This month, we bring you not one but TWO Psy/Changeling deep dives. This first one will focus on a few of the Psy/Changeling novellas. We’re trying to schedule them so that the novellas don’t spoil anything we haven’t covered in any of the regular deep dives yet. This deep dive will cover 3 novellas: Beat of Temptation, Whispers of Sin, and Stroke of Enticement, which all focus on DarkRiver Changelings. Later in the month, we’ll resume our usual Psy/Changeling deep dive with Psy/Changeling book number 7, Blaze of Memory.
Beat of Temptation
Melanie: I’m going to start by saying that Beat of Temptation needs some CWs for talk of suicide and implications of alcoholism. This is a novella focusing on how Tamsyn, the DarkRiver healer, got together with Nate, the senior most of the DarkRiver sentinels, and is problematic to say the least. The story takes place almost 2 decades before the first full length book, Slave to Sensation, and Nate is, to put it bluntly, a real patronizing, patriarchal jackass.
In this novella, Tammy is 19 and Nate is 29. They became aware of their mating bond on Tammy’s 15th birthday and at the time, Nate (rightfully) decided Tammy was too young to pursue. While waiting for Tammy to come of age and mature, he has not touched another woman, which is, as the series has shown us time and again, hard for Changelings because they are very physical, sexual creatures.
The jagged edge of anger turned his next words razor-sharp. “I haven’t taken a lover since your fifteenth birthday.” He was a healthy leopard male in his prime. Sexual hunger did not sit well with him. But neither did cheating on his mate.
This….is probably the last nice thing I’m going to say about Nate, at least for the duration of this deep dive. Because for the remainder of the novella, he’s determined to block the mating bond because he doesn’t think Tammy is ready yet for the bond to fully snap into place and all that that involves. Basically, it’s 14 chapters of Tammy begging Nate to love her, to touch her, to complete their mating bond and Nate saying “no, Tammy, not yet, you’re but a child, I’m a grown man and I know best.” (I’m paraphrasing here but this is the gist of Nate’s attitude towards Tammy and it’s EXTREMELY condescending).
Melinda: Let me paraphrase the entire conversation Melanie and I had about Nate – wow, is he worse than Clay? Or Riley? Yes, yes he is!
I think anyone who is still reading these deep dives knows our feelings about pushy overbearing men in this world, so this will come as no surprise to any of you that Nate was not our favorite. Like Melanie, I did appreciate that Nate did not pursue Tamsyn when she was young, which would be antithetical to everything we know about the leopards.
But can we talk about how much I love Tamsyn? She has known for 4 years that Nate would be her mate and on top of that she stepped into her healer role fearlessly and without hesitation when her pack needed her. So she’s been under a great amount of stress while dealing with the relentless need she feels for Nate. She’s done what she’s needed to for the good of the pack and gotten more training, which required her to leave for 6 months. And she’s only 19!
We know all of this about Nate and Tamsyn within about the first 2 chapters, and the rest of the novella is just this push and pull between the two of them, and my heart just ached for Tammy the entire time. We get so many exchanges like this below.
Silence for several minutes. “It hurts me to know a woman who’s been allowed full skin privileges with you—while I’m not even worth a simple kiss.” He froze at the amount of pain in that single statement. “Don’t you ever compare yourself to any other woman,” he said, his beast raging at the mere idea. The instant he’d realized she’d been born for him, it had blinded him to anyone else.
And then this very shortly after:
“No.” She gave him a tight smile. “But I’m also not a sucker for punishment. You might have had years to get used to resisting the full brunt of the mating heat, but I haven’t. So help me out and keep your distance.”
Her hurt just screams throughout this book and phew, did it come through.
Melanie: Honestly, the rage I felt over Nate dictating when and how their relationship would proceed was already high but then it was exacerbated when Tammy informs him she bought herself a vibrator to handle her needs and Nate, in all his patriarchal glory, demands she not use it because:
“Your first time shouldn’t be with that.”
Um. EXCUSE ME, SIR, could you get off your patriarchal bullshit for a minute and join us in the 21st century? So, not only won’t he finalize the mating bond and give Tamsyn (and himself) what they both want and need but he also won’t let Tamsyn handle her needs on her own?!
Let me add, the novella did have some excellent parts, Nate notwithstanding. I adored Tamsyn, thrust into a powerful role as the pack healer when she was only 17, she was strong and fierce and every time she begged Nate to accept her as his mate, my heart broke for her. When she assumed he didn’t want her as his mate, I just wanted to hug her (and punch Nate).
