All her life, Faith NightStar has lived in Silence, the Psy protocol for suppressing all emotions. She is a highly sought after F-Psy who has the ability to predict the future, and therefore is very valuable to both her clan and the Psy as a whole. She spends most of her days in relative isolation, predicting the best business decisions and investments for the clients who pay top dollar for her services. But when she also begins to see visions of blood and murder, she fears she may be starting to lose her mind, a common problem among those of her kind. Fearing that if she tells her father or her Psy handlers, they'll institutionalize her, Faith seeks out Sascha Duncan, the only Psy who has ever escaped the PsyNet, in her new home with the changelings.
Vaughn D'Angelo is a rare jaguar changeling who has been living among the DarkRiver leopard pack since he was a juvenile. Now he's a sentinel, a soldier and respected member of the pack's inner circle. When Faith crosses into DarkRiver territory, it's up to Vaughn to make sure her motives are genuine and to escort her to Sascha. From the moment he meets Faith, his inner jaguar craves her as its mate and Vaughn, the man, isn't averse to that idea either. But with her sensitivities as an F-Psy and after living in Silence for so long, his mere touch can send her emotions spiraling out of control. Vaughn is determined to desensitize her, not only because he intends to make her his, but also because his inner beast senses that it's imperative to her survival. But the malevolent presence that's giving Faith the dark visions seems bent on taking her under for good, while the Psy would rather eliminate her than risk any more of their secrets getting out. Will Vaughn's love be enough to save her?
Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series is a fascinating world to inhabit. I've always been intrigued by psychic phenomena, so having an entire fictional race of psychics in these stories is appealing to me, even if a lot of them tend to become the antagonists. For this reason and for its contribution to the greater story arc, I enjoyed Visions of Heat. It may be only the second full-length novel of the series, but I can tell that it's moving toward something big, possibly a revolution that will change the Psy forever. There are a lot of powerful characters who can make that happen, too, and I look forward to reading their stories. Also the emergence of the NetMind in this book was a very intriguing and surprising development. I can't wait to learn more about it and see where this part of the story goes. So from this perspective, the book was a good installment of the series, but I did have some issues with the individual character and relationship development that I'll get to shortly.
Vaughn is a DarkRiver sentinel who has been with the Pack since he was a juvenile. Unlike the other Pack members who are leopards, he is a jaguar. After he and his sister were abandoned by their parents, Vaughn tried his best to keep them both alive, but he wasn't yet old enough to make it on his own. His sister died shortly before he was found and taken in by DarkRiver. In part because of his past experiences, he's wilder than the other Pack members, almost bordering on being feral in nature. He's deeply loyal to his Pack, but when something seems to be drawing him to a remote outpost that's inhabited by Psy, he finds a brave, little Psy within who makes his inner beast purr with lust and an overwhelming need to protect her. All the heroes I've read in this series so far have been pretty intensely alpha, but Vaughn is perhaps a little more so. However, once he's bonded with Faith, he calms down some, at least when she's present. I appreciated Vaughn for his loyalty, protectiveness, and acceptance of Faith as his mate, but I think because of his extreme alpha nature, I didn't fall for him the way I have with other romance heroes. In fact, during the first third or so of the book, he was rubbing me the wrong way with his insistence upon repeatedly touching Faith even to the point of overloading her senses so that she passed out, when she kept asking him over and over again not to. I sort of understood what he was trying to accomplish and that his cat senses were telling him that she needed to be brought out of Silence quickly, but it still made me pretty uncomfortable that he was continually going against her clearly expressed wishes. I think it could have been written differently so that either she was more accepting, or better yet, he was a bit more gentle about it. Later, after the mating bond takes over, I liked Vaughn more, because I think it softened him a little.
