OCEAN LIGHT by Nalini Singh
Gollancz, 403 page HC, £18.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
Sources talk about cross-over writers and cross-over books where more than one genre is embraced. Less discussed are the cross-over readers. Many fantasy or SF readers admit to reading crime. Some take a break from their preferred genre to read historical romance such as that Georgette Heyer produced. These books tend to follow a formula in that the romantic leads need to be introduced in the first chapter and to dislike each other before overcoming obstacles before being able to declare their passion for each other. The courtship was relatively chaste. This pattern is not confined to historical romance. Fast forward to the books of writers such as Nalini Singh.
Ocean Light is the seventeenth book involving her Psy-Changeling communities. They are SF in that they are set more than half a century in the future. From the beginning, there were three races. Psy, Changeling and Human. The latter doesn’t have much of a role to play in the story arc developed during the series until now. Before the start of the series, Psy have practiced Silence, a technique for controlling their abilities by the total suppression of emotion. The Changelings are the opposite being shape changers who revel in emotion. The first fifteen books are mostly concerned with the breakdown of the Silence and the Psy coming to terms with their need for emotion as a factor in their mental health. All have a similar, recognisable pattern in that two of the characters – often a Psy and a Changeling – break down their personal prejudices and develop a cross-species relationship. As the two races realise that humans, too, are a necessary ingredient in the mix some have developed an Alliance between the trinity to races.
At the end of Silver Silence, Bowen Knight, the human Security Chief of the Alliance was shot saving his sister. As Ocean Light opens, he is in a hospital facility in an underwater habitat. His heart has been replaced by a mechanical one but he is alive. The first person he sees when he recovers consciousness is Kaia. There is an immediate attraction between them, but as can be expected, obstacles. Some time back, Bowen had a chip inserted into his brain to prevent his mind being read by Psy telepaths. This is not just essential for his job but for his mental health. As a child, his mind was scoured by a telepath. He is not going to let that happen again. The problem is that the chip is breaking down and when it does so, he will die. Kaia’s cousin, Dr Atalina Kahananui believes she has developed a solution to the deteriorating chip. Bowen is the first test subject.
From the start, it is clear that Kaia is to be his romantic interest. She is a changeling but initially he doesn’t know what kind. As this is an undersea habitat Bowen only knows that her other form must be a marine aquatic. She has her own issues. Since her parents died away from the sea, she has developed a severe phobia of being on land. After almost dying after being entangled in fishing nets, she doesn’t like venturing into deep water away from the habitat.
This novel, though, is not just concerned with the problems of the potential couple, there are other, serious threats affecting the Alliance. Not everyone is happy with the Alliance and will go to extreme lengths to destroy it, by destroying the trust that is developing between the partners. Indications are that there is a traitor in the habitat.
Ocean Light works on a number of levels. It takes the ongoing story arc forward. It allows Singh to write the kind of erotic romance fiction that pleases a large segment of her readership. We are also introduced to a whole new group of changelings. Any large water creature is likely – porpoise, seal, walrus, dolphin, octopus, shark. They live in harmony and we can explore the habitat along with Bowen.
Although the novel can be read in isolation, as very few characters cross over except in minor roles, it is always more satisfactory to begin at the start of the series to see the shape of the whole and appreciate the society that is being imagined. This will definitely appeal to all who have been following the series.