Last Guard (Nalini Singh)

Last Guard is the fifth novel of the Psy-Changeling Trinity Series (or the 20th novel of the Psy-Changeling Series) by Nalini Singh.
Finished on: 1.8.2021
[Here are my reviews of the other books in the Psy-Changeling series.]

Content Note: child abuse, (critical treatment of) ableism

Plot:
As part of the Mercant family, Canto is well-connected and has always been protected by them – meaning that despite the fact that he doesn’t conform to Psy ideas of perfection as he’s a wheelchair user, he could still rise in the family ranks and is now in the unique positions to bring together a Psy designation that has been mostly forgotten: the anchors like him. One of those anchors is Payal Rao, tough CEO of the Rao family conglomerate and Canto know that he needs her cooperation to make his plan of an anchor union work. What he didn’t expect when they finally meet in person, was that he actually knows Payal from when they were children – and their old connection immediately comes back to life again.

Last Guard gives us quite a few new perspectives in a world that has been firmly established – not an easy thing to pull off without feeling shoehorned in, but Singh manages it. And I liked Payal and Canto, making the book a full success for me.

[Let me just take a quick moment to say that I can’t believe that I read 20 books in this series, not counting the short story collections, within well over a decade and I am still having fun with the series as a whole.]

The book cover showing an Indian palace with palm trees, overlayed with a woman standing, overlayed yet again with a man's face, all in pink and black.

Last Guard introduces a new psy designation, anchors, or at least one that hasn’t really been discussed so far – a tricky bit of world-building in a world that has been already well-established. And while you can see the seams a little where it was patched in, it still fits the world and the explanation of why they were so forgotten makes enough sense to make the whole thing work.

The book is also set partly in Delhi – after already moving the focus of the characters from North America to Russia, it feels good that the world-wide reach of the characters becomes ever clearer and more used. And we get a non-binary, specifically an agender character – the first in the series – and a lot more focus on Pavel and Arwen, the first gay couple in the series (who were introduced earlier). I love that the series also grows in this way and becomes more inclusive.

That includes, of course, that Canto is a wheelchair user. While a lot of the characters in the series have mental health issues, there haven’t really been physically disabled characters, especially not as the focus of the story. I mean, Canto is still like superfit and trains a lot, so he is still very physically able, and doesn’t actually get to be physically very weak (which would have been nice for a change), but that doesn’t change the fact that he is a disabled romantic lead and that’s very cool. Plus, I liked that him being disabled didn’t mean that he wasn’t protective of Payal, and didn’t take care of her (as Singh’s men tend to be and do).

And this includes the fact that Payal is neurodivergent and needs medication. And while they talk about whether her medication can be adjusted to make it work better for her, there is no question that she needs medication, and that needing it isn’t a bad thing – it’s simply a necessity. No miracle cures here, neither for Payal, nor for Canto (something this series hasn’t always been that good with).

I loved this representation. Especially since this pairing also opens the conversation about the ableism of the Psy (that is very much criticized).

So, there’s lots to love about Last Guard, even if it may was one of the less steamy entries in the series, and relied a little too much on Canto and Payal’s childhood connection to fast forward their adult relationship. That being said, I was completely satisfied with the book – it gave me what I hoped for in a Psy-Changeling novel, and more.

Summarizing: a really good read.

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