Much like with Sascha, the first Psy heroine of the series, Faith has lived in Silence, the Psy protocol for suppressing all emotions, for her entire life. However, her gifts are different in that she's an F-Psy who can see the future. As such, she's incredibly valuable to her PsyClan for her ability to predict financial markets and other lucrative ventures that bring millions of dollars into Psy coffers that can also benefit humans and changelings as well. F-Psy also have a heightened sensitivity level that make them more susceptible to going insane, so Faith is kept in isolation so as to not overload her senses. She has been trained to use her gifts exclusively for business, so when she sees her own sister's murder and begins to experience visions of the killer stalking other prey and feels a sentient darkness closing in on her, she fears she may be losing her mind sooner than expected. Afraid to tell her father or her Psy handlers, she instead goes in search of Sascha, the only Psy she might be able to trust since the other woman is no longer a part of the PsyNet. Since Sascha is now mated to the alpha of DarkRiver and lives in their territory, Faith is taking a chance by going there, but she's intercepted by Vaughn who gives her an escort. At first, she's reluctant to accept that she's attracted to him, because it's something she thought was conditioned out of her. However, when Vaughn saves her by pulling her out of one of her dark visions, she knows that she needs him. Faith begins the story as a rather cold, unfeeling Psy, but once she begins breaking Silence, she blossoms into a fullness of emotion that brings her more freedom and peace than she's ever known. I liked Faith, because having lived an isolated life, she has a more shy nature, but she also has just enough spunk to stand up to Vaughn. Also once she gets in touch with her emotions, she has a very caring side that makes her want to use her visions to help others rather than exclusively to make money.
While Vaughn and Faith were pretty good characters, I did feel like there was a little something missing in both their characterizations and their romantic relationship. Each of them have a decent backstory that could have been rich for emotional exploration, but I didn't really feel like it fully got to that point. Their respective pasts are something that are simply put out there with few details to show me how it affected them, so I didn't get a full sense of how these events have impacted who they are now. Also Vaughn is apparently an artist. It's mentioned a couple of times that he's working on sculptures, one of which is of Faith, and there's one scene where we briefly see him at work on his creation, but that's it. There's no unveiling of something special, like showing the statue of Faith to her, and no real sense of why he does it, other than a mere hobby. It would have been nice if the author had gone somewhere with that part of his characterization, because as is, it didn't add any real value to the story. Lastly, the romance is pretty much a magical thing that just happens. I never got much sense of when or why Vaughn and Faith fell for one another. I realize that for Vaughn it had a lot to do with his mating bond, but even in were-creatures who have this feature, I need to feel that all-important connection and understand what it is about the other person that makes them fall in love. The emotional connection for me didn't really come into play until Faith had fully accepted that her future was with Vaughn and had taken that step into his world.
Visions of Heat contains a plethora of supporting characters, many of whom have their own books in the series. We get a return visit with Lucas and Sascha (Slave to Sensation) who are pretty integral to the story line, as well as a few sightings of Nate and Tamsyn ("Beat of Temptation" from Wild Invitation). All the DarkRiver sentinels are there to protect both the Pack and Faith, including the taciturn Clay (Mine to Possess), and the latent Dorian (Hostage to Pleasure) about whom Faith has a vision that gives hints of what his future may hold. We also briefly see the SnowDancer alpha, Hawke (Kiss of Snow), and his right hand woman, Indigo (Play of Passion). Then there's Kaleb, a Psy who is pitted against Faith for the empty seat on the Council. He's said to be ruthless enough to do anything, including murder, to eliminate anyone he views as competition, so I was very surprised to find that he becomes the hero of Heart of Obsidian. And last, but not least, we learn a new tidbit of information about Judd, the Psy who went rogue with his family and who is currently being harbored by the SnowDancers, when he helps Faith deal with the serial killer who murdered her sister. Judd is every bit as intense as the leopards, and he'll be paired with SnowDancer wolf, Brenna, in the next full-length novel, Caressed by Ice. She is mentioned to still be recovering from her ordeal in Slave to Sensation under the care of Sascha and Tamsyn.
Other than feeling that the characterizations and romance itself weren't quite as good as they could have been, the only other thing that bothered me was that I detected some passive narration. It was partly in the form of occasional non-active sentence structure, but it was also because of incomplete sentences. I apparently overlooked this in the first novel, because based on this book and one of the prequel novellas, this appears to be a quirk of Nalini Singh's writing style. If I'm going to continue reading the series (which I plan to), I suppose I'll have to tolerate it, but it is rather annoying, especially since it's an easily fixable problem by simply adding a verb and/or slightly rearranging the words to make the sentence complete, which would also make it actively worded. Otherwise, though, this was a good story that brought up a number of intriguing elements that I'm eager to find out more about. I'll definitely be looking forward to seeing where the greater story arc goes, and hoping future romantic pairings will be a bit stronger. But in spite of my perceived weaknesses in Visions of Heat, I still enjoyed it and I generally liked the characters as well, even if I didn't feel like I got to know them as well as I wanted to.
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