Slave to Sensation
by Nalini Singh
(Berkley Sensation, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-425-21286-6
I am relatively new to the paranormal genre and especially to those featuring animal-people. Itís therefore hard for me to compare Slave to Sensation with other novels where shape-shifters (wolf-people, leopard-people, jaguar-people, fox-people and, yes, rabbit-people) appear. I wonít let that stop me from recommending it.

The originality of this book lies in its futuristic setting. Earth is dominated by the Psy, a race of psychics. They are linked to each other through the PsyNet, a network of mental spaces structured similarly to the Internet. Governed by an authoritarian Council, they have conditioned themselves not to have emotions. Everything is reduced to a rational and utilitarian calculation, and any display of feelings or desire is deemed unsound. Damaged Psy are ďrehabilitatedĒ: they are sentenced to a form of mental death that makes physical death infinitely more desirable.

This frigid, emotionless race looks down on other humanoid forms populating the world, namely humans and changelings. The latter are animal-human breeds who live in packs and thrive on emotional bonding. Several appear in this novel, but the most important are the leopard changelings.

Lucas Hunter, alpha leader of the DarkRiver Pack, is out to revenge the brutal murder of one of his pack members and to unmask the serial killer the Psy Council is obviously protecting. He believes Sascha Duncan, whose mother is one of the most ruthless Council members, is his ticket to inside information.

Sascha, however, isnít like the other Psy. She has never developed any psychic potential; worse, she has spent her entire life masking her inexplicably strong emotional reactions. She considers herself seriously flawed and believes she is on the verge of collapse. She nevertheless accepts the information Lucas gives her. As they draw out the murderer, she comes to terms with who she is and what she has to offer.

The novel takes pains to withhold the killerís identity, but he is fairly obvious. What is less apparent is how to unmask him without destroying Sascha. Turning against her own people implies necessary exile from the PsyNet. But without it, she cannot survive. Finding a solution to this problem takes up much of the second part of the book and maintains the suspense.

Given the title and the novelís main theme, I expected a lot more from the sex and seduction scenes. Although steamy, they are not particularly inventive. In fact, Sascha and Lucasís relationship falls into a pattern Iíve seen in a number of recent paranormals: despite their obvious differences, he quickly recognizes she is his mate and doesnít fight it. As strongly attracted to him, she resists their mating, not so much because of the consequences to her as out of concern for him.

Sascha develops from a coolly calculating being into a sensual, caring person. Yet, because she has always feigned indifference, her character growth isnít as striking as it might have been. It is much more than Lucasís. He remains throughout a heavy-handed, if thoroughly likable, alpha male. Sascha stands her own, and it is quickly clear that, mate or not, she is his match.

With three different races, two different social structures, and a futuristic setting, Slave to Sensation invokes a fairly complicated world. Some explanatory passages are therefore inevitable. Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of repetition, and the movement between information and story is not as seamless as it could have been. Still, the novel is a competent attempt at world-building for a first timer.

Slave to Sensation introduces a number of intriguing characters. Some of them are members of the DarkRiver Pack; others belong to their allies, the SnowDancers, a pack of wolf-changelings. In all cases, they have me hooked: Iíll definitely be back for more.

--Mary Benn

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