I read a lot of books. My reading speed for novels is in the order of 200 pages an hour, which is coupled with the ability to happily sit reading for four or more hours uninterrupted. This accounts for a lot of my evenings and weekends. As a result, I tend to look for either longer books or for series of books to read. When coupled with my Amazon Kindle, it does lead to the dangerous “problem” of finding a book I like which is the first in a series, then going through the rest of the series during the weekend without any pauses to go down to the local bookstore to find the next book!
It also means that I tend to reread books. I’ve found that there are books that I enjoy the first time, but do not on the second time through. And then there are books that I have read many times. The Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh is one of those series. It isn’t finished yet. I have the feeling it’s building to something, but we’re not there yet.
What we do have is a series with fantastic characterisation and world-building. It probably best fits into the genre of “Urban Fantasy”, although it wanders into the category of “Paranormal Romance” as well. The main characters of the books tend to be either angels or vampires, with a few humans (typically with special powers or training) appearing as well, but the focus is very much on the lives of the supernaturals.
The world is built on the concept that angels are real and rule over humankind; they’re terribly powerful and immortal but not, as far as we know so far, messengers of God. (God is quite absent from the stories). There are seven archangels that rule over the world; most of the tales are related to one of the more likeable archangels, Raphael. His peers range from the likeable to the downright disturbed and evil.
Vampires are humans that have been made immortal by the angels. They gain the slight drawback of having to drink blood, and the greater drawback of having to serve an angel for one hundred years. Against that, they gain improved senses and strength and occasionally other powers.
Not that they’re always grateful to the angels for this. Especially as the angels can be really cruel. Incredibly cruel. So, at times, the vampires make a run for it, trying to hide amongst the masses of humanity. The angels, not really wanting to spend time looking for these rogue vampires instead hire humans to find them: The Guild Hunters, for whom the series is named. The Guild Hunters may be normal humans, or possibly “born hunters” with the ability to track vampires by scent, better speed and strength and quite likely a few personality quirks.
The first book of the series, Angel’s Blood, tells the story of Elena, one of the Guild Hunters who ends up being hired to track down a rogue angel (instead of a rogue vampire). Along the way, she meets the archangel Raphael, and they slightly get involved. Not initially willingly on Elena’s part, so this falls into the type of paranormal romance where there’s initial attraction, but a lot of resistance on the part of one of the protagonists.
Where it stays out of being purely a paranormal romance is that the actual plot works even without the romance elements. Probably more importantly, the second book continues the story of Elena and Raphael rather than abandoning them for other characters in the same world.
(Later books in the series do tell tales of other romances, but the core of the series is the tale of Elena and Raphael).
The series so far…
- Angel’s Blood
- Archangel’s Kiss
- Archangel’s Consort
- Archangel’s Blade
- Archangel’s Storm
- Archangel’s Legion
- Archangel’s Shadows
- Angel’s Flight (collection of short-stories)
Nalini Singh is not averse from describing the sexual scenes between the main characters, but they read (to me at least) as being an affirmation of the love between the characters and don’t feel gratuitous in the way that some erotic writing does to me. They also don’t dominate the books; there’s plenty of room for the secrets, intrigues and character moments that make the books so interesting to read.
Neither Elena nor Raphael are perfect. Their relationship isn’t perfect. Both struggle with the tension between mortality and immortality, their complicated backgrounds, and the chaos about them. Yes, I’ve seen other books proceed along similar paths, but these books are written well, and that counts for a lot.
Roger Zelazny remarked once that he wrote about immortal characters because they’d had enough time to do interesting things (I suppose the great thing for a writer about a character that has done interesting things is that you can pull all sorts of things from their hidden past to challenge them in the present). I don’t think any of the Guild Hunter characters has quite the depth of, say, his Prince Corwin of Amber; they tend to be defined by one or two events in their past instead of lots of different events. However, they’re handled well. I’m not fond of characters that have a traumatic event and are just able to overcome it. Unrealistic! But neither do I like characters who are forever defined by one tragedy they can never move past. There comes a time when you want to see growth in the character rather than just reverting to the same old triggers every time. My feeling about these characters is that they are growing. They haven’t fallen into the trap that I feel has struck the later Anita Blake books where it seems that each one retreads the ground of already cover by the last.
I don’t think every book hits the same heights. In many ways, Angel’s Blood is one of the weaker books of the series, as it is introducing a lot of the themes that will be explored more fully in later books. In others, the main challenge to be overcome isn’t quite as compelling as in other books. However, the character interactions and growth are always good to see.
The series as a whole feels like it is building towards something, although I do not know what the timeline is for that event. There are references to secrets of the angels, which may be more important than I originally assumed. The problems facing the characters are not entirely explained: something is coming and it’s something the angels themselves don’t understand.
This isn’t the only series of books I’m following at the moment, nor the only one of Nalini Singh’s. (Her Psy/Changeling series is also excellent). I plan to write more in future about some of the other books and series I’ve been reading recently.
But, for now, this is the Guild Hunter series – a series I very much enjoy. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!