Melanie: Well, this book was a ride…the kind of ride I actually wanted to get off of long before it ended. It’s a little strange to me that in the same month that we delved into some of the Psy/Changeling novellas, we also read a book that arguably could and maybe should have been a novella. When Melinda and I were messaging back and forth during the course of reading this book, she made a comment that really resonated. “Is boring worse than asshole,” she pondered. I’m hoping that over the course of this deep-dive, that answer will reveal itself to us.
Blaze of Memory is the first book in this series that involves two non-Changeling main characters. The previous 6 books have all contained at least one main character that was a Changeling. Back when I first read this book, my main complaint was that I didn’t love that neither of the MCs were members of a Changeling pack because I love the found family aspect of it. And to some degree, I found both Dev and definitely Katya to be loners, leading an isolated existence, either by choice or by circumstances beyond their control.
To understand who Katya (formerly Ekaterina) is, we’ll need to step all the way back to Clay and Tally’s book, Mine to Possess, and Dorian and Ashaya’s book, Hostage to Pleasure. Ekaterina is a M-Psy who worked in Ashaya’s lab under Ming LeBon’s orders. When Ashaya made her escape from the lab, the lab was blown up and Ekaterina was presumed dead. This book opens with the reveal that not only did Ekaterina survive (if you can really call it that), she’s spent months being mentally broken and tortured by Ming, being molded into, as he labels her, a blunt instrument, nothing more.
Melinda: Ekaterina is dumped, quite literally, onto Devraj Santos’s doorstep and he is none too happy about this. When Ashaya confirms his suspicions of her identity are correct he’s even more upset about things, as he’s in charge of all of Shine. He worries that her presence will put everyone there in jeopardy. But he’s used to being responsible for everyone so he decides to keep her around, even though he does not seem too happy about it.
Glen’s expression was troubled when Dev looked back at him. “You can’t keep being responsible for all the tough decisions.” “I made that choice when I took the job.” Or perhaps he’d made it decades ago, the day the cops found him lying half-broken in the corner of his parents’ bedroom.
Ekaterina has little to no memory of the before-time and there’s a brief scene I like with Dev helping her to pick her new name, and she settles on Katya. I think my issue with this book is that neither of these characters had quite left an impression on me in any way in the previous books they appeared in as minor characters and I think that really hindered my latching onto them in any real way. That combines with their isolated existence left me overall feeling rather underwhelmed and I never exactly got over that.
Melanie: In fact, to piggyback onto Melinda’s comment, if I were to list the big events that happen in this book, or the big revelations, the actual romance between Dev and Katya would struggle to crack the top 5. And that is not meant as a slight against either of these characters – there’s nothing that either one of them did to make me feel this way. And in fact, they have shown up at least once in prior books and maybe that’s it – I never had any real excitement upon realizing that these two were the MCs of this book the way I felt when Judd and Brenna show up as the MCs 3 books in or even when Mercy and Riley have their big moment starring in book 6. Nothing about their initial introductions in the previous books made me want more about them.
Additionally, this book, in a lot of ways, felt like it happened in a vacuum, separate from the first 6 books of the series. That’s in large part due to the lack of a Changeling MC and the fact that the bulk of this book takes place in NYC, far away from the pack-centric setting of San Francisco and the Sierra Nevadas (though there are several appearances from DarkRiver Changelings and Dev and Katya take several field trips, one of them to visit DarkRiver).
Melinda: I think that’s exactly why I felt so disconnected to them – that combination of not knowing them plus not having the involvement with the packs OR Psy. Phew, we cracked the case! I feel better knowing the why of my feelings at least because I was questioning this the whole time.
What I did love was Dev trying to resist his growing feelings towards Katya the entire time. His first loyalty is always to Shine and to his people, but he also wants to protect Katya and as he helps her that attraction grows steadily throughout the book.
She was the enemy, had even warned him that she was a grenade waiting to blow up in his face, but still, she drew him. Part of him wanted to protect her, take care of her, while the other part, the hard-nosed pragmatist, warned him that doing so would just come back to bite him on the ass.
Katya’s brain has been re-wired by Ming, and they know this, but they don’t know the extent of this. When Katya is drawn to go North, she does so, but does so carefully, while also trying to protect those around her. I loved that she is very aware of the possibilities of what Ming could and how horrible the implications could be. Because of that, she is very deliberate in all of her actions…not that Dev would agree.
Melanie: This is a classic example of a Nalini book where I was, for the large part, ambivalent about the MMC but wholeheartedly grew to love the FMC. Katya’ s struggle to remember who she was and what happened to her and balancing it with trying to avoid doing what Ming had programmed her to do, was really heartbreaking at times.
“What do you want me to promise?” he asked, hardening himself against a plea for mercy.
