This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I picked this one with really little idea of what I was getting into. I like shifter romances and I’ve read a book by this author ergo I’ll try this book was my thinking. Thank goodness the author posted a letter before the story started or I would have gotten a rather nasty surprise. Even with the warning in the letter of the author’s dark state of mind when she wrote this, I was not prepared for how hard this book pushed me. I was pretty much uncomfortable from page one and that never let up and in fact, got worse by the end. When I say uncomfortable, I mean that sick feeling that this is not right. For that, I would not give a less than favorable review b/c I can’t blame the book b/c the content wasn’t my thing. My discomfort aside, there were plenty of other niggles. I wanted to stop reading many times, but yet I just had to know how it would play out.
I don’t normally do a review with spoilers, but I really feel the need is justified in the case of this book. I can’t say what I feel I need to put out there without giving some stuff away so consider this your spoiler alert. I take the approach that what bothered me may or may not bother you, but at least you’ll know its there.
The book’s mythology is that the world has a race of werewolves who are very different from the humans they live alongside. These wolves are ruled by four alpha pairs who share the rule. Each pair rules a different season of the year when their power is greatest. Something happened long ago and the alpha pairs all ended up dead so the werewolves were forced to have regents and things fell into disarray. The story opens when the Winter Alpha pair are born (3 yrs apart). They are cousins and are mates. This is actually unusual in that the alpha pairs and other ranking werewolf pairings are usually a closer relationship in that their twins or at least closely birthed siblings. Max is three years older than Susie, but he knows she is his queen and it is his job to protect her and though powerful in his own right, it is the queen he represents with the most power (like a beehive).
The early part of the book tells of their growing up years when they insist on being allowed to go to school amongst the humans because they don’t want to live so isolated since they are the only children born in decades (the werewolves are barren until the alpha pairs return). It is Max and Susie’s destiny to mate and produce the other alpha pairs. But before this, they just want to do normal things like have friends and play. Susie makes friends with humans as does Max. Unfortunately, they are the target of rogue wolves who don’t want the return of the alphas and this causes dangerous moments.
Things get intense when Max hits adulthood and experiences the call to mate, but Susie is not old enough. He is forced to have other arctic wolves service his stronger than normal needs to keep him sane and together. It nearly breaks him, but nobody realizes the pain this is causing him nor do they realize his fear that childbirth will kill Suzie like it killed both their mothers. He wants her to have a chance at a normal carefree life before she must assume the role of queen and baby producer. Not even Susie really understands all that he is feeling and is one of the ones who pushes him to take the other females when he just wants Suzie even if he fights it.
Max rules alone just waiting on the ticking time bomb that is Susie’s coming of age. He tries to buy some time by sending her away to college and visiting her long distance. He agrees for her to have a human boyfriend so she can deal with the edginess she feels with just wanting him in the normal way. There is another frightening bout with the rogues who are still trying to destroy the alpha pair. Eventually, he is defeated by nature and he mates with Suzie much to everyone’s happiness except Max because he knows what will befall her now even if she seems to want it. There are tense times in their relationship, but the story ends when a new King is born and Susie has a plan to change how alphas are parented.
So…where to begin with my thoughts. Quickly, I will say that worldbuilding while not to my taste was indeed incredible. I’ve never seen a more unique shifter universe. The plot had some strong engaging points that kept me reading when certain details had me wanting to close the book and choose another. The pace- well that had good moments where it cruised right along and moments where it just bogged way down with details and matters and smaller plot points that were nearly tedious. I was just eager to move it along to things that I knew were coming. Characters? Now there were several characters in this story- its a longer book. Max and Susie are obviously front and foremost, but there are several others too who were developed well even if they only had a small part to play. The author’s writing was definitely a strength. I loved her work before and that hadn’t changed when I was through with this book.
Now for the taboo-like stuff that got me bothered. I was smacked in the face with incest from page one. There were the younger Max and Susie living together like a regular couple minus the sex. Then later Max is expected during the monthly moon runs to take multiple sexual partners due to his raging hormonal wolf nature even though he is mated with a not quite old enough Susie. In the worldbuilding this is all acceptable for that race, my issues stem from the fact that one member who is party to all this- namely Max- has no choice and he doesn’t find any of this acceptable and yet because he is ruled by his nature is forced to participate and accept. When I say unacceptable, he contemplates suicide and the only thing holding him back is that Susie’s life and death is tied to his own plus to a lesser extent his duty to his race. Max, personally, is miserable. He feels a brother’s love and a mate’s love for Susie and the conflict inside nearly kills him. All the werewolves including Susie (not always) are so busy being excited that they have an alpha pair, proper rulers, guarantee for the return of the rest of the alphas, return to their own fertility that there is no thought to the rightness of all that is happening to make this stuff happen. Max is like this sacrifice to the needs of everyone else.
That brings me to talking about Max. Max is probably the best thing in this book outside the human, Maggie and the human John. He is the hero who protects and does his duty. His personal happiness or wellbeing is never a consideration it seems unless it affects the survival of the alpha pair. He loves and adores Susie with all his being, but he has to wait for her. He is caring of those who serve him, for those who are less powerful, for the downtrodden, and for the humans (well except the time he was jealous of John). His Kingship is strong, fair and the werewolves as a race start to prosper again under his rule. He is forced to take two females to his bed to take care of the mating heat until Susie is old enough, but they are his lovers and friends. It bothers him that he has to use them even if they are willing participants. He has feelings for them and they have stronger feelings for him, but he must chuck it all when Susie comes of age. Part of my issue is that I felt that Serena one of his two sexual partners is a much better match for Max than Susie can ever be. Serena was a strong, noble, loyal beta wolf who worked hard for the betterment of her people and she loved and took care of her family. She was Max’s quiet pillar of strength, his loyal adviser and friend. They shared many interests and had the same motivations and strong character. The only thing Susie really had going for her was that she was the alpha queen and thus Max’s fated mate.
I didn’t care for Susie. I saw nothing of the heroine in her and part of it isn’t her fault in that she’s just a kid and hard to take seriously as a love interest for Max who is not only older, but very mature for his age. She was spoiled, oblivious and not a convincing love interest even when she came of age. She was the arranged marriage. I could see her and Max as siblings with no trouble whatsoever in the way he cared for her and she looked up to him. Yes, she wanted him, but it felt like a possessive ‘my toy’ sort of want. She was more interested in designer clothes shopping trips than the weightier things going on around her. It reminded me of some of those matches that went on in the Middle Ages when some guy got a child bride out of the deal for what she brought to the marriage as an inheritance though in Max’s case he gets nothing, but a bossy mate. Susie was well aware that she is the queen bee. She reminds Max that he is there to run her kingdom and serve her. She pushes him constantly and uses her power to order him. That thing at the end where she tells him that after her baby is born that she’s taking her son to raise while Max will get to raise any girls who come along just had me shaking my head. She has no thought to check if that is what Max wanted. So, yeah, not impressed with her for Max. This last bit is something that may change in the next book. I don’t know.
In the end, my reaction to this one is so mixed. I both hated it and yet I found it compelling and want to read more. If the bulk of the story involved adult main characters instead of the young ones that came of age, that might have made a big difference too. There is just some really dark stuff in this one and it has a dubcon feel to it because of the way Max is forced to assuage his powerful mating need. It is not a happy ever after ending even though the main thread through the story is worked out.
This is definitely not for everyone. If you can handle some of the more taboo things, then you’ll probably be more inclined to love this story. Lovers of dark paranormal romance should give this one a try.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review thoughts.