Summer Reads Spotlight: Last Guard by Nalini Singh
I have to be totally honest here; I have tried to write this post at least half a dozen times, and it keeps spinning out of control. To explain why, I have to show you something—
That’s the tattoo I got a couple of years ago with my best friend, who still lives back home in Australia. It might seem out of place here, but allow me to explain… It’s a tribute to books that my bestie and I share a total, and somewhat obsessive, love for. Those books? The Guild Hunter and the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh.
The latter of which Last Guard, the book I am going to be talking about today, is a part. In a way. I’ll come back to that.
But first, let me make sure I am being completely clear: I love Nalini Singh’s books so much, I tattooed a reference to them on my body. (FYI: The blue angel wings represent Illium from the Guild Hunter books, while the wolf and “pack” refer to the Psy-Changeling series.) I even put it in a really obvious place — my right wrist — when my previous tats were all easily hidden by my clothing, because I want people to ask me about it. I want to tell them that years ago, my best friend told me about a series of vampire/angel books called Guild Hunter she loved and thought I would also enjoy. And that her recommendation led to the most epic of binge-reads, one that’s become an annual occurrence.
So, when I say this post kept spinning out of control, it’s because I could quite literally talk about Nalini’s books endlessly. (Side note: like how I call her Nalini, like we’re buds? In my mind, we are. Forgive me.) All my previous attempts at writing about Last Guard have gone off on random tangents that range from a discourse on the diversity in both the Guild Hunter and Psy-Changeling universes, to a flaily-armed love letter to the author, to a VERY SERIOUS post about the state of the world and how it’s reflected in the events of the Psy-Changeling series. None of which are so bad, I’d be ashamed to share them. But they also didn’t get straight to the heart of Last Guard, which is what this post is supposed to be all about. So, buckle up and let’s (finally) get started, shall we?
For those unfamiliar with the Psy-Changeling series, it spans 15 books and then spins off into the Psy-Changeling Trinity series, into which Last Guard falls. It’s the fifth book, and since I am already being honest, let me just say that I don’t think you could pick up this book and start reading without a good deal of confusion. Then again, I don’t think I could bear it if someone dived into this series without experiencing the absolute excellence that is Silver Silence, the first Psy-Changeling Trinity book. (We probably need a separate post for me to extol the virtues of Valentin and Silver and the bears, which I will happily write with the smallest amount of encouragement.) And if you read Silver Silence, then it only makes sense to enjoy the three that came between it and Last Guard.
And hey, while we are talking about going back and reading books to get the absolute most out of Last Guard, it would be really smart (and hella enjoyable, believe me) to go allllllll the way back to Slave to Sensation, which kicked off this series in the late 00s. After all, if Psy-Changeling Trinity is a spin-off of Psy-Changeling, it stands to reason that you need to read those books too, right?
Do I have a problem? Maybe. I certainly have a problem finding the right light to take a good pic, but you get the idea. I have two paperback copies of several books from the Psy-Changeling series — the ones I read, which I got second-hand from the library, and the ones that are signed and precious and only for looking at adoringly. I also have all of these as ebooks on my Kindle. Side note: I’ve lost my I ❤️ Judd pin and I am super bummed. #FangirlProblems.
Okay, this might just be me trying to recruit new readers to one of my all-time favorite series, so I have new people to talk to about Lucas and Hawke and Mercy and Indigo and (insert any number of characters, big and small, here). But whatever, the point is, Last Guard was always going to be most appreciated by those who have read all the books that came before it, because the world building is a thing of beauty and finding all the connections and references and pay-offs is part of its appeal. Yes, it’s a 20-book commitment before you even start, but hey, it was an 11-book commitment for me when I started and look at me now! Proudly tatted-up and failing/flailing while writing about it. #ItsAllGood.
Let me get this back on track before this train of thought ruins another perfectly acceptable article. Last Guard is probably not a standalone book; in fact, it’s almost certainly not. But it is a great example of why investing your time and money into this series (if you haven’t already) is a fan-freaking-tastic idea. It’s also a great indication that, for readers like me who have been with this series for years, Nalini has so much more to offer us. The story follows two Psy, Payal Rao and Canto Mercant, who are navigating a post-Silence world. Both are damaged by their pasts. Both have uncertain futures. And they share a dark connection that made me want to cry.
You know, I’m beginning to think I’m a bigger softie than I ever gave myself credit for, especially since I re-read Slave to Sensation this past weekend for what’s probably the seventh time and I still had to fight back the tears. I know what happens, why do I still cry?! Regardless, the way Payal and Canto’s past is presented caused an ache in my (soft) heart that made me want to reach into the pages of the book and console them. But that past also served another purpose than merely making them seem sympathetic.
It proved, as the Psy-Changeling series has many times in the past, that romance protagonists don’t have to be perfect. Not physically, not psychically, not in any way—except for each other, of course. Because the world they exist in isn’t perfect. Flawed is the name of game when it comes to this series (and if you have read Slave to Sensation, then you know what I mean). But the flaws in the writing are few and far between. Getting back to the total honesty thing, I truly can’t remember once thinking I didn’t like something that happened in this book. I was enthralled from page one to the very end, and that enthrallment continues even now.
The reason why is simple enough: Last Guard serves as a new piece in an ongoing puzzle. It propels some parts of the overarching storyline along, introducing new problems while solving others, and rewards loyal readers with cameos from characters that may not have been spotted for several books. It’s always nice to see what old favorites are up to, how the changes that we’ve seen have impacted their lives and their loves.
Despite all the action, all the aching glimpses into the past and the uncertainty that permeates the pages, Last Guard is a comforting read. It has veins of humor (because bears) and heart, it reminds that family is what you make it, that loyalty is earned not stolen, that things can be awful, terrible, no-good, very bad, and hope still exists. And in the world we’re currently living in, it’s kind of nice to know that.
Yes, it’s fictional. But the message is not. Even when it seems all is lost, a light remains to give us hope, to anchor us as we navigate the unknown. Nalini Singh presents that message in a book that left me not only happy and satisfied, but also absolutely desperate for the next book in series and ready to launch my annual re-read of the entire series (yes, all 19 books that came before this one, plus the short stories and anthologies, to which you can find a reading order HERE), so that I could start my re-read of Last Guard itself.
After all, I don’t consider a Nalini book read until it’s been read at least twice. And apparently, I also don’t consider a post about her written until I’ve done it at least half a dozen times… Who knew?
Beth Cranford was born and raised in Australia, but followed her heart (and her husband) to the United States in her late 20s. As the mother of two kids, she’s learned that you can turn anything into a song and that slime does not belong in carpeted areas (or polite society). You can most often find her with her Kindle in hand, listening to Taylor Swift on repeat, or spending way too many hours playing Animal Crossing.
Follow her @BethCranford on B+M Bites.
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