Reviewed by Kati Dancy
What happens when two dominant Changelings mate?? All hell breaks loose.
Mercy Smith is a sentinel of DarkRiver. She’s among the most respected and even keeled warriors in the pack. Lucas, her alpha, relies on her to help keep the peace and act as a liaison between DarkRiver and the WindDancers, the wolf pack that lives adjacent to DarkRiver land. Her counterpart is Riley Kincaid, the second highest ranked member of the WindDancer pack, and nicknamed “the Wall” since he shows little to no emotion and as his alpha, Hawke, says, arguing with him is like arguing with a brick wall. Riley and Mercy have been dancing around each other for quite some time. But at Mercy’s closest friend, Dorian’s mating ceremony, Mercy finds the combination of her impending heat cycle and her loneliness crashing in on her. She leaves the ceremony and runs into Riley, and the two finally act upon their attraction and have wild, Changeling sex. Both tell themselves that that was just a one-time thing, but their roles as closely trusted confidants of the two alphas, Lucas and Hawke, mean that they bump up against each other over and over and the attraction continues to grow.
Once the pair realizes that they might just very well be fated to become mates, the questions about how exactly that would work arise. If they mate, will their children be able to change? And if they can change, what would they change into? Wolf or cat? And more importantly, and even more heartbreaking, both have blood bonds with their alphas. If they mate, will one of them have to separate from their pack?
“But we will! Soon as we mate, for one of us, the connection to our alpha, to our pack, the blood bond, will break. We’ll feel it right here.” Mercy slammed a fist into her heart. Because he understood her – damn it – he didn’t say it, but she knew he was as aware as she was that it would be her.
“You’re not going to give up your mate to stay in your pack.” Ground out through clenched teeth.
She couldn’t argue with him. “No.” Having a mate was a gift, a brilliance of being. “But it’ll destroy a part of me. I won’t be the same woman. I’ll be less.”
In the midst of Riley and Mercy’s struggles, a new evil has arisen – a threat to both the Changelings and their enemies, the Psy. The Human Alliance is a new terrorist enclave that threatens both the Changelings and the Psy by sowing the seeds of disarray, distrust and danger throughout both groups. As the wolves and leopards band together to attempt to neutralize the threat to themselves, the Psy are bracing for war, and both groups are realizing that no one is safe from this new enemy.
As I read this book I marveled at how Nalini Singh is able to achieve such balance in her books. She manages to create new and emotional stories for the characters that pepper the Psy/Changeling series and do it against the backdrop of the overall conflict that is happening in the world she has created. I wrote that the previous entry in the series was the most emotional, but I found Branded by Fire to be its equal. Because as a reader I’m already familiar with Riley and Mercy, I was on tenterhooks to see how their relationship would work. How would they resolve the blood bond issue and both keep true to themselves? I have to say that I’ve always been very partial to the alphas in this series, Lucas (especially) and Hawke. But Riley’s tortured past; his deep well of feeling, so well hidden got all of my emotions working. The treat of the book, for me, was getting to know him, learning about his past, and how it’s shaped him as a man, and how hard he falls for Mercy. He flounders quite a bit, which is unnerving for someone as ordered as Riley. He’s always thought he’d mate with a submissive “maternal” mate who would stay home and have babies. Imagine his shock at falling for someone who he’s not even sure he could beat in a fair fight (mostly because he’s pretty sure Mercy won’t fight fair). For her part, Mercy is all girl power. A woman who owns a man’s role, and is completely confident in herself and her ability, she is terrified of her growing feelings for Riley and what it will mean for her life. Nalini Singh has written another superb entry in what is easily my favorite paranormal series in romance. If you haven’t read the Psy/Changeling series, this book does stand alone, but I’d advise you to have the others on hand as each character you meet is more fascinating than that last — you’ll want to read and fall in love with each.