Instead, she stroked her hand through his hair, as if fascinated by the texture, and said, “Will you kill me?”
“If I prove too broken,” she continued, “too used up to fix, will you kill me?”
Likewise, Dev is also caught between a rock and a hard place, struggling to reconcile his growing attraction to this Psy who’s been dumped in his lap with his unwavering dedication to the Forgotten and to his responsibilities as the head of the Shine Foundation.
One of the things I did enjoy about this book is the way they slowly grow into their feelings and don’t necessarily force the other into feeling anything they’re not ready for. Unlike previous Psy MCs, Katya has already broken silence a long time ago and due to the horrors Ming inflicted on her, has already let go of all of the emotional aloofness that are prevalent in the Psy. Ultimately, it takes far less cajoling on Dev’s part to move their relationship forward on the physical level.
Melinda: Is it even one of our Psy/Changeling deep dives if we don’t fawn over the FMC? I, too, loved Katya. She does show all of those classic Nalini character traits that we love – the backbone they show combined with the empathy and love for other people. As Katya gets to know the others in Shine and the people Dev wants to save, she wants to protect them from Ming, but also from herself. I loved that about her.
Like Melanie, I was mostly ambivalent to Dev, but I did want to note that he absolutely showed a few instances of possessiveness, that in this world, I think of as a changeling trait.
“So if I kiss another man—”
“I’ll kill him.” It came out with ice-cold precision, though his body was burning from the inside out. Tangling his hand in her hair once more, he pulled back her head. “We clear on that?”
A slow blink. “If my anthropological knowledge is correct, it’s only changelings who’re meant to be so possessive.”
Katya was purposely pushing him at this point, to see if he would push back, but honestly what was notable about this is that it didn’t bother me as much as it has in the past. I wondered if it was that I didn’t care about this couple as much, or that the two were attempting to play at this point? My answer is unclear but I definitely wanted to point it out.
Melanie: As much as Dev does exhibit signs of possessiveness, one of the things that really bothered me about the progression of their relationship is how repetitive it seemed at times, which is why I’m doubling down on the assertion that Dev definitely could’ve been a novella. Many of their conversations about Katya wanting to go North and Dev refusing to allow it, and then Dev refusing to trust her once he learned about her telepathic abilities, and Katya’s insistence that he invade her mind to see she’s not lying and his subsequent refusal to do so – these conversations all took place multiple times and honestly, the book could have easily been at least 25% shorter than it was.
It’s interesting that Melinda draws a line between Dev and the Changelings when it comes to him being possessive because for a chunk of the book, Dev seemed cold and untouchable, his beloved grandmother, Nani, warning him about the dangers that lay ahead if he continued on the path he was on. But she’s delighted by Katya’s appearance in his life, upending his cool, calm exterior.
“It shows that you still have heart, that you didn’t immediately move to strike. And I’d rather you have that than be a cold-blooded general who thinks of nothing but power.”
So, he has all these Psy qualities until Katya appears, bringing out his more possessive and protective urges.
Melinda: That’s a good point, he was pretty cold until Katya makes him more in tune with those aspects of his personality, the good and the bad. One thing I did love about their relationship was this road trip aspect the two have. They’re traveling North to do…whatever unknown Katya’s mind is propelling her to do and they’re on this almost romantic trip. I could almost see the movie montage in my mind. Particularly with this scene.
“Pride and Prejudice,” she read out. “It’s a book written by a human. Nineteenth century?”
“The hero is . . . Mr. Darcy?”
“Then you haven’t been watching—several of the characters in this story are Psy,” she pointed out. “Oh, look, it’s the villain.”
I was amused to see the playfulness here but also the idea of them being confused at humanity and our entertainment, and the way we relate and fall in love.
Melanie: There are other things that happen in this book beyond the central romance and the main plot of the book.
First of all, we met two Arrows, Vasic and Aden and got proof that Ming has lost control over and loyalty of his Arrow squad. This will mean huge things over the remainder of this series but, initially when I read this series, I had no idea how big a role both Aden and Vasic would go on to play and to say I was excited when they popped up is a bit of an understatement. (In fact, it would be safe to say that I was more excited about all the other things that happened in this book outside of the central romance between Dev and Katya).
One of the other things that popped up was the mention of Anchors and this is especially exciting because of how relevant Anchors are in the latest Psy/Changeling book that came out just this month, Last Guard.
We also get glimpses of Jon and Noor, the two Forgotten kids who Ashaya helped escape from her lab, as well as Keenan, her son. And Noor and Keenan play pivotal roles in ensuring that Dev and Katya get to have their HEA. This was made into such a big deal in this book that I had hoped it would be revisited in future books. And maybe my memory is spotty but I honestly can’t recall if this was ever mentioned again in future books.
