Archangel’s Light by Nalini Singh
Guild Hunter #14
10/26/2021 by Berkley
Review by Angela, Melinda, and Melanie
Angela: I remember a couple of years ago when Bluebell and Sparkle started having their spats and disagreements and there seemed to be something afoot with their relationship. Like this author was setting something up for later in the series for them to have this big, wonderful romance and I can tell you right now I was HERE FOR IT. Every review after that ended with Bluebell + Sparkle 4eva. Every new book seemed to have more foreshadowing and it got me even more excited. Then came the announcement of Archangel’s Light and the cover was released…
…big shouts of excitement and glee. Yes, yes! Thank you!
But honestly, I had no idea what I really wanted this book to look and feel like. I wasn’t sure how this author would choose to tell their story. But I shouldn’t have worried, Ms. Singh does this couple justice, with an alternating timeline storytelling style that takes readers back to special moments in their long history together, while also bringing them back together in the present day. And I Ioved it.
Melinda: I was right there with Angela and her feeling of something just a little different with their relationship among Raphael’s Seven. It seemed to me that every mention of Aodhan and Illium came with a caveat that there was a special bond, that was more than friendship. And every single book, at every single mention of the two of them I would highlight those mentions like…, is this just me reading into them!? I got the chance to speak to Nalini in 2019 for an interview and she, of course, sidestepped the question like any good author would but did say that she got more questions about this pairing than any other, in any series so I knew I wasn’t alone!
I had faith that she would do their romance justice because my motto is ‘In Nalini I trust’ but I truly loved this book. I think readers who’ve been waiting and hoping for this pairing will be delighted and so will ones who are more hesitant and unsure of what to expect with their romance.
Melanie: I have the unique experience of coming to this series much later than Melinda and Angela. I basically binged the first 12 books over the course of 6 months starting in September of 2019 and ending in February of 2020. And in doing that, it was very apparent to me how beautifully Nalini laid the groundwork for the pairing in this book. I remember messaging Melinda repeatedly, asking her, “tell me Sparkle and Bluebell are endgame!!” The best she had to offer was that I was not alone in wishing for this and every single book I read, I would be on the lookout for Sparkle and Bluebell scenes, convinced that Nalini was teasing and torturing us, and yet, I had hope because, like Melinda, “in Nalini I trust.”
Archangel’s Light is the payoff for that trust, the long-awaited book about two best friends, who over the course of about half a millennium, have survived untold tragedies and heartbreak and loss, and throughout it all, faithfully had each other’s backs, sometimes literally, always figuratively. In this, the 14th book of this epic series, she finally goes where so many of her fans have been fervently wishing for. When the cover and blurb were announced, all 3 of us were excited beyond belief, and I’m thrilled to report that this book not just lived up to, but exceeded every expectation.
Angela: I have so many quotes highlighted, but I think this is my favorite and encompasses this couple and their centuries long connection:
“He is the deep, boundless ocean to your tumultuous storm,” his mother had said to Illium once, her smile wide. “He anchors you and you take him flying.”
When the book opens Aodhan is still in China with the new Archangel, helping her clean up the mess left by Lijuan. He is serving as her second, but Raphael, knowing that he is considering staying in that position, sends the man who Aodhan trusts more than any other in the world to help him. (devious, devious Raphael).
Then the story goes back in time to little Blue and little Ado, to how they met. Readers will finally see their instant connection. These were my favorite parts of the book, seeing this couple establish their relationship, watching them be there for each other, witnessing the hurt, the pain, the triumphs. Bright, energetic Bluebell and quiet, artistic Sparkle. I’ve said it before, this type of storytelling style really works for me, it keeps me on my toes and deeply engaged. I read this book in one day and have zero regrets.
Melinda: The reason I think this book and their story in particular worked so well is how Nalini chose to tell it. We get their story in alternating timelines, between the present with Suyin, the Archangel they’re helping, and in different glimpses of their past. This was particularly masterful because the world of Guild Hunters is always violent and rather horrific in areas, and this book is no different. In cleaning up after Lijuan we get to see the disaster she left her area in, and of course, uncover new horrors. So by alternating timelines, we get to have some space from some of the…more sickening discoveries.
And in the timeline of the past, we get those beautiful touchstones of Illium and Aodhan’s relationship. What I loved is that not all of these points in time were even particularly meaningful, some were just brief glimpses of either the two of them together or conversations they had regarding the other. Archangel’s Light felt like the ultimate culmination of their relationship, slowly peeling back, layer by layer, the decades of hurt and misunderstanding between the two friends and how they’ve reached this point. Nalini’s masterful care with this led to the slowest of burns in this book.
“Sometimes, Aodhan said at last, I feel like I’m pretending to be the person that you want me to be.”
