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Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Author:  Katie Reus
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor2
Publisher and Titles:  Signet Eclipse
    1     Alpha Instinct (2/2012)
    1.5  "Lover's Instinct" (e-novella, 8/2012)
    2     Primal Possession (9/2012)    
    3     Mating Instinct (3/2013)
    3.5  "His Untamed Desire" (e-novella, 1/2014)
    4      Avenger's Heat (2/2014)
    5      Hunter Reborn (2/2015) (FINAL??)  

This post was revised and updated on 2/27/15 to include a review of Hunter Reborn, the fifth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of preceding novels and novellas.

             NOVEL 5:  Hunter Reborn               
     The plot of this novel was previewed at the end of Avenger's Heat: A powerful supernatural man (a hooded figure with angry red eyes; long, sharp teeth; and a bad attitude) is selling vampire blood and will kill anyone who gets in his way. That's the action plot, but the main plot is the rebirth of the romance between Aiden Nicholl and Larissa Danesti. Both story lines are kicked off by a reconnaissance mission the shifters carry out in a supernatural club suspected of being the hub of illegal trafficking in vampire blood. (Shades of True Blood!) That night, the shifters have their first run-in with some magically bound vampires, and Aiden discovers that Larissa, his long-lost vampire bondmate, is aliveafter 60 years of believing her to be dead. And one more thing: Jace's estranged brother, Aldric, turns up at the same club. Quelle coïncidence!

     From this early scene, the action plot and the romance plot begin to simmer. Even though Aiden is thrilled to have found Larissa alive, she doesn't remember him at all. Larissa has just been awakened from a 60-year coma (aka stasis), and she's having trouble getting used to the modern world. Being told that she is mated to a shifter is even more shocking than learning about the existence of cellphones and the Internet.

     The shifters focus all their efforts on figuring out who is selling the vamp blood and why, but that investigation soon intersects with the drama surrounding Larissa's family history and her special powers. This is one of those old familiar tropes in which a psychotic vampire decides to sacrifice his soul (along with a lot of human lives) so that he can become the most powerful being in the world. The villain is in cahoots with a TSTL witch named Magda who indulges in some sickening sexual activities are totally gratuitous and have absolutely no true connection to the plot. I can't imagine why Reus even included those scenes. 

     The lead charactersAiden and Larissaare nothing special. He is the usual over-the-top handsome alpha, and she is the usual stunning beauty with sparkly magical powers. The most original element in their relationship is her family history, which dates back to an infamous Romanian count. Guess who? We get several angst-filled interior monologues from each of them as Larissa struggles to regain her memories of Aiden, and Aiden struggles with his fear that Larissa will once again leave him.

     Woven amongst the action plot and the main romance plot are the beginnings of two new romances: one between Ryan (an empath shifter) and Teresa Cordona, and one between Aldric Kazan and Natalia Cordona (that one is just hinted at, but it looks like lust at first sight).

     This novel is typical for the series, with lots of male alpha chest-thumping and overprotectiveness, too much female submission hidden behind the guise of feistiness, and a one-note dastardly villain who is the least interesting of all. (How many times have we read some version of the following tired rant: "Soon he would make everyone respect and fear him. The world would be his. No more pandering to these weak humans."...yadda, yadda, yadda.) If you are a regular reader of the series, you can expect more of the same type of romance and action in this novel that Reus presented in all of the earlier booksnothing too original, but likable characters and a straightforward plot. The main reason to read Hunter Reborn is to see how Reus moves the shifters and the vampires toward an alliance.

     In this world, the supernaturals unveiled themselves to the human world twenty years ago. For the most part, they coexist in an uneasy peace, but there is, of course, the usual hot-headed group of fanatics who hate all supernaturals as well as the humans who associate with them. That group is the Antiparanormal League, otherwise known as the APL (obviously a take-off on the abbreviation for the real-life Animal Protective League). 

     The series concentrates on a pack of lupine shifters (aka werewolves) who live in the mountains and forests of North Carolina. As the series begins, the all-female pack is joined by a mostly male pack of werewolf warriors, opening the door to lots of romantic liaisons—one per book.