Melinda: We did meet Aden and Vasic in Hostage to Pleasure briefly though but I don’t blame you for being distracted by everything else going on in that book to remember those specifics at the time! You’re right, this book did definitely advance the overall plot of the series going on with the Arrows. Seeing that Ming had lost control of the Arrows gave me such a thrill and immediately made me wonder how that was going to play out. Every single thing we find out about Ming is that he’s evil and I imagine Nalini in the background carefully plotting out how she will destroy him.
And you reminded me of the sweetest scene in the book with Noor and Keenan, where they literally HEAL Katya. I mean…what!?
Noor lay curled up beside Katya, one tiny hand on Katya’s chest. Keenan lay on the other side, his hand over Noor’s. “Dev, have you seen—” Ashaya came to a stop beside him. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ll get Dorian to help carry them out.” “No,” Dev found himself saying. “They’re just doing what the cats do—trying to heal her with touch because she’s hurting.”
It was so sweet and touching, no one knew they could do this, and you’re right that it’s barely mentioned in later books. Because there are so many other amazing things going on! I really hope there’s a season 3 for this series because I have so many characters swimming around in my head wondering about their futures.
The other interesting thing I noticed about both their powers and Katya’s is this amplification effect that hadn’t been brought up that much before. Noor and Keenan’s Psy powers amplify in some way that helped heal Katya – the others were amazed at this but of course Talin was quick with a theory as to why this made sense. But earlier we’d *also* seen Katya amplify her own abilities in a way that she had never done before – she has two midrange abilities, Tp and M-Psy, both rather average. But she had never attempted to amplify them, when she did her Tp went from 4.5 to 9 on the Gradient and was rather powerful. I don’t know that we’ve seen that before? I know that when I read that it seemed to have big implications for low level Psy.
Melanie: Oh, that’s right! We did meet them briefly in Ashaya and Dorian’s book. I love that you mention a season 3 in regards to this series (We refer to the original series as season 1 and the Psy/Changeling Trinity books as season 2). I’d love for Nalini to continue this series into future generations and watch the younger characters grow into their powers and find love. It’s such a huge world she’s built, the possibilities are really limitless.
And you’re right, the amplification effect is something totally new in this book and I’d love to see more about this in future books. The idea of 2 people merging their powers in some way to combine for a much stronger power seems really fascinating and I’d love to see that play out.
I also have to mention that the Psy Counsel shows up in this book as well and while we all know that Ming is the very embodiment of evil, I think the last few books have laid the groundwork that there are several Counsel members who are more than willing to grab all the power for themselves. It’s still too soon to tell who’s on which side of good vs. evil but slowly, the signs are starting to pile up.
Going back to the original question posed in our deep-dive, is being boring better than being an asshole? In real life, I would absolutely rather have a boring but nice guy over an asshole. But in fiction…do I really want boring or do I want an asshole who at least presents something interesting, even if it’s polarizing? I’d be the first to tell you that Clay was terrible and I’ve never forgiven his behavior towards Tally. But, here’s the thing: he at least made me feel something, even if it was mostly rage. Dev, on the other hand, needed a lot of external help to get me interested in his story. So much of who he was as a person was reliant upon the other people around him, Katya, his Nani, the other people who worked for Shine, etc. I did grow to care for him but he is by far the least interesting MMC I’ve encountered thus far in this series.
Melinda: You make a really good argument! I really love how passionately you’re disinterested in Dev, in particular, how much he makes you feel nothing lol. But basically what it comes down to is that we’re ranking the heroes from the books, and it’s Clay versus Dev at the bottom for both of us. Now, if we were ranking the actual books I would say that I think boring is worse than having an asshole hero because I was still really interested in Clay and Tally’s story. However, we’ve been ranking the heroes. And I would rather have a boring, but nice guy any of the day of week. I think we’re in total agreement of how we view both of them, but it’s kind of like how everyone has different standards for book ratings.
So my rankings stand at:
Melanie: Throughout the course of this deep-dive, I was certain it would end with me ranking Dev at the bottom, even below Clay. But as Melinda so astutely points out, we’re not ranking the books, we’re ranking the heroes. And if you compare Clay and Dev, objectively speaking, Clay remains an asshole and Dev…is alright. He really is! Is he my favorite? No! But he’s absolutely better than Clay. He shows growth in this book and while this book, overall, may not be my favorite (and as evidenced by the brevity of this deep-dive, neither Melinda nor I were blown away by it), it stands to reason that Dev, when all is said and done, is not the worst hero we’ve seen in this series. Clay, your position remains unchanged. #SorryNotSorry
And that’s all we have for this deep-dive. We hope you’ve enjoyed our look back on this book and as always, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Until next time, happy reading!