This book is the first in the "Psy-Changeling" series by Nalini Singh. "Slave to Sensation" is a completely inappropriate title because there isn't much sensation there. And no one is slaving for it.
You might have guessed by now that I'm not thrilled with this book. And no, it isn't because romance wasn't really happening or the characters didn't seem to have any chemistry. It is because the world-building is such a success that the "romantic" part actually spoiled it. Yes, you saw it right. I think that this book should have been an SF, thriller, mystery and then it would have been a big perfect hit.
A future world where emotions are considered dangerous after devastating wars...
The "Psy" are people with specialized psychic abilities and no emotions. No emotions means no violence, no hatred, no wars. They are in the upper circles of society and handle most of the world-important and justice-related business because they are considered the most rational for it.
"Changelings" are shifters of various animal varietis and the complete opposite of the Psy. They thrive on emotion and living with the nature. If not for them, the polution would long ago killed the planet and everyone on it. They are climbing the social ladder and seem to finally have the upper hand on Psy after all those years of Psy omnipotence.
Humans do exist but we don't deal with them in the first book. They are only mentioned. Like some bugs waiting to be squashed. It would be too nice to say that everyone looks down on humans, the humans are so irrelevant that no one even has any feelings about them. Humans are... invisible, low, unimportant. Kinda offensive but unique outlook.
So, the system works like this. Despite everyone sharing the same planet, the Psy and the Changeling (no more mention of humans) have their own communities, their own laws and their own secrets. They exist next to each other and interact only when it's business related because for some reason Psy really like their money.
Everyone knows their place. Except for our main heroine Sascha Duncan. She is undoubtedly a Psy, but a flawed one. She doesn't fit in there. And if she shows that to anyone, including her own mother, she would be sent to rehabilitation aka mind wipe. The Psy deal with any and all abnormalities. Not one is allowed to be free. So Sascha builds up her mental walls and hides behind them pretending not to feel anything because any flicker of emotion could be her last.
As luck would have it, she is forced to do a business deal with the alpha male of the black panthers pack Lucas Hunter. He is a scarred, lethal and a very sensual male who knows it and shows it at every opportunity. He started the business deal with the Psy for one reason only, to find the information he was looking for. Six months prior, a member of his pack was brutally murdered and a Psy metallic stench was left in the air. When digging around for more information, Lucas found out about other killings with the same MO and decided to let the police handle it as to not go to war with the Psy. But what really happened was a major cover up. Every single murder was hushed away and all the clues had gone dark. Knowing that the Psy was the perpetrator they decided to investigate on their own. When a beautiful female Psy came to their meeting, he was surprised at her behaviour, she was a Psy everything his race hated yet she wasn't. He was perplexed and with each day he became more and more obsessed with her.
Each party has their own agenda. For Lucas he was supposed to use this Psy to find the name of the killer. For Sascha it was to bring home a profiting business deal and find out more about the Changelings.
What neither of them expected was that soon after the initial meeting another woman from a different pack would be taken. And if the killer followed his previous MO, this female had only another seven days to live. Live as in being tortured each day until finally she would be killed in a place she previously felt safe in. Now, the time was of the essence and neither one of them can go with tiptoeing around each other anymore.
I have to admit that the thriller/mystery part was a welcome although unexpected surprise that threw me of my feet. It's been awhile since I found something like this in a paranormal romance genre. I believe it to be fantastic. The world-building along with the killer on the loose mystery story is an awesome combination. I was actually re-reading some pages to get full details and to embed them in my memory. It wasn't just swallowing pages, it was studying them carefully. I was intrigued and delighted.
Then came the "romance" part. Which didn't work well with me for a couple of reasons.
1. No chemistry. None, at all. Just a declaration, she is mine (because he feels she is) and a lot of hesitation on her part.
2. Shifters. I'm usually not impressed with shifters because of their too wild nature. Here, it was a constant contact with pack members. Constant touching and kissing everyone in the pack. Wtf?? I get what you tried to do, I really do. But I still can't find females kissing all the males on the mouth when needing comfort normal. No, no, just no. When you say they are extremely territorial and possessive they shouldn't let other men kissing their women on the mouth even when they can somehow feel it isn't about the lust but comfort. Noooooooooo!
3. Mating for life and never taking another mate after the other dies. I get mating for life, it does have a romantic undertone and it suits the cats and the wolves. But! If one dies, the other will most likely follow and it will never ever mate again??? What about the kids? How selfish do you have to be? Yes, the loss of a spouse is a devastating thing, but if all the parents would just wither and die after their partner, most of the world population would seize to exist. And most of the children would grow up parentless. And with horrible childhoods. I think you overdid it here. It isn't romantic, it's unrealistic and selfish.
4. Slow, almost non-existing romantic build-up. Most of this book deals with the world-building, the Psy and the Changeling world and Sascha's flawed nature. Only the ending, the last few chapters really deal with Sascha and Lucas. And by that time they jumped through no-touching, distant relationship to I know you are my mate. Ehmmm... ha?
The positive side.
As I already mentioned, the world-building is awesome.
Also, there were a couple of episodes which I found endearing. Like the one where Sascha had to deal with two cubs, one of which had chewed on her boot. That was so funny and lovely. Also, Lucas and Sascha did have a couple of nice conversations, I'm just disappointed that they came abruptly and no real development followed it. I liked this one:
"I wish you'd love me."
"Because then maybe you could protect me, too." Haunting sorrow whispered through her tone.
"Why do you need protecting?" His male instincts were rising past the dark burden of memory.
She cuddled closer and he wrapped his arms tight. "Because I'm broken." Her hand kept smoothing over his heart and he could feel a melting warmth invade his body. "And the Psy don't allow broken creatures to live."
"You feel perfect to me."
I did like the setting and the outlook of this book, I truly did. This kind of world is not that difficult to imagine. Human emotions are a great asset at some times but a terrible burden at others. The idea to live without them is... unimaginable. I, who feel more than I would like, can not possibly imagine to go on living without any emotion in my body, mind and soul. Like a robot. Like a thing. What would be the point of living then? But on the other hand, we wouldn't have the Middle East situation or the Africa situation.
It is a very complex thing to consider. And even when it is done, like the Psy did in order to stop the killings and the war, you still have abnormalities. You still have killings just for a different purpose and with a different style. Neat, thought through to the tiniest detail, precise, clean, studious. And what's the worst about it, the Psy covered it up. Because they couldn't let the general public know of their flaw. Because the reason for turning their emotions off and having the most powerful seats in the world was that they couldn't feel anger, hatred and evil. If the word gets out that they still do heinous things despite everything, the world would once again descend into chaos and many innocents would die.
Nalini Singh is truly a wonder. I have very high hopes for the sequels and I hope they won't disappoint me. Also, she has a talent for SF/thriller, she should really try to create something without the romance being the main part.