Melanie: I was a little worried when I started this book because I had very little recollection of it other than Goodreads telling me I had given it a 5 star on my initial reading of this book. I’m super thrilled to say that upon rereading, this book totally holds up. Despite the fact that neither Max Shannon nor Sophia Russo are changelings and I tend to gravitate more towards the pairings where at least one of the MCs is a changeling, this book still worked for me, maybe partially because of Max’s connection to DarkRiver.
This book also introduces us to a brand new Psy designation, that of the J or Justice-Psy. Because of their unique abilities to go into people’s minds and extract their memories and share those memories with others, Justice-Psy are usually conscripted to work within the justice system, usually to go into the minds of the accused, typically dealing with the most heinous crimes imaginable. It’s dark and gruesome and J-Psy usually find themselves in need of periodic reconditioning to shore up their Silence and eventually, when their shields start to crack due to the immense pressure of their work, they are sent for total reconditioning or rehabilitation, which basically turns them into a vegetable.
Melinda: I’m sad to say that I also had very little memory of either of these two! I have friends who are die-hard Sophia fans and I couldn’t figure out why, so I was excited to get to this deep dive reading. I can understand now what I’d missed before – or at least what hadn’t stuck with me previously. I was astonished upon this reading to see just how much this book advances the overall series arc. I feel like we say that with every book, but this one it feels particularly true.
Along with Sophia, we have Max, who we’ve seen before, albeit in passing. Max is a police officer in New York Enforcement who has a natural shield to Psy abilities, which hinders his advancement in the force, but it’s a natural ability that makes him invaluable to Sophia. I was a bit hesitant with this book now as I actively avoid books with police as main characters, but I can read them more readily in a paranormal setting. The combination of Max and Sophia together – a J-Psy and a cop – seems almost meant to be due to their abilities, their jobs, and of course, their attraction from the start.
Melanie: I’m really glad you brought up the cop thing because I, too, generally avoid books with cops as the MC but I think in PNR, and especially in this series, where there is so much world building, I could handle it. Rereading this book also gave me a newfound appreciation for the 2 MCs in this book but also, made me very excited for what’s to come. There were a lot of little (and not so little) hints about where this series is headed and we’re starting to get a better sense of some of these background characters and having read through this series once before, I can’t wait for the bigger picture to unfold. But before we get into all of that, let’s delve into Max and Sophie a bit more.
Sophie and Max do have a lot in common, just beyond their professional lives. Both have had really terrible childhoods with terrible parents and parental abandonment/abuse. Sophie’s painful background has had a huge impact on her, especially when it comes to dealing with people who hurt children. Max had an equally rough family life with a younger brother he lost to addiction (more on that later), and these are both two very lonely people who very much believe they are not capable of any kind of human connection. Now, for Sophie, obviously part of that stems from her being a Psy but also from her specific Psy power, where the simple act of touching someone allows her to feel their thoughts and have access to their memories. And for Max, who feels an instant connection and attraction to this enigmatic J-Psy, having to balance his desire to touch her with his utmost desire to not cause her any harm, poses a real problem.
He didn’t move, staring at those slender gloved fingers he’d fantasized about having all over him. “How long since you’ve touched another person?” It came out harsh, raw with a need that felt as if it had had years to grow, to mature.
Eyes the color of heat lightning met his, overflowing with a loneliness so absolute, it had no end. “Four years.”
So, we basically have a Psy deprived of touch and a human with natural shields and it’s worth noting that this book takes very big steps as far as consent. Looking back, especially when we compare it to the 2nd book in the series between Faith and Vaughn, Max’s approach to Sophie is much more respectful and considerate. Though he is every bit the alpha male, his primary goal is to ensure he causes Sophie no harm.
Melinda: Yes! I adored how at every point in this book it seemed like Max had Sophia in mind, and what she needs and wants. From extremely small things that only she would notice, but that touch her deeply.
“You had court this morning?” He reached out to open the door for her, the action making her pause for a second. Men never did things like that for her. It wasn’t because she was Psy—she’d watched any number of males do the same act automatically for all females. But they always seemed to want to distance themselves from the violence she wore on her face—as if they were afraid it was catching.
This is extremely early on and it felt so telling to me, because it’s a small gesture but something that Sophia has internalized to have meant so much from other people. It seemed to me that it was almost a litmus test she quietly gave other people in her mind, perhaps even subconsciously. There are definitely moments of Max being possessive to the point of territoriality that I felt he was almost acting like a changeling…but then again we also know that changeling behavior does not preclude tenderness and emotion.
