I didn’t start reading Nalini Singh until her most recent book, Silver Silence, ( A | BN | K | iB ) the first book in her Psy-Changeling Trinity series. I was okay starting there (enough of her world was established for me), but you really do need to read that book before you read Ocean Light.
Ocean Light is a fated mate romance largely set in a sci-fi-rrific undersea base and it involves marine shifters.
Shut up and take my money, right?
My only real issue with this book is the same issue I have with a lot of fated mates stuff: there’s not enough internal conflict. The fantastic world building and heavy external conflict mostly made up for it though.
If you’ve never read any of Singh’s Psy-Changeling books, this is what you need to know. They take place in an alternate future where Changelings (shifters), humans and Psy (people with varying psychic powers) live together after a tenuous peace accord is reached. The Psy were previously cold and emotionless, and they preyed on human minds.
The book opens after the most important human member of the Alliance, Bowen Knight, was shot and nearly died. He wakes up in Ryūjin, the deep underwater base/habitat of the Black Sea shifters. Bowen has offered to undergo an experimental treatment to put a chip in his brain that will allow humans to fend off psychic attacks from the Psy. Although the three groups have reached a peace accord, the humans are the weakest party. Removing the Psy’s ability to prey on them will put them on a more level playing field.
The problem is, the chip experiment (run by Black Sea’s scientists who saved Bowen’s life) has a 95% chance of either killing him or leaving him brain dead.
Bowen is willing to make that sacrifice. Then he meets Kaia Luna, Ryūjin‘s head chef and sometimes lab assistant. Kaia was deeply hurt by humans and resents them. She has severe anxiety if she goes to the surface, so she stays at Ryūjin, deep in the black, where she feels safe.
Bowen and Kaia are fated to be together, and they both acknowledge that. There’s a lot of pants feelings and also feelings of home and belonging when they are together. Kaia has a lot of healing to do, but she accepts Bowen as her mate fairly quickly.
The real conflict here is that Bowen will like die or wind up in a vegetative state as a result of the experiment. Even if he survives, he’s an important diplomatic figure and he needs to go back to the surface where Kaia cannot live without debilitating anxiety attacks. They basically have two weeks to make an entire lifetime worth of memories together.
The compressed timeline makes the pacing work really well, but the plotline reminded me very much of Silver Silence, except it’s the hero not the heroine facing down potential death or brain damage this time. There’s also a suspense element as someone on the base doesn’t want the experiment to succeed.
For me the real joy in this book was diving deep (sorry I had to) in the world of the Black Sea shifters. Singh does such an amazing job with world-building and this futuristic, paranormal community of aquatic shifters was diverse, nuanced and immersive. I found myself reading more because I wanted to spend more time in that world than because I was concerned about Bowen and Kaia, if I’m being honest.
I just want to run down the halls of Ryūjin and ask “What do you shift into? What do you shift into?” which in the changeling world is actually very rude.
I mean, there are jellyfish shifters. JELLYFISH SHIFTERS OMG HOW COOL IS THAT.
Also, tentacle jokes!
Take Kaia schooling one of her fellow Black Sea members:
“Fine. Keep drooling, but do not go near him.” The instruction had nothing to do with her painfully uncomfortable response to him; Bowen needed to eat, not fend off amorous offers. “And especially no offering him tentacle sex.” She pinned the likely offender with her gaze.
Oleanna giggled as she stole a flower from a friend’s braid to tuck it behind her right ear. “Not my fault so many humans have a fetish.”
Oleanna is an octopus shifter. I would read the fuck out of a book about an octopus shifter. Octopi are super smart and cool and have literal blue blood. Also female octopi strangle and eat males after mating sometimes because you get hungry, you know?
Anyway, I loved the undersea world of Ryūjin. One of things that I adored about Silver Silence was how loving and supportive the shifter community is. It’s a trend in the Psy-Changeling books, and I found it so wonderful I went back and downloaded most of the first series on audio. It’s a theme that continues in this book as well.
Every member of Black Sea knows that Kaia was hurt by humans. They understand that she lives below the surface to protect herself. They love her and protect her too, and while they want her to be happy, they worry that her relationship with Bowen is destined to leave her miserable and grieving.
Even when a member of the group massively fucks up and does something awful, they aren’t ostracized or cast aside. They are punished, but with the understanding that they are still part of the Black Sea clan. That sense of community and rich world building is what kept bringing me back to this book. I longed for more internal conflict, but I was so satisfied with the external stuff that I was able to let that go.
If you enjoy Singh’s Psy-Changeling books, then Ocean Light will make you happy. If you have never read any of them, I suggest starting with Silver Silence first.
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