Likewise, I also loved her packmates standing up FOR her and TO Nate for his highhanded, dismissive treatment of her. Everyone from a young 15 year old Lucas, not yet an alpha but already showing signs of his power, to Tamsyn’s mother, to another sentinel, to Juanita, a pack member Nate had been intimate with years past, gave him a rightful piece of their mind while having Tammy’s back.
And finally, when Nate gets his head on straight, he realizes he has to convince Tamsyn of his true feelings for her and makes this grand speech:
“Every time you smiled, my world lit up. All I wanted to do was keep giving you reasons to smile. The day I realized you were my mate, the happiness almost killed me. So don’t you ever say I don’t love or want you. I chose you, Tamsyn Mahaire. I chose you.
Fiiiine. *Grumbles under breath* It’s a good speech. And part of the reason Nate is so reluctant to push this bond between them when he considers Tamsyn so young is because his parents also got together when his mother was very young and it ended disastrously for them, with his mother becoming deeply unhappy in her relationship and, in his words, essentially dying by suicide (she drank herself to death) and his father soon following her into death via a car accident. But it’s important to note that his parents fell in love “the old fashioned way” and never had a mating bond.
So, while Nate does come around and give himself and Tamsyn what they both need and want, the road to their HEA is littered with so much unnecessary pain and drama, that by the time we get to the HEA, I’m so annoyed by Nate, I almost don’t care.
Melinda: Nate not even accepting that Tamsyn wants to use a vibrator made me so freaking angry! But Tamsyn is the entire reason I liked anything about this novella. The strength and backbone that she shows again and again by saying these things to Nate made her a heroine that I can admire.
“Don’t you put this on me!” The first hint of fire entered her tone. “I begged you, begged you, to make the bond real, to be my mate in truth. But you said no. You always say no! Well, you know what, I’m through with begging. I’m through with not being good enough for you!”
But honestly, I’m with Melanie in that I don’t know that I cared so much by the end.
Stroke of Enticement
Melinda: This novella is about Zach and his nephew’s teacher Annie. The opening of this story is one of my favorites because it just amuses me greatly. The nephew, Bryan, is in trouble and will not tell Annie why he hit another student, but when Zach gets there is willing to share in private. The other child had been saying really horrible things about Annie, her disability, and her weight. It’s a touching – and amusing – opening scene because Bryan is protective of his teacher, and Zach instinctively is as well.
Zach found himself in a quandary. He really couldn’t disagree with his nephew’s actions, but punching out another kid was against the rules. He looked into Bryan’s intelligent face and made the only decision he could. “JB, you know we don’t condone this kind of violence.”
This also made me realize that we’ve really gotten quite a range of disabilities for such a long-running popular series…which is giving me a lot of emotions right now tbh! Right now in our read along we’ve had Dorian, and Amara (I’m counting her mental illness as some form of neurodivergent disability), and now Annie. For where we are in the series, that’s so many! And there are more coming up in the series, and I can’t believe I hadn’t really thought about it before.
But turning to the characters, Zach is such a mix of the kind of changelings I don’t love with the aggressive and possessive behavior and the tender and sweet affection that I love. He doesn’t exactly endear me to him right away when he opens with:
He raised an eyebrow. “Did I say that, sweetheart?” Her face heated from the inside out.
“I am Bryan’s teacher.”
“Not mine.” A grin. “You could be though. Wanna play classroom,Teach?”
But my feelings change pretty quickly with how he treats Annie from there.
Melanie: I have to say, I adored this novella much more than the first one simply because I loved Annie and I loved how Zach treated Annie, as his equal, more than capable of doing things and managing her own life. He never treated her with kid gloves as if she was made of glass. And I love that right away, he sees through her shy demeanor to the fierce, strong woman she is.
He saw her jaw set and knew she was gritting those human teeth again. All that beautiful passion, he thought in pleasure, hidden behind the shyness that had first stained her cheeks.
Annie walks with a slight limp due to an injury she sustained as a child in a horrific bullet train accident that crushed her legs. She offers the following explanation to Zach for how she was rescued:
The first time, when I was reading this series, I read the novellas in chronological order of where they lined up in the timeline. And I didn’t think anything of this particular passage until several books later, when this information suddenly took on much greater relevance. Now, knowing what I know, I am so delighted by this little Easter egg that Nalini just so casually put into this novella, something we didn’t realize would be instrumental later on.