Max feels just so aware of her at every point throughout the book, ready to jump to her defense if she needs it, which let’s be real – none of Nalini’s FMCs needs that – or ready to back her up no matter any situation.
I know we start every book knowing there will be an HEA, because that’s the beauty of romance, but what I loved about this book is that there is so much darkness and pain in their backgrounds that we start the book almost from that premise as well. Max essentially has decided from the jump that he wants Sophia to be his lover. And while Sophia’s situation is more complicated, she also has feelings for him right from the beginning. This romance felt completely inevitable to me at every turn and I loved that balance to the pain in this one.
Melanie: You bring up an excellent point. Usually books that have featured Psy heroines, the romance has, at least in parts, felt almost forced upon them by their Changeling mates. Here, though, Sophia feels that connection, that pull towards Max, almost as quickly as he does. There’s no sense that Max has to coerce or nudge her towards an emotional connection. Physically, yes, Sophia is nervous but once she learns that Max has these natural shields, all her defenses come down pretty fast. And one of the things that I really loved is that while Max’s protective and possessive instincts come out, Sophie is no doormat, equally as possessive and fierce when it comes to her feelings for Max.
“I may be fractured,” she said in a blunt response, “but I am not a submissive personality.”
While we do know these are all romances and therefore, come with a HEA guaranteed, there’s always a sense of doom that surrounds one or both of the MCs. In this case, it’s Sophia, who feels like she’s hurtling towards inevitable death or at the very least, a total destruction of her mind and personality, thereby precluding her from having any kind of future with Max. So, while they’re both quick to admit to their mutual attraction, they both have this assumption that whatever connection they have has a very firm expiration date.
Oof, that scene, even though I KNOW there’s a HEA coming for these two, still puts a lump in my throat.
Melinda: Actually, having a potential expiration date is a theme Nalini likes to revisit now that you mention it. It raises the stakes and heightens the tension…just makes everything feel that much more dangerous. She likes to have many of the couples racing against time like with Ashaya and Amara and Sophia reminds me a bit of Faith with her resignation to being used until her expiration date and then discarded. But I can’t put my finger on why this couple felt different to me – like you said she goes into this book fully admitting her attraction, and he is basically all in almost immediately. Maybe that was what felt different to me. Regardless of the difference, I could feel it throughout the book and I loved it.
The two bond over their backgrounds of abandonment, which we’ve seen before within the Psy of course. One of the interesting things about J-Psy we discover is that Sophia was literally stricken from history as if she doesn’t exist, which would just have such a huge impact on one’s self-view. Knowing that your own kind chose to just remove you from existing on paper is such a powerful and horrible thing and that Sophia was still standing and doing her job as a J-Psy said so much about her.
But the main reason the Psy did not merely get rid of her completely is that she is an anchor in the Net. This may be the first time we see mention of this? And I 100% missed this the first time around because, as I’ve noted many times, I hand wave away much of the NetMind aspects in these books! But since anchors become very important later on I sat up and paid attention this time. The conversation between Sophia and Max where she’s explaining her background, why she wasn’t rehabilitated completely before, and being an anchor cracked me up.
“However, non-cardinal individuals can sometimes develop the ability to merge with the Net.” She gripped her knees tight in order to ride out the increasing waves of pain. “We’re not true anchors—more like . . . small weights on the net, helping to keep it in shape, in place. There aren’t enough true anchors to do everything.”
“Now that doesn’t make sense. No self-supporting ecosystem would effectively cripple itself.”
I appreciated Max saying what I am thinking sometimes about the Net, that doesn’t make sense! But also, being current on this series it was fascinating to read the seeds of anchors being planted here when we know they will become such a key aspect to this world later on.
Melanie: Anchors! Like you, I had also glossed over this very pertinent detail until I read the most current book in the series that just came out this year. Nalini really does play the long con with this series, doesn’t she? Who knew that the anchors would ever come up again? Well, I mean, I guess she probably did. But definitely not me.
Speaking of their past pain, let’s revisit the issue of Max’s brother. Growing up, Max and he have a very strained relationship due in part to his addiction to Jax (a drug that is initially created by the Psy as a way to control the Arrow squad) and Max believes that he is dead and lost to him forever. When Sophie enters his life and begins this very tenuous relationship under the assumption that she will be forced to leave him soon, she wants him to not be alone when she’s gone.