Melanie: The alternating timeline was a beautiful device, giving us glimpses of yesterday, which takes us to the past, and today, which brings us to the present. Under this device, we get to see snapshots of Illium and Aodhan as they were but also what happened to make them who they are now and how their relationship grew and then faltered. From the very first moment they meet, the key facets of their personalities are made clear, from Illium’s gregarious, never-met-a-stranger nature, to Aodhan’s more reserved, wary manners.
Also helpful in telling this story is the fact that we don’t get shortchanged by the POVs either. We get inside both Aodhan and Illium’s thoughts, their desires and fears and anger towards each other explained to the reader with great clarity. And while they’re definitely off balance when this book reunites them in China, their long-lasting friendship at a great turning point, these are two angels who have always seen each other for exactly who they are, scars and all.
“To know a person’s bad habits along with their good ones? To see them at their worst and at their best? To fight and play with them through all the seasons of this life? And to still wake up every morning happy to see their face? This is love.”
While the above quote doesn’t come from either Aodhan or Illium, it is a perfect encapsulation of them and the progression of their relationship, one that is rooted in deep friendship and has slowly, over half a millennium, grown to mean so much more.
Angela- Alongside this romance is the main series plot of a world healing after the terrible violence of war between an evil Archangel and the rest of Cadre. There are still so many unknown variables and a new Archangel of China has ascended to rebuild and lead her territory. Aodhan is acting as her temporary Second and Illium has been sent by Raphael to assist.
Lijuan might be gone, but she has left some nasty surprises behind. I think readers will be caught off guard by the introduction of a new character and what he might mean for the plot arc going forward. I know I was.
As Illium and Aodhan are working together to support Suyin, helping her establish a new court, and weeding out the remaining danger in the area, they are also coming back together slowly. At first so polite, still so hurt over past perceived slights and misunderstandings about behavior, exhibiting small jealousies, then moving on to arguments and eventually heart-to-heart talks. Through it all readers can feel their chemistry and dedication to each other. I liked the contrast of a broken territory reestablishing itself into something new and better with this couple doing the same.
There might not be a lot of heat in this book, but there is a heck of a lot of heart.
Melinda: Okay, just to talk about the overall series arc of cleanup of Suyin’s territory for a second, the descriptions in this book reminded me of just how vivid Nalini can be with horror and gore. Which is another reason why her thrillers worked so well! The ghost of Lijuan was felt throughout this book, although since this is paranormal I should emphasize this ghost is metaphorical lol. I didn’t think I could be surprised with some of the actions Lijuan had taken but of course, I was shocked at some of their discoveries.
And the lack of heat is so interesting to me because as this romance is the ultimate slow burn and it’s built up over the last 14 books and half a millennium we’re all basically ready to burst! Instead what we get is this trickle of memories, sweet gestures, and meaningful glances – all interspersed with their fights and hurt feelings. And that sounds like a negative thing! But somehow it just all comes together to make the sweetest HFN for them and leave us wanting more.
Melanie: Oof, Lijuan truly is the gift that won’t stop giving (gifts that NOBODY wants). The little surprises she’s left behind are horrifying and one of them is a major reveal that will no doubt cause major ripple effects in the coming books. It’s interesting to note that usually these books contain a lot of graphic violence and are really dark. But this book, in particular, the violence all stems from things that happen in the past that reveal themselves to us (and in some cases to Aodhan and Illium) long after they actually happened.
We finally get answers to what happened to Aodhan that caused him to retreat for so long. And let me warn you, it’s dark and brutal and heartbreaking and the brilliance of Nalini means it’s handled in a way that is sensitive to both the characters and to the readers. I don’t want to give too much away but just be aware, this book may not have present-day violence but it still does go to some very, very dark places.
That being said, it absolutely makes sense that Aodhan and Illium don’t just jump into the physical aspect of their relationship. After all, it took them half a millennium to grow into who they are and also into their feelings and accept that their bond is much deeper than a long abiding friendship. So, it stands to reason that they would take their time developing this new facet of their relationship, especially given Aodhan’s backstory. (Though, please, Nalini, don’t make US wait half a millennium for this next step to happen – we’re mere mortals and don’t have that kind of time, thanks!). They’re both nervous about this huge step they’re taking that will fundamentally change their relationship but Illium puts it best.
“I’m still fucking petrified we’ll screw this up. But I’d rather screw things up with you than get it right with anyone else.”
In parsing the relationship out in this way (truly over the course of the whole series really), Nalini has given us a romance that is tender and sweet, poignant and at times, painful, and ultimately, more than worth the wait.
Angela: All in all, this book is EXACTLY what I hoped for when I found out all my wishes had come true and these two would be getting their own romance. Another reason why Nalini Singh remains at the very top of my auto-buy list, she just dazzles me with every new release. Archangel’s Light is so well done, all at once moving the series plot arc forward, while taking readers on a journey through the past and building a believable romance between two beloved characters in the present. I am so happy with Bluebell and Sparkle’s HFN, but I also can not wait to see them again. Thank you.
P.S. I’m ready for the next step in this couple’s relationship. BRING ON THE FIRE!
Final Grade- A