ARCHANGEL’S VIPER by Nalini Singh
Gollancz, 361 page p/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
There are probably more people fascinated by angels than the more commonly fictionalised supernaturals such as vampires and werewolves. Although angels feature in mainstream fiction, they tend not to be the main player, rather their visitations are a motivation for the actions of the protagonist. This is likely to be because angels are often seen in a religious context rather than that of folklore. The part they play is as a herald or a guardian with many forgetting their demonic aspect as an avenging angel.
In Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series, angels are the norm. Many cities have angels in the air above them. Mostly, people ignore them or are wary. These are not nice, cuddly beings. Cross one and their retribution can be savage. New York’s Archangel is Rafael. This world also has vampires but these are the servants of the angels and only angels can make a vampire. Normally, this is with the human’s consent as there are strings attached, namely that the contract includes a hundred years of servitude to their angel. Not all vampires realise what they are getting themselves into and may try to run out on their contract. The Guild Hunters track down runaway vampires and restore them to their legal owner. The Guild counts humans and vampires amongst its numbers. There are also rogue angels.
Singh writes with a sure touch, developing not only her characters into people the reader will care about but also revealing more of the subtleties of this society. In each one of her books there will also be an erotic, romantic element. It is usually obvious from the start who she intends to throw together, the interest comes in how she weaves their lives together with a certain irrevocability. In this case, Venom is a powerful vampire, one of the Seven who Rafael trusts to keep his demesne running smoothly while he is absent. Venom has chosen to give Rafael his loyalty after he completed his contract. He is different from all other vampires in that his bite is highly toxic; snake venom was mixed with the blood that sired him. He is given the task of protecting Holly Chang.
A few years earlier, Holly and a group of friends were abducted by a rogue angel. The other girls were brutally killed. Holly somehow survived but she hadn’t been completely changed into a vampire. She has some of their characteristics but is also still living. Her tiny fangs can produce toxins, like Venom’s but not as dangerous. Then a group of thugs tries to kidnap Holly. It seems that she has suddenly become a marketable commodity and there as a huge reward to whoever can deliver her alive. Venom is now charged not just with protection Holly but in tracking down whoever has put a price on her head. She may have spent a couple of years in denial about what happened to her but she has no turned into a tough cookie, prepared to sass Venom, the vampire that most are scared of. She will give back anything that is dished out to her but as they find out, she is not just in danger from those who are intent on collecting the reward.
The action takes them deep into the territory of another Archangel and Michaela will kill them if she catches them. Although the heart of Archangel’s Viper is a romance, it is also an action thriller. Above all, it develops the relationships between characters and unravels aspects of the angel/vampire hierarchy that has not been exposed before. Not only does Singh right exceptionally well, she is capable of bringing her supernatural world to life.