First of all, Sophie doesn’t go into the Psy-Net all that much due to her heightened sensitivities and failing shields. That she does because of the work she’s been hired to do for Nikita, which is the entire reason she and Max are working together, is one thing. But when she does have to go into the Psy-Net, she makes full use of the information at her disposal, in order to make sure that when the inevitable occurs and she’s gone from Max’s life, that he has someone to turn to, someone who is family. Something, she herself never had. I actually think this is the critical thing that sets this book apart. Melinda is right in that there is always an air of inevitable doom around all the couples, where the reader is led to think that one of them is going to be forced to leave the other. However, this book, almost from the outset, shows the tenderness and strength of emotions these two have for each other, the lengths they would go to, to protect each other, to nurture each other, and to remove anything that might cause the other pain, even if that means removing (or attempting to remove) themselves.
Melinda: I completely agree. I love that about this relationship. And that Sophie uses the information in the Net to find Max’s brother for him by the end was just proof that she was preparing for his life without her and ensuring his happiness. That reunion and Max’s realization that he has family now, in both his brother and in Sophie was such a beautiful moment.
The reason she’d been going into the Psy-Net was for the work for Nikita, which brings us into the series Arc overall. Nikita had hired Max and Sophia to figure out who had been targeting people around her, because people had been killed at an alarming rate. Because of this, we also get to see quite a few scenes with the Council and how the alliances keep shifting. Ming lost control of his Arrows, which will have massive consequences down the line, but Ming has not realized it yet.
The chilly arguments amongst Council members about how to proceed with Silence and the Psy in general were brutal, particularly between Shoshanna and Nikita.
“The next time you decide one of my people is flawed and order a rehabilitation without my consent, I might not act in so civilized a fashion. In fact, it might be better for your . . . health if you didn’t set foot in my territory again.”
“So.” Shoshanna. “You’re protecting the broken ones now. I suppose blood will tell.”
I mean…phew. I would not want to be Shoshanna at that moment. Honestly, on this re-read I feel like this book may be one of the most pivotal ones as so many of these scenes change the entire focus of the whole series!
Melanie: Listen, I don’t ever want to be alone in a room with ANY of the Councilors. Well….except maybe ONE particular Councilor. But seriously, every time, I think I have a handle on who is good and who is evil, things shift and change and all of a sudden, I’m left feeling as confused as ever. I will say though, Ming’s diabolical nature is apparent early on and Shoshanna and Henry are not coming off that great either. And Nikita, who has a pretty major role in this book, really throws a wrench into things. For the past 7 books, we’ve comfortably written her off as the quintessential Psy, discarding her daughter for not living up to her Psy standards. But this book really sheds new light on Nikita and her motivations and her true nature. It will be fascinating to see how unfolds throughout the rest of the series.
But if we’re talking Councilors, there’s none more mysterious and frankly, downright scary as Kaleb Krychek. I would not want to be locked alone in a room with him…OR WOULD I?? Kaleb plays a pivotal role in this book, showing up in the most critical scene when Sophie is in the literal clutches of a serial killer who likes to torture his female victims before killing them. He’s also, as has been the case for all the books he’s been present in, searching for some elusive thing and this book finally brings him closer than he’s ever been to his target.
Councilor Kaleb Krychek was just getting into his car for the drive to his office in Moscow when he felt it. A telepathic ricochet. Catching the returning tracker with a psychic hand, he leaned against the vehicle. He had thousands of these invisible constructs scattered throughout the Net, all of them primed to scan through billions upon billions of bytes for data for one name.
This was the first one that had returned since he began his search six years, five months, and three weeks ago.
Given his single-minded focus and ability to just get things done, when I read this the first time, I remember thinking, my money is on Krychek to find whatever he’s looking for. That guy does not mess around.
Also, as Melinda mentioned, Ming has lost control of his Arrows in a scene that is lacking in any dialogue and yet, says so much. The fact that the Arrows make this information known by sending Kaleb a very cryptic message and that he responds by teleporting to a location so incredibly secure, is incredibly revealing and makes me very excited for what’s to come.
Melinda: See?! So many pivotal series plot points being set up so exquisitely here. Nalini is a freaking genius. The intrigue I felt at those Kaleb scenes…I wanted to know why we should care what or who he was searching for! But since I trust Nalini I knew she would let us know in due time.
So the work that Sophia and Max are doing for Nikita intersects with Sophia’s court work as a J-Psy, as part of her work is to discover the literal darkest things criminals have done. She’s been trying to get more information from a serial killer who has an obsession with her. She’s been keeping back part of what she does as a J-Psy, in seeking the punishment that the justice system was not getting, but is relieved when Max already knows about it. However, he hadn’t realized the full extent of what she is doing.
‘Every action has an opposite and equal reaction,’ ” she said, quoting the well-known law of physics. “That maxim holds true on the psychic plane.” White lines bracketed Max’s mouth.
