strangely taken with Sascha, who challenges his stereotypical perspective of the Psy. But Lucas has a secondary motive for participating in the housing project: he is helping to investigate a series of depraved murders his pack suspects can only be the work of a cold-blooded Psy who has somehow broken conditioning'and Sascha may well be the key to obtaining the information he needs to head off the killer before another victim is found.

Singh's conceptualisation of her Psy-Changeling world is an intriguing one, and is in some ways far stronger than I might have expected of a novel with an emphasis largely on its romantic elements rather than its speculative fiction ones. Her approach is uneven, however, and while I applaud her deft touch in some places, in others I can't help but feel she has resorted to heavy-handed generalisation and hand-wavium rather than developing a cohesive and coherent world. Her depiction of how the Psy came to integrate Silence into their world is quite chilling indeed, but one can't help but question its apparently all-encompassing nature and what this truly represents. We're told that it is impossible to stamp out one particular emotion with any success, which is the reason behind the totality of the Psy conditioning, but this seems to ring a little false, and comes across more as a point of authorial convenience than anything (this is particularly the case when, in later books in the series, which Ill review throughout the week, certain characters have severe reactions in response to particular emotions and stimuli, rather than responding in a universally similar manner to all stimuli).

On a related note, I found myself rather struck by Singhs depiction of the Psy as a race that is universally cruel and callous, particularly given her sympathetic portrayal of changeling society. The Psy may be intellectual giants, but it seems that they have few other redeeming elementseven, apparently, to their own. Its strange that Singh works so hard to build a strongly multicultural cast amongst the Psy, but that, contradictorily, she treats the race itself as some sort of monolithic evil. This positioning of the Psy is only emphasised by the highly compassionate stance taken towards the changelings, who are painted very much as emotion-ruled creatures who are hyperaware of both the relationships they build with those of their pack, and of those with the earth. Changeling culture, though, is anything but benevolentwere told of extremely violent acts conducted against various other changeling packs, and their eye-for-and-eye and pro capital punishment positions strike me as something a little less than good and harmonious. It seems odd, then, that the violent exigencies of the Psy are condemned as aberrant, whilst those of the changelings are explained away as being the unavoidable product of their animalistic natures and of their pack culture. It seems that were looking at quite the same thing, really, but one groups actions are condemned, whilst the other groups are simply shrugged off.

Another issue that never fails to make me somewhat uncomfortable in a novel involving shifters is the role of the alpha male in cowing the female he seeks to possess. This is a trope that is in full evidence in Slave to Sensation, although Singh does work to make Lucas Hunter a largely likeable character, and the tension between Lucas and Sascha is generally very well drawn (if described to redundancy in places). Still, Sascha is portrayed as a character who is mentally quite fragile and conflicted, and one cant help but feel a tad off about Lucass incessant efforts to possess and dominate her. Moreover, the fact that Sascha is expected to relinquish integral elements of both her identity and her social and cultural background in order to become a part of the Pack just doesnt quite sit well with me. I do understand that the Psy are supposed to be evil and horrid and all, and that, well, Saschas rather failed to endear herself to them, but is it really logical (or advisable) that she might defect in such a way, trading one type of bloodthirsty ownership for another?

The fact that Im responding to this book in such a way, though, is certainly not all bad. Rather than indicating my lack of interest, it shows how oddly invested I became in this book, and the world and the characters contained within. Its not a flawless book by any means, and in addition to my macro-level problems with it, I do have some other gripes, such as the convenient neatness with which the book concludes, the rather-too-evident identity of the serial killer Lucas is hunting, the occasional illogicalities in terms of plot development and character motivation, and some prose-level redundancies (the endlessly repetitive description of Saschas night sky eyes, and of hands fisting, and of Lucass cat rising, for example).

But still, given the myriad problems Ive identified, I really enjoyed this book. Enough, in fact, to have read the next two in the series (which Ill review later this week). Singhs approach to the paranormal genre is different enough to feel fresh and interesting, and her attention to the speculative elementssuch as the PsyNet, and the various Psy abilitiesis most welcome. Even with my qualms about the Lucas-Sascha affair, its hard not to cheer for them, and it is rewarding seeing Sascha finally come into her own as a self-aware and self-accepting individual (although one suspects that it might take some time for all of that Catholic-esque guilt to truly subside). The pacing is taut, and the tension remains high almost throughout the entire novel, making it rather difficult to put this book down. (Im also happy to note that Singh expands her narrow view of the Psy in later books, and that the supplements the hinted-at back story with some interesting tidbits that strengthen the overall conceit, but more on that when I review the subsequent volumes.)

200px 3.5 stars.svg  Review: Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

With thanks to Gollancz Australia for the review copy.

Purchase Slave to Sensation

See our review of Visions of Heat, Psy-Changeling # 2

See our review of'Caressed by Ice, Psy-Changeling #3

See our review of Angels Blood, Guild Hunter #1

Other books by Nalini Singh you might like:

visions of heat nalini singh Review: Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singhcaressed by ice nalini singh Review: Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singhangels blood nalini singh1 195x300 Review: Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh archangels kiss nalini singh Review: Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

Visions of Heat Caressed by Ice Angels Blood Archangels Kiss


  1. Laura Summers /

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for the review. Ive not come across this series before and I think its one Ill like :-)
    Another book added to my growing tbr pile! (its at over 100 books now ;-) )


  2. Steph /

    Thanks, LauraI think youll like this one. Im not usually much of a paranormal reader at all, but the great world building and sophisticated over-arching plot have me hooked!

    I know exactly what you mean about the to-read pile. Mines a bit of a health hazard

  3. This sounds like a cross between Gattaca and Damn cant think of the name. Christian Bale is in it and they have to take tablets to surpress their emotions. Bale is like a futuristic assassin come policeman (help?).

    Both were good movies so Ill agree with Laura and add it to the to be read list that never looks to get shorter!

    • Stephanie /

      Ah, Equilibrium! I remember that film. Very chilling. Yes, that one came to my mind, too :)

  4. Thats the one! Awesome movie

Comments make us happy! Do say hello!

Follow us on Blog Lovin' Follow on Bloglovin