Melinda: Phew, right out of the gate there is so much to talk about with this one and consent because touch and lack of consent is intrinsic to Faith’s story. But I don’t know that it could be told differently and still be the same story?
Melanie: Wow, what a difference 2 years makes! I read this book for the first time almost exactly 2 years ago and while I didn’t love it as much as I loved the first book of the series even back then, I definitely think rereading it for a second time raised some serious red flags for me. There are so many consent issues that popped up in this book, it honestly felt like I was highlighting every other passage for a while there.
Melinda: Same here with the highlighting! Faith is an F-Psy, which means she has the power of foreseeing things, and in her Psy-Clan they use this for business purposes. They keep her completely isolated and Faith is under the impression this is for her protection and that even the smallest touch could push her over the age to literal insanity and seizures. Which means any romance with a changeling, who by definition, is heavily reliant on touch, is going to be…complicated to say the least.
Melanie: Right, both of the first two books involved changeling heroes which means touch is integral to who they are at their core. Then you have Psy heroines who are hypersensitive to touch and Faith especially, who as you mentioned, has been conditioned to believe that touch is detrimental to her well-being. So, I don’t even know if it’s possible to reconcile these two characters, Faith and Vaughn, who have such different beliefs and ideals and get them together without raising a lot of consent related red flags.
“Please let go.”
The flat no took her by surprise. Nobody said no to her, not like that. They always tried to couch it in more polite terms. That treatment may have kept her cooperative and rational, but it had also left her no tools with which to deal with the hard reality of a world where people didn’t follow the accepted rules of behavior.
The exchange above is just one of many between Faith and Vaughn where the boundaries of consent are tested. Given who each of these characters are at their foundation, is it even possible to write a romance between these two characters and not have consent issues pop up?
Melinda: I just don’t think it is possible – like you said, these are sprinkled throughout the book but what my main issue with this lack of consent was that Faith repeatedly expresses that touch will lead to her medically breaking down.
I can’t process that much touch.” It was a blunt statement. “You should let go unless you want me to have a seizure.” Touch set off her senses and she couldn’t handle the overload. It was something the M-Psy had warned her about repeatedly. After seeing images of other F-Psy going through the same thing, she had no desire to do so herself.
So with Vaughn flat out not listening to her warnings about her health, it just bothered me so much on this reading! However, as the book goes on Vaughn is shown to actually know better than Faith (which I don’t love) and that touching her does ultimately lead to the realization that she’s been misled by the Psy regarding touch and so much more. And so then we get many more confusing exchanges that go between the possibility of seizure inducing touch and things like this.
“Don’t let me fall back in. Please, Vaughn. Please.”
Melanie: All of this is why on my second read of this book, Vaughn has become one of my least favorite heroes in the Psy/Changeling universe. The fact that Faith repeatedly tells him that she has all of these sensory issues and will have seizures and it will open her up to being monitored and investigated by the M-Psy and he just blows off her concerns is so irritating to me.
And then this:
“She’s too scared of everything.” His beast was driven by instinct and it said that what he was doing was right. “We can’t afford to baby her.”
Vaughn wasn’t so sure. He just knew that Faith couldn’t be allowed to be scared of touch. She couldn’t. And if there was something slightly inexplicable about his reaction, it was probably because he wasn’t Psy.
To me, both of these moments feel so paternalistic and condescending. Yes, his theory is proven to be correct but his highhanded approach to curing Faith, for lack of a better term, is really off-putting to me.
Melinda: And that Vaughn actually is right about touch being the literal cure for her breaking free from her constraints irritates me to no end. What complicates this for me is that I really like Faith! She is not a pushover at all and stands up to Vaughn, the Council, and her father at various times. What I love about Nalini’s writing is that she always writes complex, layered characters and this is evident here because even while, on this reread, I’m not so happy with Vaughn, I was still rooting for them to be together.
“Have you asked her whether she wants to leave the Net?” “She’s my mate.” Of course she’d leave the Net. “I’ll try to give her some time to get used to the idea, but in the end, she has no choice.”
At this point, it’s clear that Vaughn is keeping information from Faith for ‘her own good’ which is treating her like a child when the issue is inherently an adult one. There are just so many of these instances that kept pushing me over to why Vaughn may be my least favorite hero in this series.
Melanie: This is the part I am having trouble reconciling for my own self. Even when Vaughn behaves like a total mansplainer and makes choices in Faith’s best interests, I still do root for them as a couple! Just this past week, there was a question posed on twitter about how we’re accepting of certain types of heroes in our romance novels but we would never stand for them in real life.
The cat wanted to purr. Encouraged, he continued with his erotic fantasies, playing with a woman he’d decided was his. Faith might not agree, but Vaughn had never lost marked prey.