Melinda: Another detail that I completely glossed over the first time!
Annie’s mother is insistent she gets married, and soon. She’s constantly setting her up with various men, regardless of what Annie wants, which is decidedly not getting married. When Annie and Zach’s outing to explore their territory may interfere with one of her ‘dates’ it leads to quite a few revelations. The first of which is Annie having to tell Zach about her mother’s feelings about changelings.
“My mum is a little”—she tried to find an easy way to say this and failed—“biased against changelings.”
“Ah. Let me guess—she thinks we’re only one step up from animals?”
I found this plot point interesting as changelings in this world are powerful, cunning, and intelligent so to be biased against them hadn’t been something we’ve really encountered much. I loved that Annie just lays it out there for Zach so he’s not surprised by anything and that Zach just accepts this since that’s her mother and not her.
Melanie: One of the things that did bother me about this particular novella is the fact that Annie’s mom seems to think Annie is somehow damaged and broken. In fact, Annie points out to Zach that while her mother doesn’t care much for changelings, she does hold the Psy in high regard. Furthermore, Annie also has the realization that her mother’s opinion of her as someone broken and imperfect makes her very similar to the Psy.
Too often, it felt as if her mother had been born into the wrong race. She would’ve made a good Psy, with her analytical mind and need for perfection in all things.
Her opinion of her daughter also leads her mother to believe that Annie doesn’t have many options when it comes to getting married and she should just be happy to find anyone at all.
But then, in a surprising turn of events, Annie’s mom seeks Zach out, admitting she was wrong in her anti-Changeling bias and lets him know she trusts him to keep Annie’s heart safe.
“It’s because of the way you look at her, Zach. As if she’s your sunshine.” Her voice caught. “I want that for my daughter. Don’t you ever stop looking at her that way.”
I really love that Zach dismisses the whole idea of Annie having to settle, not only treating her with respect and equality, but with downright reverence and showing her just how much he desires and adores her.
“You’re my mate,” he said simply. “You’re in my blood, in my heart, in my soul. To walk away from you would cut me to pieces”
He may be an arrogant, proud dominant, but he definitely knows how to show some vulnerability and put his heart on the line when it matters the most.
Melinda: That scene between Zach and her mother was my turning point for how I feel about Zach. He sees Annie as a person anyone would be lucky to be with and Melanie is right, he reveres her. But since Annie hasn’t experienced that before she’s hesitant in how to accept this kind of open affection and love. And beyond that, she’s only seen bad examples of long term commitment so she’s scared of what that could mean.
Before the mating happens Zach is frustrated that Annie hasn’t accepted the bond yet and the conversation with Mercy cracked me up.
But Zach takes her advice and talks to Annie, and I realized how much I love these kinds of conversations – when the changelings have to have these frank talks about their feelings and the bonds. The bond functions as a device to force these conversations and to be honest it would be nice to have that in real life sometime!
It was nice to see a changeling/human romance and even nicer to have one with disability representation that’s completely accepted.
Whisper of Sin
Melanie: The final novella we’re discussing in today’s deep dive focuses on Emmett, a DarkRiver soldier and Ria, a human. Let me just state that the book opens with Emmett and Dorian rescuing Ria when she’s assaulted and almost raped in a dark alley in Chinatown. The details are not overly graphic but still, it is the way this story opens so we just want to make the readers aware.
I will say that while I really disliked the first novella due to Nate and really enjoyed the second novella due to both MCs, the main reason I enjoyed this novella has more to do with the female main character’s grandmother than anything else.
The 2 MCs, Emmett and Ria were ok but to be honest, not that memorable for me. I do think Ria shows up sporadically in some of the books as she’s an employee of DarkRiver Construction.
When Emmett comes on the scene, he immediately, as is the way of these DarkRiver soldiers, asserts his dominance.
“Emmett,” he said, his voice holding nothing of laughter. “And I’m in charge of you.”
Her brow furrowed, the real Ria fighting her way through the fog of shock. “Who’re you to be in charge of me?”
“I’m big, I’m strong, and I’m pissed as hell that someone dared touch a woman on my watch.”
As an aside, novellas sometimes don’t work for me because I think it’s hard to fit a complete plot and character development into the space of a novella but Nalini does this so well – just in those few lines, you get a sense of exactly who Emmett is and also who Ria is.
