A review by tita_noir
Last Guard, by Nalini Singh

4.0

Another quick enjoyable installment in the Psy/Changeling world.

It features Canto and Payal two Psy that we really haven't met before. I think there may have been mention of Canto since he is Silver Mercant's cousin. But this is our first meeting with Payal.

Just like in previous books where we explore a never before explored psy desgination (we had the 'E' with Sasha, the 'F' with Faith, the 'M' with Ashaya, the 'J' with Sophia and the 'X' with Sienna) this one gives us a big look at the 'A's -- anchors. We heard about anchors in previous books and learned about them in more detail in Adria and Riaz's book [b:Tangle of Need|12059093|Tangle of Need (Psy-Changeling, #11)|Nalini Singh|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1318922090l/12059093._SY75_.jpg|17026278]. But this is the first one where we really see from their perspective what an anchor does. And honestly it makes sense that a group of Psy who are literal anchors in the PsyNet would have been affected most closely by the rot in the net. Because of this many of the A-psy are born with or develop physical or neural defects.

Canto and Payal are two of these kids. Canto is wheelchair bound because of a disease that affects his spine and Payal had developed brain tumors as a child that were kept under control with medication. Because of these imperfection the two youngsters were placed in an institute with sadistic teachers and pretty left to die by their respective families.

But Canto's mother is a Mercant. Because of the terns of the birth contract, his father got total custody of Canto and he is the one that when he saw Canto's physical disability decided to hide him away and treat him as dead, But if we have learned nothing else, we have learned that the Mercants are all about family. They discovered where Canto was and rescued him and rained down vengeance on his father.

But Payal was not so lucky. Her family is a nest of vipers and the only reason she survived was because the Mercant's destroyed the school and her father discovered she was useful after all.

The two had bonded as children but lost touch after Canto was taken home by the Mercant family. And while Canto was secure on the loving bosom of his family and became and integral part of the Mercant information network and having been in close proximity to an E-psy growing up so he is very well adjusted, Payal had to become a ruthless, cold creature in order to survive her family and rise to the top to become the CEO of her family's far flung business ventures and her father's heir.

They become reunited when Canto decides to create a union of the A-Psys and decides that the A-Psy should run with the big dogs (namely Kaleb, the Arrows, Nikita, and Ivy Jane) as part of the ruling coalition to make decisions for the PsyNet.

Like many of the books there are several thing going on here:

First, there is the romance of Canto and Payal. It is pretty low conflict, all things considered. When they meet up again, they recognize each other and their remembered bond as kids. Canto falls quickly and is quite sprung. Payal is a little more cautious and measured and it makes sense because her family is awful and she is constantly on guard for a knife in her back. She has a hard time letting go and trusting. I liked the characterization for both of them -- Canto was grumpy but warm and confident in his family and his connections. And his physical limitations don't at all impact the force of his personality, sex appeal or power. Payal was a blunt object and I loved her for it. She doesn't do tact and it is fun to read how she interacts with Kaleb and Nikita.

Second, is the overall story with the continuing issues with how to fix the Psynet, the Scarabs and the Architect.

And third is Payal's family situation and her health situation. She needs meds to control her brain tumors and her father keeps the medicine strictly controlled as a way of keeping her under his thumb. Without the meds she will die. And she has never been able to reverse engineer it. Singh likes to pepper her stories with these situations where one of our MCs is living with a time-bomb death sentence of some sort until of course we get an 11th hour miracle that saves them.

I think Payal's side story with her family is where most of the drama is and propels most of the plot and takes the place of the romantic conflict. As a plot propeller, it is good stuff.

The Psynet stuff is ongoing and is still a one step forward-three steps back deal. No real resolution in sight, onlyband-aids. But the ruling council scenes with the fresh blood of Payal and Canto are quite entertaining. And I also love that we got some good face time with Kaleb who recognized a kindred spirit with Payal and what sort of childhood she endured with a sadistic parent.

And of course we get to spend time with the Mercants and learn more about their family and TEH Bears!! I love that Canto lives on the outskirt of Bear country and they have adopted him so he gets visitors all the time, they are forever dropping in and he even keeps snacks on hand for the cubs.

My biggest criticism is that I felt the resolution with Payal's family came rather quickly and was over rather abruptly. Given how important that aspect was to the plot, it was not satisfying enough. I needed a more involved resolution.

And the Architect. I hate this villain. So far the biggest antagonists have been pretty well done: Serial Killer Enrique Santano, The Council, The entire concept of Silence itself as a big enemy to the PsyNet, Pure Psy, even just one off opportunists who are trying to take advantage of a power vacuum. But The Architect is just a evil mustache twirler whose motivations feel rather cartoonish. She is like a rather watered down, pale version of Lijuan from Singh's Archangel series. Except Lijuan's megalomania makes sense since she is a several thousand year old Archangel. The Architect is really rather uninspired. Although I will say I am curious to see how what she did in the final chapter affects everyone.