A review by Evie Kendal
Heart of Obsidian is the twelfth book in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. The novel opens with the incredibly powerful Cardinal telekinetic, Kaleb Krychek, and a young woman he has rescued from captivity.
Deeply traumatised and psychically damaged, the woman has been imprisoned and tortured for over seven years. Kaleb intends to assist her in rebuilding her mental defences, however, it is clear from the outset that he also has other purposes in mind for her. Like the rest of the Psy race, Kaleb was trained in Silence – the abandonment of emotion – and utilises the psychic network known as the PsyNet.
The Psy rely on this network for survival but its security has been increasingly under threat in preceding volumes, with many Psy dying as a result of attacks on the Anchors who keep the network operational.
NetMind is known to the Psy race as the guardian and librarian of the PsyNet. This neosentience also has a “dark twin” known as DarkMind that most of the populace are unaware of. Kaleb describes both as if they are his old childhood friends. As such, when parts of the PsyNet start disintegrating due to an infection, these powers seek Kaleb’s help.
He has been observing this infection in previous installments of the series but seems to be hiding his knowledge from other Psy leaders, with the intent of biding his time until he can take over the PsyNet. Kaleb has an affinity with both sides of the neosentience in part because he was raised by an emotionless serial killer, Santano Enrique, who was responsible for the torture and murder of a number of Changeling women earlier in the series.
When discussing the extent of his psychic abilities with his rescued companion, Kaleb openly admits that he sometimes sends people insane just because he can. He knows he has enough power to destroy or control the Psy race and is waiting for her to direct him which way to go.
Their history is clearly complex, although the woman’s fractured mind doesn’t remember him at first. She deliberately crippled her mental abilities so they couldn’t be used by her former captors. She created a mental labyrinth that is preventing her from accessing her memories. She knows the only way to fully unlock the labyrinth is for her subconscious to feel safe but she doubts that will ever happen around Kaleb, who has all the hallmarks of a psychopath.
The story quickly gains momentum when the rescued woman remembers her name is Sahara and that she has the gift of “backsight,” meaning she can receive mental images of the past. This skill is sometimes used in the legal system to supply witnesses to crimes in which no one survived. However, Sahara also remembers that this was only one of her psychic skills and not powerful enough to be the one that led to her imprisonment and torture from the age of 16. Her skills can be used to control the PsyNet and she suspects that is why Kaleb has taken her. She also knows that she cannot be influenced using standard mind-control but it frightens her that she is so drawn to Kaleb, considering that by all accounts he is a ruthless monster. She remembers her previous captors tried to entice her to bond with attractive male prison guards to coax her into using her power for them but she never felt her resolve threatened by them.
The romance between Sahara and Kaleb is engaging although it is difficult to feel comfortable with a love story in which you are constantly reminded that he committed a betrayal “too reprehensible to forgive” that she doesn’t yet remember. Having said that, there are a number of issues raised that are often ignored in paranormal romance, including that mind control and large age differences make equal relationships impossible. While Kaleb’s powers make him a formidable character, Sahara’s “shadow ability” is consistently described as being stronger than him, supposedly guaranteeing that she isn’t taken advantage of. Whether a reader is satisfied with this security will be a matter for individual judgment.
Heart of Obsidian has some frustratingly slow plot developments but, overall, it is a compelling narrative. It could be more integrated with other plots within the overall series, however, the characters are interesting enough to sustain the reader’s attention. Recommended for fans of paranormal romance, particularly redemption stories featuring tortured souls finding peace.
- ISBN: 9780575111165
- Format: paperback, 368 pages
- Publisher: Gollancz (Hachette)