A space sci-fi adventure for a heroine who is a panther shifter and a military man as her hero together on a dangerous mission grabbed my attention. This is the second adventure for these two, but it functions fine as a standalone though I really encourage folks to try out their first encounter too just to see how far they have come.
Kat Darah became a panther shifter when a hostile takeover of the military academy base she was on as a teenager brought a sadistic group of captors who shot her and her fellow cadets full of a virus that altered their DNA. She was the only one who survived the process and escaped her attackers. Now she is second in command on a mercenary vessel and years later still trying to come to terms with what happened to her as her body nears the end of its mutation. Her friends and especially her captain, Dev, keep her sane and human, but most importantly, they help keep her off the Teran military’s radar. All those altered humans like herself are usually kept contained in a lab for experimentation and never allowed freedom. She has to be extra careful now because their latest mercenary contract is to the military where they will shuttle a special team of soldiers with particular skill sets to join Kat’s lover, Lt. Christopher Rygard on the second phase of his latest mission. His mission is to follow the trail of slave traffickers to their source and bust up the operation.
Things get interesting aboard the mercenary vessel when the mission team joins them. Kat encounters a pompous Captain who gives her the impression that he hasn’t commanded a team before and doesn’t have the respect of his men, then there is the tough marine sergeant, the KX-9 team of man and dog, the terrifying prisoner that is more than he seems and several other tough capable men. Kat and her friend Skuld are the only two females aboard. Sunny and gentle-souled Skuld and her curious ferret companion make friends with Tracer and his German Shepherd, but everyone else is a bit leery. Soon they have bigger problems to worry about when Rygard gets off an emergency call for help.
Rygard is still wrapping his head around the things he knows about Kat’s second nature and his feelings for her. He misses her greatly and that is a revelation in its own right. The rare communications between them and quick times they catch up here and there are all treasured. He is enchanted by the shy female who blushes when they are close, but is also the same female who is lethal in a battle. It’s hard for him to keep his mind on his recon mission just knowing that she’ll be joining him soon as part of his mission team. But then he and his men encounter the unexpected and their camp is overrun. He gets off the signal to the ship and hopes that they get it so Kat and the others won’t come innocently into an ambush.
And from there, Kat, Rygard and the team’s adventures really get under way. Danger awaits them as they pursue the mission. The mission takes its toll on them emotionally and physically. Kat must use everything she has including embracing her other nature completely if they are to survive. Rygard has to stand firm and be the grounding she needs to keep remembering her human traits. In the end, its fiercesome and calls on everything they’ve got.
This is not really one of those deep character or romantic development stories. It has those components, but it’s really an action-studded adventure. Punches are not pulled and it gets rough. The heroine is one of the monsters though she is not a bad guy. The hero is less developed, but he’s still a worthy person who does everything with honor and courage including his best at accepting Kat just the way she is. They’re still working on their relationship and they didn’t actually put much into words, but it is there and growing.
See that’s the thing…this book’s worldbuilding takes the approach that those who are infected with the virus that turns them into animals and uninfected humans treat them like vicious animals. Unfortunately, this is true of some. Most people die from the virus, but many become stuck in animal or partial animal form and lose their humanity. There are a few like Kat that for whatever reason survive and thrive. There are also other aliens that are captured and infected too it seemed or maybe they just went crazy from the deprivations and torture during their time of slavery at the Coliseum.
The universe in this series has its advances and good things in it, but the focus of this story was on the depraved side of nature whether it be human or alien so the tone can get dark at moments and brutal. Kat herself endured rape, torture and slavery until she escaped her captures which is why she fights so fiercely in this one (this was not shown in present scene just in her flashbacks, but be warned if it’s a sensitivity issue for you).
While on the subject of worldbuilding, I really enjoyed the variations of alien races, the futuristic technology and just futuristic difference which is one of my favorite things about Sci-Fi genres.
There were some humorous and warmer moments to offset the sad or dark stuff too. I cracked up when Sculd’s ferret stole her vibrator and she was afraid one of the military guys would find it so she had Kat help her find Chester’s stash. Chester was a cutie. He stole tons of stuff including Kat’s colorful silk panties. The family-like relations Kat had with the merc crew were great too. Kat and Rygard knew how to heat things up nicely too even long distance with the help of hologram viewers.
All in all, it was a good read. I shed some tears once, I laughed several times and I was totally engaged with the story from cover to cover. Those who enjoy spicy adventuresome space sci-fi romance should give this a try.
My thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review thoughts.