I love being in love. I especially adored the thrill of new love. And, truth be told, I was addicted in many ways to unhealthy infatuation and inappropriate dependence on romantic attachments in my younger days, although I told myself I was just a fool for love. Really, I was just a fool. I was guilty of "the sickly devotion of it all," as Nalini Singh writes in her newest Guild Hunter book, Archangel's Shadows. As I have with the seven Guild Hunter books before it, I'm deeply enjoying the fast-moving plot and the interesting and complex characters Ms. Singh writes. I'm also enjoying the many profound themes that she explores in these novels. I'm only a part of the way through the book and I've already highlighted more sections than I can count to come back to and ponder each passage's significance. The theme I want to explore in today's post is about the nature of real love, as well as the characteristics of the pyrite we often mistake for love, dependent infatuation.
In Archangel's Shadows, Nalini Singh writes about old vampires who keep a "blood family," humans who serve as food but also companions to the vampires with whom they form bonds of love and affection. She contrasts this arrangement with vampires who keep "cattle," humans who serve the same function for a vampire, but whose purpose is a bastardization of what the relationship should look like in its more idealized form. As always with my beloved fantasy novels, and because they include a paranormal element, a skilled author like Ms. Singh is able to highlight aspects of human behavior in an extreme way, which is what she's done here. In Ms. Singh’s world, vampires are powerful and seductive and they are able to choose among an almost unending selection of humans who compete to become the chosen ones from whom a vampire can take sustenance and sex. Because it is a seller’s market, and because the currency involves not only money and power, but also status, protection and the ability to relinquish one’s need to make decisions, the vampire is completely in the one up position.
In the Guild Hunter world, just as in our society, there are legions of individuals who seek to trade their bodies and their wills for the privilege of living in a gilded cage. And these “cattle,” or, perhaps more descriptively “sheep” convince themselves that they gripped by grand passion, as one of the protagonists describes his feelings for the vampire who convinced him to surrender his humanity. Humans do this a lot. Of course, there are men and women who are more calculated in their quests to achieve standing and security through the barter of their youth and beauty. But many humans in our world who want to achieve fame and fortune through association with another desire to wrap what amounts to blatant prostitution in the cover of true love and mutual caring. As Ms. Singh highlights with the exaggerated nature of the power discrepancies between humans, vampires, angels and archangels, individuals of every conceivable makeup do the same thing. It seems to be the nature of the beast.
And while this inequitable trade is interesting in itself for what it says about human as well as supernatural nature, the issue at hand (I know, I’ve digressed again) concerns the opportunity costs of infatuation, and a useful test to determine whether seemingly deep feelings for another are true gold or fool’s gold. In other words, how can we tell the difference between infatuation and love? I believe that Archangel’s Shadows provides some significant signposts to authenticity in this arena for those of us who care to look.
As described by Ms. Singh, infatuation, usually coupled with unhealthy dependency, robs us of ambition and the desire to do something with our lives. Infatuation is an all-consuming feeling that takes over our thinking and infuses our bodies with the chemical equivalent of a particularly good high. Infatuation causes us to become completely distracted from reality, just like the characters in this book who fail to recognize how wholly they are being used until they no longer serve their purpose (because they are too old to appeal any longer), when they are discarded, although they are convinced it is all out of love. Infatuation blinds us much more effectively than love, in fact. But more than being blind, fool’s love binds our hands behind our backs and serves to ensure that we accomplish nothing of note, because there is no space in the infatuated brain and heart for activity that does not involve the object of our infatuation.
By contrast, true love encourages our personal growth, and supports our being or becoming the best and most complete person we can be. True love does not distract, it enhances our lives, and serves as the foundation from which to take risks, personal, professional, and emotional, because we feel secure in our base, supported in our endeavors. Real love does not result in the abandonment of our dreams; real love helps us to make those dreams a reality. Real love magnifies reality while infatuation and dependency dissipate reality. It is an excellent metric by which to evaluate one’s feelings. By its fruit the tree is known.
In Archangel’s Shadows, the false feelings generated between predatory vampires and their cattle are contrasted with the true bonds between Ashwini and Janvier. Their love broadens and deepens their respective life’s passions and purpose. When love is real, dependence is transformed into intimacy-creating vulnerability when we can reveal our innermost selves to the other and be safe and cherished for all that we are. False love often finds us trying to conceal various aspects of ourselves that we perceive to be less than attractive or acceptable.
So, as always, I am indebted to one of my favorite authors for illuminating reality through the medium of fantasy. There is so much depth to be explored, and so much rich reality to be pondered. And all of this reality and expansion of my consciousness demonstrates clearly, to me at least, that my abiding passion for these books is true love, not merely infatuation or dependence. Because while these wonderful stories do help divert and entertain me, allowing me to put down the burdens of my life for a brief time, I also emerge from this diversion more informed and more aware than I was when I started. True love and grand passion together. Yippee!