Here is a list of the soul-mate couples in each story:
     > Alpha Instinct:  Connor Armstrong & Ana Cordona
     > "Lover's Instinct":  Nikan Lawless & Esperanze (Essie) Cordona
     > Primal Possession:  Liam Armstrong & December McIntyre
     > Mating Instinct:  Jayce Kazan & Katarina (Kat) Saburova
     > "His Untamed Desire":  Hector & Daphne
     > Avenger's Heat:  Noah Campbell & Erin Flynn; Angelo Medina & 
Brianna O'Brien 
     > Hunter Reborn:  Aiden Nicholl & Larissa Danesti

              NOVEL 1: Alpha Instinct             
     As the story opens, Ana Cordona and a handful of females of her pack are the only survivors of a mass poisoning that killed all of the males and pregnant females, including her parents. She's in a tough situation in a wolfy society that allows only male-alphas to be pack leaders. Just as she's in danger of being attacked by the neighboring pack leadera psychotic bully named Taggarther long-ago lost love sweeps in to rescue her. Connor Armstrong has loved Ana for fifty yearsmost of which he has been far away from her. He and his brother spent some time with Ana's pack back in the 1950s, but when he asked her father for permission to mate with her, Dad gave him a choice: Mate with her and watch her be banished from her pack (because Dad didn't like Connor) or walk away and leave her with her loving family. Being the honorable werewolf that he is, Connor walked away without another word. Naturally enough, Ana believed that he left because he didn't like her any more. So that's the main plotwatching the happy couple bump along their rough emotionally unstable road to their eventual HEA. That romantic journey is filled with repetitive, angst-filled interior monologues as the two keep misunderstanding each other, keeping secrets from one another, and just generally behaving like idiots. They're both supposed to be about 100 years old, but they act like adolescents.

     The secondary story lines include Taggart's violence as he tries to take over Ana's land and her body, and the APL bigots, who just want to kill, kill, kill. The author uses a tried-and-true (and overused) horror fiction technique when it comes to the primary villain. We watch him attack several pack females with syringes full of colloidal silver, but his identity isn't revealed until the end of the book. The problem with this technique is that, to be successful, the author must skillfully mask the villain's identity very carefully so that the reader can't possibly guess which of the good guys is really a bad guy. In this case, though, the identity of the killer is crystal clear about half way into the book, which causes the big reveal at the end to fizzle into a non-event.

     This is, unfortunately, not a fresh or inventive series because we've seen this plot and these characters too many times to count. The villains are all evil to their very cores, with not a single redeeming trait among them, and the good guys are all impossibly honest, trustworthy, and scrappy. This isn't a badly written series; it's just a been-there-done-that series. If you love angst-filled werewolf romance, though, you might enjoy it. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Alpha Instinct

             NOVELLA 1.5:  "Lover's Instinct"             

     The action takes place just after the close of Alpha Instinct. The heroine is Esperanze (Essie) Cordona, cousin of Ana. Her hero is Nikan Lawless, one of Connor's warriors. Nikan is accompanying Essie on a weekend trip to Washington, D.C., to attend a conference where one of her former professors is speaking. Essie is a beta, one of the physically weakest of the pack, but she is no shrinking violet. She doesn't want to be dominated like her mother was, so even though she is attracted to Nikan, she is wary of his alpha tendencies. Nikan has already asked Connor for permission to mate with Essie, but she doesn't know that as the story begins.

     The action plot involves Essie's professor friend, a vampire who is being blackmailed by two rogue shifters who have kidnapped his girlfriend. Naturally, Nikan and Essie come to his aid, and matters get settled fairly quickly with no blood shed by the good guys. In the meantime, Essie has a few tremulous interior monologues about her developing relationship with Nikan, but she doesn't worry about it for very long before giving into her real feelings for him.

     So...the love story is pretty tame, the suspense level is nil, and the plot is quite thin. Although the ending sets up book 2, this novella adds nothing crucial to the world-building or the series story arc, so you don't really need to read it to keep up with the series. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from "Lover's Instinct."

