#28: Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh
Elena is a vampire hunter. In her world, vampires are made by angels. In exchange for immortality, they agree to become the slave of the vampire who turns them for a hundred years. When one goes rogue or runs away, vampire hunters track them down (they are, apparently, born with this ability), collar them, and return them to their owner. The most elite group of angels are the archangel’s who not only effectively rule the world, but also choose what few of the hundreds of thousands of humans who ask to become vampires are allowed to do so.
When the archangel Uram murders his entire household and goes rogue, another archangel, Raphael, contacts the Hunter Guild for Elena’s services. Since Elena can’t track Uram until he kills a couple hundred people and becomes an ubervampire (not that he bothers to explain that to her) he spends the first 2/3 of the book trying to get Elena in his bed.
Within the first forty pages, Raphael threatens to murder the infant daughter of Elena’s best friend, Sara, if Elena doesn’t cooperate. As near as I can tell, he means it. By page fifty or sixty, he’s used psychic powers to repeatedly invade Elena’s mind. When she points out that going into and influencing someone’s mind without permission because “it’s easier,” even after they’ve told you not to, isn’t much different from rape, he gets offended. By page one hundred, he’s used his psychic powers to make Elena lust after him and forget she doesn’t want to have sex with him (yet) and then shrugs it off when she accuses him of trying to rape her and says it was worth a try.
Incidentally, in the course of Raphael shrugging off attempted rape, Elena hits him (tries to beat him up, really) and pretty much runs away. (As one does when someone tries to rape one.) This kicks off about 100 pages where Elena is forced to go into hiding for committing the grave sin of hitting Raphael and denying him sex. During this, he terrorizes her friends and takes over their minds and bodies to force them to help him find her. When he finds her and is dangling her above the ground, she shoots him. Which leads to her being imprisoned and all of Raphael’s people talking about how much they were looking forward to Raphael’s torturing her for a long, long time. Much of his behavior doing that is dismissed as being part of The Quiet, which apparently is an angel in a superdriven rage state or something. It’s kicked off when another angel suggests that maybe Elena was influencing him when he tried to rape her, and he seems to take the suggestion and run. It was supposed to make him less horrible (and make it not his fault when he violates Elena’s friends and hunts her) and make us think better of Raphael’s normal behavior. I didn’t notice that he was acting much different. (Actually, it read like an allegory for a drunken rage to me.) Really, there’s a scene where Elena essentially thinks about how Raphael is a less-evil dictator than Uram that would be funny if it weren’t “Uram blinds and cripples people who cross him for life! Raphael just tortures them and leaves them with every bone in their body broken and their jaw only connected by tendons and tortured and screaming in agony while on public display for hours! But he was a vampire and could heal! It wasn’t permanent!”
In short, this is an amazingly unromantic romance. In truth, it might have worked in a non-romance where we see Raphael slowly reconnecting with humanity and, you know, maybe learning to respect Elena and regard humans as beings with merit, and then it led to a romance, but as it is, by the end of the book he still views humans as ants. Ending spoiler: The only reason they’re able to be together with any degree of equality at the end is because she’s been turned into an angel, and I never get the feeling that he has any respect for her until she’s an angel. Lust? Definitely. Emotion? Some, but not really love. Respect? Nada. To be worthy of Raphael’s respect, Elena can no longer be a human, but must be an angel, and so it isn’t her that she respects, but her status.
There’s also the vampirism/racism allegory. I’m not sure what boggles my mind more, that someone went “hey, let’s have an allegory for racism where the repressed minority is a soulless undead creature who eats people,” or that other people went along with it. Singh goes a step further, however, making the archangels the equivalent of rich white men, and having humans lining up in droves, begging to be turned into their slaves.
The cast, however, is very multiracial (while the cover makes Elena look like an albino, she’s actually half-Moroccan) without Singh making sure we noticed, as most authors are prone to do. And when Elena and Raphael do have sex, it’s completely on Elena’s terms, not his, and Singh seems to expect us to go “What a creep!” and agree with Elena’s opinions about the mental invasions. We’re just also somehow expected to still see him as the romantic lead. I have to say, though, that Elena herself is pretty tough, and actually less annoyingly obsessed with whether or not she’ll sleep with the Sexy Other (too busy trying to stop the mental invasions) than a lot of urban fantasy heroines (and this is paranormal romance…) seem to be. Except, you know, tough women have to barftastically start feeling oh-so-feminine when they meet alpha males who don’t understand the word “no.” So. Yeah.
The worldbuilding is also pretty decent, and very interesting, even if not completely coherent, and several of the supporting characters are pretty interesting, and seem to be being prepped for their own books. Though two are among the characters who were talking about anticipating seeing Elena get tortured. I hope that they, too, are shot by their heroines.
Also, angels emit angel dust from their wings. It’s an aphrodisiac.