There’s another scene right after she’s rescued where Emmett questions why Ria was alone in that alley in the first place.
“Why were you alone?” He asked, a slight growl in his voice. “It was after dark.”
Way to victim blame, Emmett. While Emmett is objectively not terrible, lines like this do not serve to endear him to me. He’s got the alpha, dominant, protective and possessive personality down pat.
Melinda: I don’t mean to say ditto…but ditto. Emmett was aggressively fine as a character for me. He is a good guy, and I liked him throughout this story. He did nothing wrong, but also nothing that made him stand out for me at all. I enjoyed Ria more because of her interaction with DarkRiver and Lucas.
One of the plot points of this novella is that Ria is going on job interviews. Emmett had been assigned her bodyguard essentially after she’d been attacked, which Ria is not so happy about because she’s worried about the impact on her interviews. But when she interviews with Lucas, it’s a very odd interview to say the least.
“How are you with chaos?” he asked. “I love it.”
Her response was instinctive. “It gives me more to organize.”
Lucas laughed. “What about constant interruptions, having to rejig meetings on a moment’s notice, and a boss who might be impossible to track down at times?”
“If it needs to be done, it’ll get done,” she said, meeting those brilliant green eyes. “But I’ll be honest—even though I probably shouldn’t be. I’m likely to get a little short-tempered now and then.”
A bit later she gets the job and like Melanie said, she does show up later on here and there. I appreciate this kind of attention to detail and seeing how Ria and Lucas developed their friendly working relationship.
However, Miaoling, Ria’s grandmother, absolutely stole scenes and the whole novella for sure. We get another case of a family trying to get a woman married off with Ria’s family here. During a very intense discussion about Tom, Ria’s ‘intended’, we get this delightful bombshell after it’s revealed Tom’s father has a mistress.
“She’s right. Like father, like son.”
Melanie: Miaoling has good gossip! Not to mention, some sage advice for her beloved granddaughter.
“Pah!” Miaoling waved a hand. “I know when a man’s hungry. And if you’d use your woman parts more often, you’d know, too!”
Nothing like having your aged grandmother tell you to go get some, but it definitely does make for a very amusing scene.
The main plot of this story focuses on this outside group trying to infiltrate San Francisco, which is very much a DarkRiver owned territory. This outside group threatens the human population of San Francisco and then asks them to pay for protection. It’s not a storyline that has any real impact on the overall series as a whole – if anything, Emmett and Ria, whose story takes place before Slave to Sensation in the timeline of this series, are just an introduction to the DarkRiver leopard pack.
Going back to the main characters (as much as I’d like to focus this entire deep dive on Miaoling, she is actually just a very small part of this story), this story also helps illustrate a point that was brought up when Melinda and I were discussing these novellas. Certain characters demand novels, full length novels, to tell their story. And some characters are meant for novellas. It’s sort of the fictional version of “this meeting could have been an email.” And nowhere is this more apparent than in this particular story. Emmett and Ria are fine, aggressively fine, to quote Melinda, But I don’t think they could carry an entire novel. Likewise, I don’t think Zach and Annie or Nate and Tamsyn could either. Part of that is that they don’t really further the overall plot of this series in any meaningful way. But secondly, we really, really didn’t like Nate and the idea of having to sit through 50 some chapters of him holding Tamsyn at bay seems like an arduous task to us. Likewise, we could look back at some of the deep dives we’ve already done and make that same argument – Clay, for example, was also one of our least favorite Changeling heroes and personally speaking, having his book condensed down to a novella would not have been the worst thing.
Melinda: I think that would definitely be an individual opinion, depending on character preference. While I vocally – and vehemently – disliked Riley, his book had a lot to work through with their dual alpha dynamic so I do think that one did deserve the full novel length. And I agree with Melanie on all 3 of these couples needing to be novella length but I love seeing Tamsyn so much in the other books as the healer since she’s so important in the packs. This is something we’re going to be keeping in mind going forward, are these couples worth a full novel or should just be a novella?
We decided that we will not be adding the novella heroes to our rankings – except for a later novella hero, which we’ll address then.
I like the novellas and use them as a filler of sorts when I’m waiting for more Psy/Changeling content! Do you have a favorite character out of these 6? I think my favorite has to be Annie in roundup. Let us know yours if you have one. Happy reading until next time!