In a futuristic world, the Psy, a race of extraordinary beings capable of phenomenal powers of the mind, rule at the highest echelons of society and government. Because of a high incidence of insanity and serial killers among their population, decades ago, the Psy instituted a program called Silence in an attempt to condition their offspring from a young age not to feel rage. However, it soon became clear that it was impossible to isolate just one emotion, so now the Psy feel nothing at all, and anyone among them who is found to possess emotions will punished.
Sascha Duncan is a Psy, who is having an increasingly difficult time not feeling. She knows that to show any emotion will only get her sent to "rehabilitation," a fate, which as far as she is concerned, is worse than death, because it turns those who undergo it into mindless vegetables. As the daughter of a powerful businesswoman, Sascha is sent to negotiate and see through to completion a building project in partnership with a race of shape-shifters known as the changelings. She finds herself immediately attracted to her business partner, who is the alpha of his DarkRiver leopard pack. The desire that she soon finds coursing through her body is a feeling that's wholly unfamiliar, but one that tempts her beyond belief to want more. But a mating between a changeling and a Psy is all but forbidden.
Lucas Hunter became alpha of his pack at a very young age and commands the respect of all those under his authority, both soldier and civilian. After a string of changeling women turn up dead, brutally murdered in a ritualistic fashion with evidence pointing toward the killer being Psy, Lucas is having a hard time keeping the peace and preventing other changeling packs from starting a war. When Sascha comes to DarkRiver to finalize their business deal, he sees her as a possible way to infiltrate the Psy network to find out the identity of the killer that they're harboring amongst their ranks. His attraction for the beautiful Psy only complicates matters, but his inner leopard is thoroughly intrigued by the emotions he senses within her. He soon finds himself itching to show her what it truly means to feel. But even after Lucas has earned her trust, Sascha is caught in an impossible situation. To help them find the killer, she'll have to go against her own people, and with all Psy connected through their network, it will reveal her true nature, as well as make her a target for the murderer. But neither can she disconnect from the network which feeds her mind with life-giving energy. No matter what he has to do, Lucas is determined not to let Sascha die, for he now knows that she is his one true mate, and without her, he might as well be dead too.
I've been wanting to try the Psy-Changeling series for a while now, and I'm so glad I finally got around to picking up the first book. Slave to Sensation was an excellent start to this new-to-me series. The author has created a world that's quite different from anything else I've read so far in the paranormal romance genre. It's part sci-fi, because it takes place on a futuristic Earth with advanced technology. It's also part fantasy, because the inhabitants of this future Earth fall into one of three races: human (although we don't really see many of these in this story), changeling (the shape-shifters), and Psy (mentally advanced beings who have various psychic capabilities). To make things more complex, the Psy, who are mostly seen in the upper echelons of society in business and government, have shut down all their emotions, ruling strictly by cold logic. Also all Psy are connected to one another via the PsyNet, which is an Internet of sorts made up of all Psy minds. To some degree, they can all access each other's minds and also feed off each other's psychic energy, something they need in order to survive just like air and water. For Trekkies, the Psy are kind of like Vulcans meet the Borg. It's all a very intriguing and satisfying new world that I can't wait to read more of.
Sascha is a Psy who feels her mind deteriorating daily. She knows she's not supposed to feel emotion, and yet she does, finding it increasingly difficult to hide this defect from her mother and the other Psy with whom she associates. Sascha believes herself to be broken, and at some point, knows she's going to be caught and sent to the Center for "rehabilitation," which basically amounts to lobotomizing the Psy mind, leaving them a zombie-like shell of their former selves. She lives in fear of this daily until her mother sends Sascha to represent their family business interests by cutting a lucrative deal with a local leopard changeling pack to build housing on changeling land. There she meets pack alpha, Lucas, who makes her feel things she's never felt before. When she learns that changeling women are being kidnapped and murdered and that the changelings believe it's a Psy committing the crimes, she doesn't want to believe it at first. But before long, Sascha realizes the truth and decides to help the pack ferret out the perpetrator even though she knows she'll likely be caught. Since she refuses to be "rehabilitated" and knows there's no escaping from the PsyNet without dying in the process, it's her way of going out in a blaze of glory while helping the changeling male she's come to love and righting a wrong in the process. I have to give Sascha a lot of credit for being strong enough to stand up to Lucas's alpha posturing. She's every bit as a stubborn as he is and very brave, too, to go up against years of accepted Psy wisdom. I was also extremely intrigued by the things she discovers about herself and about Psy nature in general as she goes on this journey, and I look forward to seeing where it all leads in future books of the series.
