Secrets at Midnight by Nalini Singh
This is a classic romance from the Psy/Changeling world of Nalini Singh. Which has both good and bad points. On the good side we have a lot of racial diversity, the fascinating world playing a backdrop, some pretty awesome side characters and a romance that was generally very sweet
On the minus side, it was so classic that it was faintly predictable. Bastien meets Kirby and ZOMG SHE SMELLS OF WIFEY! And lo, the romance is now written in stone as soon as he human brain catches up with Bastien’s relationship planning wereleopard nose. To be fair to the story, while Bastien is very eager to be with Kirby (because of the WIFEY SMELL!) he is also very careful not to pressure her – even refusing to have sex with her when she instigates it because he recognises what vast changes have suddenly rocked her life and he’s very conscious about not taking advantage of her. He is very respectful of her agency and, if you must have the “I smell true love with this complete stranger we are destined to be together” storyline then this is one of the best you will read out there. I’m still not a fan, but this was one of the best I’d read. Especially since, while Bastien had all the classic “MAH WIFEY!” possessiveness, he also kept that to the internal monologue.
There’s also some clear story beyond the “I SMELL WIFEY TWU LUB!” storyline with nice appearances from Bastien’s family and Kirby’s past.
Magic Steals by Ilona Andrews
It’s Jim and Dali’s story! For a long time fan of this world, this is perfect and I couldn’t wait. But beyond my love of these two characters, this story is awesome as well because of how Dali grows in it. Jim has always been confident, powerful and a leader of his people; he’s the chief enforcer and security head of the Pack, he’s the head of Clan Cat, made up of some of the most dangerous and powerful and independent of the shapeshifters. He has always, from the very beginning of the book, been an immense power and worthy of respect. Dali, on the other hand, has always been plagued by insecurities which is clear here – she considers herself scrawny, she has very poor eyesight, she’s a vegetarian, she’s not dangerous and generally considers herself inept – and has no idea why Jim wants to be with her. Her lack of self-worth is painful to see
But through this book Dali really shows off her own strength – and not through Jim holding her hand and convincing her she’s special (though he is instrumental in pointing out that it doesn’t matter how limited her vision or averse to blood she is, she’s still a massive White Tiger and the biggest werecat in the city not to mention absolutely awe inspiring in appearance), but through her going through her life as someone who defeats evil magic in her Indonesian community. We see a side to her life we’ve never seen before – which Jim has never seen before – in which she is casually competent and incredibly, awesomely powerful – and Jim is willing to support her in that, play second to her and let her guide the action because this is her territory and her expertise. We get to see Dali in all her amazing glory and the immensely powerful Jim continues to show his strength AND isn’t lessened by allowing Dali to take point.
Throw in Dali being Indonesian, Jim being Black and a whole lot of racially diverse side cast and this was awesome all through. There’s also a wonderful sense of Indonesian culture – I can’t say I’m an expert but there was some clear research involved from cuisine, to mythology. There’s also some definite sharp commentary on the habit of fetishising Asian women. And Dali’s family is hilarious.