“So a J would be damaged by the event?”
“Not exactly damaged. I would say . . . changed.”
He’s devastated, because obviously, he wants her to be completely healthy and safe. I love that his answer to her shows how much he loves her and wants to be with her, no matter what.
“It’s about choices. I need you to make one to fight those instincts—every time you give in, it eats away a little bit of your psyche.”
Melanie: I was absolutely fascinated by this revelation in the book, the way that Sophie seeks vengeance for certain victims and also, how much of it is tied up with her own past. And there’s a real fear on her part that once Max learns about the activities she undertakes beyond the scope of her actual job, he may view her as something horrifying. And so, I loved that Max knew but also, that he wasn’t trying to prevent her from doing this because he thought it was wrong but because of how it would negatively impact Sophie. This easily could have been a scene where the alpha male character puts his foot down but in the hands of Nalini, it’s a poignant scene of compassion and understanding, and of these two lonely people mutually laying claim to each other.
Max felt a laugh build in his chest, had to fight the urge to tug Sophia into his arms and bite down on that full lower lip in a gesture of open possession. “No one will dare hit on me after I mention my wife is a J with a jealous streak.”
Wife. Her composure splintered. “Max, no matter what, we could never—”
“I told you, Sophie. You’re mine. End of story.”
I think one of things I find so incredibly romantic about this particular book is just how completely they accept each other exactly as they are, not trying to change the other to fit some preconceived notion. And given that they each have painful pasts where they were both discarded by the very people who were supposed to love and care for them, this need to be accepted for who they are is incredibly important to both of them.
Melinda: This whole book was a ride for me on this re-read and I can see why it’s a favorite for some of my Psy/Changeling friends. This pair doesn’t have the mating bond that connects them in a visible way but they are no less connected than the other mates we’ve seen. I love that we’ve gotten to see so many different combinations now between Humans, Psy, and Changelings and all of the pairs feel like they’re on equal footing.
We get yet another revelation about the NetMind near the end which will impact the trajectory of the series.
“You know about the NetMind?” “I’ve heard rumors it’s some kind of psychic entity that organizes the Net.” “Yes. The thing is, there’s a DarkMind, too.” She’d searched, dug deep to find confirmation of her suspicions. “It’s made up of all the emotions my race has rejected, and it’s so angry, so scared, and so very, very lonely. I think . . . it’s also a little insane.”
Her heart settled, quiet, content. “I am a living, breathing extension of the Net, Max.”
“I’m not just an anchor any longer—I’ve become some kind of a focus.”
“There’s hope, Sascha.” A blinding, beautiful hope. “As the Net passes through my anchor point, the light and the dark come together if only for a fraction of a second.”
And this, like most of the NetMind information we get in the moment, was complex and to be honest, a bit over my head. But I knew it would eventually pay off, as we’re now in the 8th book and we’ve gotten bits and pieces about the NetMind and it’s clear that there are fractures in it and that there could be devastating consequences from that.
I had to think hard about where to place Max in my rankings because I really loved how supportive he was…but then I looked at the others on the list and realized who he was better than/worse than.
So my rankings stand at:
Melanie: I can’t imagine why I didn’t remember much about this book at all. I will say I have a tendency to better remember books that involve Changelings as one of the MCs but I did love Sophie and Max, despite neither of them being a Changeling. I think what also worked for me in this book is that even though they were both lonely and self-isolated to a degree, Max did have a strong connection to DarkRiver and there was this sense of found family that was really missing from the previous book. I think maybe that sense of found family is one of my favorite things about this series.
There were some great scenes between Lucas and his darling Sascha, now pregnant with their baby. And an incredibly telling line regarding Hawke that will come into play sooner than we realize, given that we’re already at book #8.
“Hawke isn’t going to be easy on any woman he takes as his own. And the fact is, he lost the girl who would’ve been his mate as a child. I don’t know if his wolf will allow him to accept another female on that level.”
Such great foreshadowing of what’s to come, these little lines make it clear that Nalini always has a game plan for the overall series even if we as the reader may not see the fruits of that planning for a little while yet.
Incorporating Max into the rankings was actually easier for me: I adored his protective nature but also how he balanced that with accepting Sophie for exactly who she was. He had trust and belief in her capabilities and never tried to take over for her, which I really appreciated.
So far, Melinda’s and my rankings only diverge with Lucas and Dorian. It will be fascinating to see over the course of the next few books whether that changes or not. That’s all we have for this month’s deep dive. Please feel free to share your thoughts – we’d love to know how you rank these heroes. Until next time, happy reading!