Lucas earned his status as alpha of his pack at a very young age. He was still just a juvenile when he saw his parents murdered by rivals and barely survived their beating himself. He vowed revenge and took it at the tender age of eighteen, which led to him beginning to gain the respect of his fellow leopard changelings. While violence is part and parcel of changeling nature, Lucas tries to rule with his head and not always his heart. That's why when one of their own females falls victim to the Psy serial killer, he knows they must investigate first. Going in "guns blazing" so to speak will only get them into a war with the Psy that will lead to the loss of thousands of lives, so his plan is to identify the killer and seek retribution on him alone. But when a female from a wolf pack with whom the leopards have a tenuous truce goes missing, they know they only have one week to find her or war will be imminent. That's why Lucas decides to try to leverage his connection with Sascha to get information out of her. Of course, his inner cat quickly awakens to the mating dance which leads to him discovering that his little Psy is far more than he ever dreamed. I typically prefer my romance heroes to be more on the vulnerable side, so Lucas was perhaps just a teensy bit too alpha for me, but he did balance that dominance out with his touchy-feely nature. Touch is an innate part of changeling nature to express pack and familial bonds, and being a tactile person myself, I really like that. Also, when he faces the possibility of losing Sascha if she disconnects from the PsyNet, he does show more of the emotion that I like to see in a hero. I love that he wouldn't give up on finding a way to help her survive and was willing to sacrifice himself to that end.
Slave to Sensation has a lot of secondary characters. First, all of Lucas's pack sentinels, who are basically the soldier/protectors of the pack, go on to get their own books. Vaughn is the hero of the next book, Visions of Heat. Clay, the enigmatic loner, becomes the hero of book #4, Mine to Possess. Dorian, the brother of the murdered leopard female and a changeling who can't shift, intrigues me. He'll be the hero of book #5, Hostage to Pleasure. Then, Mercy, the only female sentinel, becomes the heroine of book #6, Branded by Fire. There's also Nate, who's already happily mated to Tamsyn, the gentle pack healer, but it looks like the author wrote a prequel novella about them (after the fact :-)) titled, Beat of Temptation (from the anthology Wild Invitation). Also from the wolf pack side, alpha Hawke, who seems even more closed off than Lucas, becomes the hero of book #10, Kiss of Snow, his lieutenant, Indigo, who was barely mentioned becomes the heroine of book #9, Passion Play, and Brenna, the kidnapped wolf girl, along with Judd, a Psy who I can't really say anything about without giving away spoilers become the hero and heroine of book #3, Caressed by Ice. There might be other minor characters who show up in some of the novellas, but these are the carry-over characters I know about for sure.
Overall, Slave to Sensation was a really good read. There were a couple of plot points that were a little predictable for me, but it didn't really detract from the fun of getting to the reveal. Perhaps there could have been a little better emotional connection, but at the same time, I recognize that Sascha was a Psy who'd been taught to suppress her emotions and Lucas, as pack alpha, doesn't easily show a lot of emotion either, so it definitely wasn't a deal-breaker for me. A few more love scenes wouldn't have gone amiss either. There's only one (unless you count the dream sex), but it is pretty hot, so I guess I can't complain too much. All these were pretty minor things in an otherwise exciting story. Not to mention, the author gets some extra points from me for the racial/ethnic diversity of her characters, which I loved. I'm very enthralled by the intricacies of this new world and look forward to exploring more of the stories to see just how far the changeling/Psy integration goes. I'm also interested to see if the Psy hierarchy is dismantled. They definitely suffered a blow to their supremacy in this book, so I'm very much intrigued to continue on with the series soon, as well as check out the deleted scene and free short story on Nalini Singh's website that show readers more of Lucas and Sascha's relationship.
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