             NOVEL 2:  Primal Possession             
     The second book tells the love story of Liam Armstrong, second in command to his brother Connor, the hero of book 1. Liam's true love is December McIntyre, the local sheriff's younger sister. We met December in book 1 when she was targeted by the APL, which is a hate group dedicated to ridding the world of all supernatural beings and their human sympathizers. The relationship between Liam and December moves along an extremely rocky path as December tries to deal with her memories of another of her brothers, who was murdered by a feral werewolf while trying to protect her. December's long-held fear of werewolves and Liam's over-protective, arrogant manner ensure that there are many, many lengthy, anguished interior monologues throughout the book. 

     The action part of the plot centers on the APL's efforts to kidnap either December or her friend Katarina (Kat) Saburova, who was also targeted by the APL in the previous book. The local APL is headed by Edward, a scar-faced psychopath who is determined to use the women as bargaining chips to get rid of the Armstrong brothers and their pack.

     This by-the-numbers series is a retread of every paranormal romance you've ever read, with its über-alpha males, sassy but inept females, and mind-bogglingly frequent misunderstandings and miscommunications between the lovers. The werewolves and their human allies are all portrayed as honorable, courageous heroes, and the APL bad guys are all depicted as cowardly, cruel monsters, resulting in an entire cast of one-dimensional, uninteresting characters. The thin plot alternates between angst-filled dialogues and interior monologues and attempted kidnappings and ends with a stomach-turning torture scene that edges the story towards horror. That scene changes Kat's life forever and sets up the plot for book 3, in which Kat and her destined mate, Jayce Kazan, chief enforcer for the North American Werewolf Council, stumble down their rocky road to romance. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Primal Possession.

              NOVEL 3:  Mating Instinct             
     Book 3 finalizes the love story of Jayce Kazan, the charismatic chief enforcer for the North American Werewolf Council, and Katarina (Kat) Saburova, a human woman who was turned into a werewolf at the end of book 2 after she was tortured and nearly killed by the psychopathic Antiparanormal League (APL) villain who kidnapped her. Jayce and Kat have stumbled through a long and complicated romantic history, and at the point of the attack, they were no longer together. Since that day, the couple has remained apart, each for different reasons. Kat is deeply ashamed and angry about what happened to her, and Jayce can't forgive himself for not being able to find and rescue Kat. He also is angry because he wasn't the one to turn Kat. All of these deep, dark emotions fuel a continuous litany of anguished interior monologues as the two would-be lovers keep imagining what the other is thinking (always wrongly) and misunderstanding every comment the other makes.

     The action part of the plot involves more of the villainous APL fanatics, who have come up with a new scheme. They have kidnapped a werewolf couple from another town and are threatening to kill the pregnant female if the male doesn't kill various humans whenever they command. Their goal is to blame the murders on the local werewolf pack and to rile up the human townsfolk against Connor and his wolves.   

     This series continues to be a by-the-numbers paranormal romance series, so if that's what you are looking for, you'll probably enjoy this book. If, however, you are looking for complexity in plot and depth in characters this one doesn't fit the bill. The action part of the plot involves more of the villainous APL fanatics, who have come up with a new scheme. They have kidnapped a werewolf couple from another town and are threatening to kill the pregnant female if the male doesn't kill various humans whenever they command. Their goal is to blame the murders on the local werewolf pack and to rile up the human townsfolk against Connor and his wolves.       

     Once again, all of the APL members are portrayed as mindless fanatics with no redeeming qualities, and the werewolves and their supporters are depicted as reasonable, intelligent, kind, loyal, brave....just insert any positive adjective here. That makes for a full set of shallow, one-dimensional characters—not very interesting and always totally predictable. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from Mating Instinct.

             NOVELLA 3.5:  "His Untamed Desire"             
     This novella serves as a lead-in to Avenger's Heat. The story is set in New Orleans, and the soul mates are Hector, a jaguar shifter, and Daphne, a wolf shifter. Daphne is the long-time best friend of Leta, Hector's younger sister. Since her teen years, Daphne has had a major crush on Hector, but just before she left for college, he backed away from a close-call kiss, so she believes that he isn't interested in her romantically.