To say that reads as problematic is putting it mildly. There’s a part of the story where Vaughn realizes he can seduce Faith with his thoughts since touch seems to pose such a threat to her. So, he basically invades her mind with all of these erotic fantasies, therefore making it much harder for her to keep resisting his advances. I would say that invasion of one’s mind is just as bad as invasion of one’s body and here, Vaughn seems to cross that line quite easily.
Melinda: Especially for Psy!
And that question on twitter you mentioned was so interesting to me because I have no problems accepting things in romance I don’t want IRL. But also I realized that I am just much more accepting of these things in the paranormal genre specifically. I think the reasoning may be that we’ve already accepted shifters and mind readers and all of these fantastical things, so what’s wrong with accepting just one more thing? And 2007 me was okay with Vaughn crossing these lines but 2021 me is taking this step back and saying that we want more out of paranormal. And I think we’re getting it! I think Nalini has been delivering that more and more, and many other authors too.
One thing we didn’t talk about last time is the NetMind. There’s a lot here because the NetMind is one area that I both love and one that has always truly confused me so much! The part I love is how Nalini uses it to tie the Psy to their clan and then also build the bonds from them to the changelings via the Web of Stars. It’s such a beautiful literal embodiment of their bonds that has always struck me as so powerful. That first time we see it in book one was such a surprise and to have Faith be able to tie right into it…gave me chills.
However, the NetMind while they are IN it, starting particularly in this book when it shows itself to have sentience? I will fully admit to having my eyes gloss over almost every damn time lol.
Melanie: Oh, I am so happy you brought up the NetMind. The first time I read this series all the way through, every time the NetMind was mentioned, my eyes would also glaze over. I wasn’t sure what IT was, it just felt like such an abstract concept to me. Also, being that I was hyper-focused on the characters and the overarching plot, it was easy to let some things slip through without paying too much attention to the details. However, this time, I have the ability to focus on all the things that I wasn’t quite able to grasp the first time, and to have Faith have a connection to the Web of Stars but also a connection to the NetMind is a great precursor to where Nalini takes this series. I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again but the way Nalini weaves all these different threads throughout the series is nothing short of genius.
I do want to mention that despite our myriad issues with this book and with Vaughn in particular, we still do root for the couple and love Nalini and her writing and this series very much. It stands to reason that in a series that spans many books and characters and plot lines, there will inevitably be stories that resonate more than others.
One of the other interesting aspects of this book is the plot line involving the Psy Council and the ongoing debate on who to add to their ranks. Part of that storyline includes a brand new character, Kaleb Krychek, who, the first time I read this book, gave off some seriously scary vibes. He is an incredibly dangerous character and one of the amazing things Nalini does throughout this series is the organic way she introduces us to these seemingly minor characters who will go on to play major roles as the series progresses.
Melinda: Yes, while Vaughn may not be my favorite, I feel like the bread crumbs in this book are so interesting. Kaleb is key to so much later on and honestly I kept expecting him to become the big bad in this or another book very soon. We get a glimpse into more family dynamics with Faith and Anthony, which is similar to Sascha and Nikita’s. And that however many books later the first two parents introduced to us are ones that I actually ship together? Mind blowing!
And this line from Hawke re: Sienna makes me just laugh every single reread!
Which left out Sienna Lauren. The teenager was probably the cause of Hawke’s scowl. The alpha confirmed Vaughn’s guess a second later. “Sienna’s so damn much trouble, I’m starting to think the brat’s a she-wolf in bloody disguise.”
Melanie: I laughed out loud at that part too. Oh, Hawke. if you only knew what was coming…but that is a book for another day, quite literally. And ditto to shipping Nikita and Anthony! I so hope we get a “Nikthony” book at some point. That all speaks to Nalini’s brilliance that she writes these characters who seem very evil but really, so many of the characters in this world she’s created are so multi-layered and complex, with a capacity for both good and evil which makes it all the more fascinating to learn more about them as the series goes on.
Melinda: We got to see a glimpse of Judd in this book too, and he was so incredibly cold, and Nalini builds this trap for her readers which is so delicious! Because I know the next book is his and STILL I was thinking wow there is just no hope for him to get an HEA. I really can’t wait for us to dive into his book next time because there will be a new dynamic to look at!
Melanie: Yes, I’m super excited for the next book because it’ll be the first one in which the hero is the Psy and the heroine is the changeling which is definitely a different dynamic than the first two books. Also, without giving too much away, both the main characters in the next book have so much pain in their backstory, it really does make for a very compelling book. I remember loving it the first time I read it and I’m very curious to see how it holds up on a second reread.
Melinda: Same, I loved the next two main characters so much on my first read so I can’t wait to see how I enjoy it this time. We hope you’ve enjoyed our intense examination of Faith and Vaughn’s relationship here! Happy reading until next time!