Before we delve right into Slave to Sensation, a bit of housekeeping. We just want to take a moment to clarify, these aren’t traditional reviews. We’ve both read this series from beginning to end and this is our second reread. We doing a deep dive of the series which means, spoilers abound. If you’ve never read the series or a particular book in the series, just keep in mind that it’s impossible for us to really get into the books and talk about what works and what maybe doesn’t by being circumspect. And with that said, let’s dive right in!
Melanie: Let me start by saying that for a book that came out 15 years ago, Slave to Sensation really holds up surprisingly well. Rereading this book made me realize just how hard it is to write the first book in a long, epic series…even though, based on my understanding, Nalini never intended this to be a long, epic series when she first wrote this book. But she manages to accomplish some key things in this all important first book: fantastic world-building, introducing some seemingly minor characters who will, over the course of this series, play pretty pivotal roles, and also a completely standalone book focusing on a romance between Psy Sascha Duncan and DarkRiver alpha leopard, Lucas Hunter. Melinda, I know it’s been a long while since you first read this book. What are your thoughts?
Melinda: I was excited to jump into this and immediately I was struck by this same thing. Everyone, including me, talks so much about the intense worldbuilding Nalini does in these books from the very beginning. But what I remembered in this read-through was how much I love the romance too.
However, this book was written in 2006, which may only be 15 years ago but seems forever ago in what I think of as okay in some of the things I read. There are a few consent issue that jumped out to me right away.
He looked down at her sedate plait. The compulsion to reach over and tug at it was so strong, he didn’t bother to resist. She jerked away. “What are you doing?” “I wanted to feel what your hair was like.” Sensation was as necessary to him as breathing.
Now – two things about this, Sasha is a woman of color, so touching her hair feels very loaded to me in our real world. And Sasha is Psy, a race who doesn’t touch almost at all, and Lucas is a Changeling, a race that relies heavily on touch. So that’s all extremely important to this but in 2021 reads…a bit differently?
Melanie: Absolutely agree with all of this. The fact that the Psy are a race of people unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with touch is not a secret – it’s pretty widely known. So Lucas knows this about Sascha and still decides to, for lack of a better term, breach her defenses, making the lack of consent in this particular scene even more glaring. He also takes it a step further in this scene by inviting her to touch him.
“It’s well known that you’re territorial,” she said. “You don’t let just anyone touch you.”
“No. Only Pack, mates, and lovers have skin privileges. But we don’t go crazy like the Psy if someone unknown touches us.”
So this is questionable for multiple reasons. First of all, he’s made it clear that he knows the Psy don’t like to be touched but number two, he’s making her feel that her desire to not be touched is crazy. Now, let’s be honest, the Psy race has many issues and problems and I’ll be the first to admit that their way of life is not to my particular taste.
But, telling someone they’re crazy because they don’t wish to be touched by strangers is basically the same as making someone feel bad for having boundaries.
Melinda: Right, I completely agree and this continues later in the book when Sasha and Lucas get intimate.
Taking her earlobe between his teeth, he bit down gently. The slight jerk of her body was unmistakable. Letting go, he cupped her cheek with one hand and turned her face toward his. “How about it?” “I don’t see why—” “Think of it as an experiment.” He ran his thumb over the softness of her lower lip, wanting to taste her more than he wanted to breathe. The urge to tease had turned into a craving to take. “You Psy like your experiments, don’t you?”
They’ve flirted up to then and Sasha has a Psy power that basically has them having sexual interaction before this in their dreams, and while the interaction is real, at this point Sasha in particular doesn’t know this. Reading a few of these scenes now it’s obvious that there’s a balance the author is trying to strike between the literal alpha (of the pack) nature of Lucas but also the tenderness and care he shows her. Because he does, he loves her. I’m incredibly interested with this project to pay attention to how consent develops throughout the series.
Melanie: Speaking of dubious consent issues, let’s fast forward toward the end of the book. So, changelings cement their romantic relationships with what they call the mating bond and it’s especially interesting in this situation because Lucas obviously has more knowledge about it than Sascha who is pretty clueless. She wants to know how she can decline or avoid this mating bond because she thinks her life is coming to an end and she doesn’t want to subject Lucas to a life of mourning (in his Pack, you mate for life and when your mate dies, that’s it for you).
Sascha has to drop out of the PsyNet which is an instrumental part of keeping the Psy alive and she’s supposed to immediately link to Lucas. And because she thinks linking to Lucas will also be a death sentence for him, she makes this unilateral decision to drop out of the PsyNet and NOT link to Lucas. And then, somehow, the mating bond just snaps into place and allows Lucas to sort of feed her his energy.
“You’re going to live.” It was nonnegotiable.
He felt her search for and find the link. Felt her try to cut it – his heart stopped – but it wasn’t something she could influence. This link wasn’t Psy. It was changeling and it was unbreakable. The cat began to smile – her safety was no longer out of his grasp.
Sure, it’s romantic as hell and obviously, you want the two main characters to survive – it is, after all, a romance. But it is fascinating to note that all of these major decisions are made by both of these characters acting completely independently of each other.
Melinda: Okay, however, we do love this series, I swear. I know it may sound like we’re hyper-critical but it’s fascinating to take a look at this couple now with this lens. Their love is described in vast, sweeping ways that I think sets the groundwork for the entire series in how Psy and Changelings can have relationships and it only intensifies from here.
Another thing we’re going to talk about throughout this series is the genius that is Nalini Singh’s mind and plotting – with the easter eggs right from here! We get:
- the cubs! I mean…Julian & Roman are my faves to watch throughout
- Kit, a young member of the DarkRiver pack
- Lucas Hunter’s sentinels
- Hawke and Sienna
- the entire Lauren family
- reference to Sienna and Judd Lauren’s unusual abilities
- Ming LeBon
- Sasha’s mother, Nikita – there’s more than meets the eye!
- the entire Psy Counsel
Melanie: Honestly, the fact that Nalini has left such a trail of crumbs in this book is amazing and brilliant only if you know to look for it. The first time I read this book, I was just blowing through the story on the edge of my seat, filled with excitement and anxiety over how everything was going to unfold, double-checking with Melinda that it was, in fact, a romance with a HEA. But now that I’ve inhaled the entire series, going back through each book leisurely means I can soak up all the little details that really set the framework for the whole series.
It’s so funny, coming across the very first scene with Hawke and Sienna, I remember reading that scene for the first time 2 years ago and it didn’t hit me quite the same way that it does now, knowing what I know. When I first met them on the page, silly, foolish me casually dismissed them. Little did I know what was in store for them and for us, the readers. And the genius of Nalini means we got little bits and pieces of all of these characters until their big starring moment came. If there’s one thing Nalini is great at*, it’s teasing the reader and drawing out the long con.
*To be clear, Nalini is great at many things, this is just one example.
Melinda: Yes! Basically every conversation we have about Nalini end with she’s such a genius – because her plotting is clear from book one…when it pays off maybe 13 books later. It’s amazing.
We plan on doing this same style for each book, looking at the consent and watch how it develops through the series, talk about the worldbuilding, the relationships, and the easter eggs she drops here and there. I think having favorite anything – books, authors, television shows, whatever – doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t revisit them and think critically about them. That doesn’t take away my love for this series or this author, it’s just another facet of it.
Melanie: So, to sum up, we love Nalini, we’re big fans of her work and we admire the evolution of her storytelling skills. We hope you’ve loved revisiting Slave to Sensation with us and perhaps are inspired to do your own deep dive of the series! Until next time, happy reading!