     Hector did pull back from that long-ago kiss, but only because Daphne was so young and because he wanted her to have the experience of going away to college. Now, Daphne is back in New Orleans, and Hector is ready to move their so-far platonic friendship to a more intimate level. The love story moves quickly from awkward, first-reunion meeting to passionate between-the-sheets scenes.

     Complicating Daphne's life is a stalker—a student who formed an unhealthy and unrequited romantic attachment to Daphne when she was his tutor in college. Troy is now a vampire, and he has followed Daphne to New Orleans, where he will do anything to take her away from Hector.

     Both the romance plot and the action plot play out quickly, with no real danger to either of the romantic lead characters (although Troy is not so lucky). The epilogue forms a direct connection with Avenger's Heat, when newly pregnant Leta is kidnapped, and Hector learns that the Council is sending an enforcer to look into the case.

     This novella is typical of the previous love stories in the series: alpha male dominates submissive female in and out of bed. The main reason for a series reader to take a look at this novella is its lead-in to Avenger's Heat. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from "His Untamed Desire." 
(Note: This novel was previously titled "His Chosen Wolf.")

             NOVEL 4:  Avenger's Heat             
     This novel tells the love story of Erin Flynn and Noah Campbell, both members of the Armstrong pack. Erin has just been appointed as an Enforcer for the North American Council of lupine shifters, and she is on her first assignment, accompanied by Noah, her wannabe lover. Erin's task is to solve the mystery of disappearing pregnant female shifters in New Orleans, where Noah's father, Angus, is the pack leader. Angus doesn't just lead the wolf shifters; he also rules over the other types of supernaturals who live in New Orleans, including fae, feline shifters, and vampires. Actually, we get two love stories for the price of one in this novel because Brianna O'Brien (a fae warrior we met in an earlier book) and Angelo (an Armstrong pack member and her wannabe mate) are also along on this journey. 

   The conflict in the Erin-Noah romance lies in Erin's tragic past and Noah's daddy issues. In the second love story, Brianna must deal with the fact that her royal fae family will never accept Angelo as her mate because he is a shifter. 

     Erin is fighting her attraction to Noah because of her tragic past. She believes that she isn't worthy of becoming Noah's mate because of a horrific event that happened to her when she was much younger. We don't get her full story until the end of the book, but we get enough clues that we can make some educated guesses much earlier. Erin spends much of her time indulging in anguished interior monologues in which she keeps telling herself the same things, over and over again: that she isn't good enough for Noah, that she is damaged goods, that he will turn his back on her when he learns the truth about her, that her heart will be broken when he leaves her behind, etc., etc., etc.

     Noah is a much less introspective character than most of Reus' soul-mate heroes. Early in the story, he decides that he is going to take Erin as his mate, and no matter what she does to discourage him, he is determined to win her over. As Noah carries out his romantic plan, he awakens both their inner wolves, and that immediately kicks off the love action.

     Other than the two love stories, there is still the matter of the missing pregnant females. The two couples team up to solve the case, soon discovering who is kidnapping the women and why. The resolution of the case involves several heated battles involving ancient vampires and a pair of rogue wolf shifters from Erin's past.

     This novel is by far the best in the series so far, primarily because it features two strong female leads and two male leads who, thankfully, are not stereotypically über-alpha in their behavior (although both males do tend to be a bit overprotective). It's a relief to find a pair of intelligent, tough, competent heroines who fight their own battles and don't allow the men in their lives to treat them like fragile butterflies. 

     A new character is introduced in this novel: Ian, who is an enforcer for the Brethern, the vampires' ruling council. I'm guessing that he will eventually turn up as a lead character in a future novel. The epilogue introduces the plot for the next novel. A powerful supernatural man (a hooded figure with angry red eyes; long, sharp teeth; and a bad attitude) is selling vampire blood and will kill anyone who gets in his way. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Avenger's Heat on the novel's page. Just click on the cover art at the top of the page. (Note: This novel was previously titled Avenger's Mate.)

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