Last Guard by Nalini Singh
July 20, 2021, by Berkley
Review by Melanie and Melinda
Melinda: We’ve been so excited for this book – and we’re going to try to do this review without spoilers! Going into this book right away we know we’re getting a ton of new aspects in the Psy/Changing world because we’ve not only rarely seen much of the Mercant family, we’ve never seen the Rao family before. We’ve also never seen the Anchor designation in so much detail, and then on top of all of that, we know going into the book that Canto is physically disabled, which is something we haven’t seen in a main character in the Psy race before. So just a ton of new aspects to get into.
Melanie: Hi, I’d just like to take this moment to introduce myself. I’m Melanie, the president and founder of the Canto Mercant Fan Club. We enjoy being fed as a sign of love, really love unexpectedly being called “baby” by people who shouldn’t even have that word in their vocabulary, and have a deep appreciation of biceps.
Melinda: Okay fine, I will allow you to be the president if I can be the VP of it and then the president of Payal Rao’s Fan Club! I don’t know how, after so many books in this series, Nalini managed to bring us two completely new characters. But she did. Payal and Canto areunbelievably unique in this series.
Melanie: At first, I was a little hesitant because I don’t even recall meeting these characters in prior books – I think we just got mentions of them at most. But seriously, these two packed a major punch, both individually and as a pair. And yes, Melinda, you can be president of the Payal Rao Fan club so long as I get to be a VP. And trust Nalini (seriously, just ALWAYS trust Nalini) to weave these two characters and their journey with characters we’ve seen a time or two before. That’s the true genius of this series, how Nalini always manages to interweave these characters in such an organic way, making the reader feel as though this amazing world she’s created is both large and yet, also intimate.
Melinda: I just want readers to be aware that although this whole series can be dark, this particular book is much darker in tone, right from the first few chapters. Payal watches her brother be murdered, on-page, at the age of 6, and that sets the tone for what we will get throughout the book. It’s such a brutal, but thankfully brief, scene. It is heavy, but the tone feels both necessary and balanced throughout with the humor of the bears (the bears!!) and Canto’s slightly lighter nature.
Melanie: In fact, in a lot of ways, Canto feels more like a changeling than a Psy. He admits he broke Silence years ago, partly due to the circumstances of his childhood and also, due to his Anchor designation. When he and Payal meet in the present day, he immediately feels a bond between them that is very reminiscent of the books in this series that have featured changeling heroes. Payal, however, feels more like the prototypical Psy despite the fall of Silence. She’s got major control issues due to her own past childhood trauma but also, is afraid that giving in to her feelings for Canto will have catastrophic results.
Melinda: I would agree with that completely. Going into book 5 of Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling Trinity series I was concerned for the first time in a long time because I knew there were main characters with mental health and physical disabilities. With a favorite author there can be a fear that these topics will be mishandled, but I wasn’t let down at all. Canto is physically disabled and Payal is neurodivergent, which is definitely something I didn’t ever expect to see in the Psy world.
“I’m not broken.” It was the first time in her life she’d ever verbalized such a thing. “I just function differently from other people.”
Melanie: The way Nalini approached both Payal’s mental health issues as well as Canto’s physical disability was done with such sensitivity and nuance and being familiar with Nalini’s writing, I shouldn’t really be surprised but she really did take the time to get this right. And I also loved that despite the Psy being historically known for banishing those who present as anything less than flawless, neither Payal nor the entire Mercant clan ever saw Canto as anything less because of his disability.
Melinda: Beyond these character details that were so great to see developed we also get to see both the Mercant and Rao families and I love seeing any aspect of this world developed more. I, of course, want more of the Mercant family now and hope that in the future we see some of the new characters that made my antennae ding.
Melanie: And the bears! Oh, how adorable and fun are those bears! And watching Canto interact with the bears and especially the cubs basically resulted in a string of heart-eyed emojis from me. It was a great way to showcase how far from silent Canto had already gone and yet, highlight all of the things that still made him a Psy. I also loved meeting more of the Mercants and loved learning more about the A designation. We met a lot of new Psy characters in this book due to the introduction of this new designation and I’d love to have more books that feature some of these characters. It’s amazing how, in a series that now spans 15 years if you count the very first Psy-Changeling book, Nalini has managed to keep the series fresh and interesting and fun even while keeping the world-building constant.
Melinda: As always, Nalini does multiple things here – she weaves a complex thread that ties the Trinity series together and ties that into this particular book’s suspenseful plot that kept me on my toes the whole time. And then she packages all of that in this beautiful and meaningful romance, which is why we keep coming back. For me, I will be thinking of Canto’s repeated response to Payal about her mental illness for quite a long time.
We didn’t get into many of the specifics of the PsyNet & Anchor plot in this one because it’s difficult to do so without spoilers. I think this book has the potential to split some fans but I know which side both of us are on!
Content Warnings: child abuse (in the past), eugenics, torture, violence, murder, ableism (challenged throughout the story)