This is the first of Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter novels I have read – despite it being the ninth in the series. But it is kind of fun to just jump in mid-stream – and there is a plethora of information about the archangel universe and the back-stories of all the characters to fill you in. And for a good while I was just engrossed in piecing together the backdrop to the series: It is an earth where archangels rule their territories, making vampires where appropriate (collective noun = “kiss”) and where to angels, humans are just those who are “… always living their lives in fast-forward.” Archangel Raphael is the Archangel of New York and his ‘heart’ is Elena – once a mortal guild hunter, now an angel in training and with powers that hint of something vampiric in her ancestry. The love between Raphael and Elena is the power that drives the novels. The angels are all beautiful: “Angelkind really won the genetic lottery”, but beauty is not such a good thing, it is used as a weapon and a subterfuge and further removes the immortals from the rest of their fellow creatures: “Many immortals are unforgiving of physical imperfections.” I liked the mechanics of angels in Danielle Trussoni’s Angelology books – where their wings are part of their pulmonary system and an indicator of health. The same fun is had here – the effort of vertical take-off as opposed to the fall from a height, the wing touching protocols, and the use of angelic singing for both coercive power and bestowing transient feeling of joy on mortals. Vampires and archangels both are very animalistic, driven by instinct, and more than a bit unstable – guild hunters exist to manage rogue vampires, and it seems it hasn’t been that unusual for archangels to take out other archangels who have gone berserk. But apart from the imaginative world-building there is also a great story. One of the archangels has gone missing, and one has awoken from a long sleep. There can only be ten archangels active at one time as their power is so immense and their instincts so territorial there isn’t enough geography for more. So, if the missing archangel has gone to sleep all could be well – but if not all hell will break loose – and with signs of unrest in the missing archangel’s territory (China) things are not looking hopeful. When archangels are not actively managing their vampires, the latter can get a blood lust up and go on the rampage (technical term = “twisted kiss”). To manage the situation the archangels are summoned to the retreat of an angelic religious sect – the Luminata, who have not only retreated to gain personal ‘luminescence’, they are also tasked with ensuring balance is kept on archangel-earth, by summoning meetings when an archangel goes AWOL. They meet at the Luminata compound in Morocco, and soon discover all is not well in this hallowed institution. While Raphael meets with the rest of the archangel cadre, Elena finds out disturbing things about the sect and its relationship with the nearby village – where she is taking the opportunity to do a bit of personal genealogical research. The three storylines – the wayward sect, the missing archangel, and Elena’s origins – are all resolved – although in one case with the hint of further installments. So the plotting is good, but what I really loved was the contemplations on the relative merits of immortality and mortality, perfection and weakness. Should it be of interest to angels if humans are being mistreated? To them humans are like the ‘lesser’ creatures we unfortunately often mistreat. Elena is a great character; she is down to earth, doesn’t “do heels”, only wears make-up as a weapon and isn’t cowed by status – and she enables some of the immortals to see the value in fleeting lives and flawed individuals: gives them “an awareness that mortality was but a shell and that the soul soared free in an immortality even the angels could not understand.” Paranormal romance not your thing? Get over it and give it a go!