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Thursday, September 10, 2015


Author:  Cathy Clamp 

Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—2 
Publisher and Titles:  Tor
          Forbidden (8/2015)
          Illicit (11/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 12/8/2016 to include a review of Illicit, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first novel.

                         NOVEL 2:  Illicit                         
     In Cathy Clamp's Illicit, when a border dispute between two bear clans destabilizes shapeshifter relations throughout Europe and threatens to reveal their existence to humans, the Sazi High Council orders both sides to the negotiation table. The peace talks take place in Luna Lake, the American community where all shifter specieswolf, cat, bird, bear, and morelive in harmony.   

     Diplomats, their families, and security personnel stream into town, among them Dalvin Adway, a Wolven agent. Dalvin is startled to find Rachel Washington in Luna Lake. The last time he saw her, they were children in Detroit. Then she was kidnapped and, he thought, murdered. But Rachel became an owl-shifter as a result of the attack and has avoided family and old friends ever since, knowing they would not understand her. She's stunned to see Dalvin and learn that he, too, is an owl-shifter.   

     Their wary friendship is on the brink of becoming something more when conspiracy and betrayal cause the peace talks to break down. The fight between the bear clans will be settled through a form of traditional challengea risky tactic that might lead to full-blown war. Rachel is determined to prevent that, even if it means taking up the challenge herself.

     The soul mates in this novel are long-separated childhood sweethearts who meet up as adults in Luna Lake. Dalvin Adway is an alpha owl shifter and a Wolven agent, and Rachel Washington (whom we met under horrific circumstances in the first novel) is an owl shifter by way of being bitten while she was imprisoned in the snake cave (which was explained in novel one). Rachel has been living with a foster family of owl shifters in Luna Lake for a decade, and she considers them her family, although she does think often of her real family back in Detroit and wonders if they miss her.

     Dalvin is sent to Luna Lake as part of the security contingent that will be protecting two European bear-shifter clans that the Council has forced into peace negotiations. (Actually, to be perfectly accurate, the bears don't have "clans"; they live in "sloths.") The first mediator was murdered, so the Council has moved the two bear sloths to Luna Lake in the hope that the isolated location and the lack of other bear shifters would make it easier to keep everyone alive.

     At first, Dalvin is outraged that Rachel is calling her foster mother "Mom," and he reads her the riot act about not getting in touch with her family to let them know that she is alive. After Dalvin finishes his profane and angry lecture, Rachelwho is no shrinking violetgives him an earful: "You think I'm here because I want to be? You think a street kid from Detroit wants to be stuck in the...wilderness? Did it occur to you that I might be here to protect my family? I'm...not a big, powerful alpha owl like you—I'm an unpredictable three-day owl who has no say over when she shifts or what she does when she's shifted...Do you ever hunt down little animals because you can't stop yourself? Have you ever woken up a hundred feet up in a tree on a branch, buck-ass naked, unable to remember how you got there, covered in your own nasty-smelling vomit?...Is that what you want my mama to know about? To see?...You want her to fear for her life every full moon, when a three-day owl the size of a...condor appears in her house?...So don't you dare tell me I don't care about my mama...I'd rather she keep looking for the child she lost than find the one those bastard snakes turned me into." Unfortunately for Dalvin, the entire town witnesses their confrontation, and they are all on Rachel's side, so Dalvin immediately becomes a pariah among Rachel's friends (until he finally comes to his senses and apologizes).

     Dalvin is assigned to share a room with Rachel's friend, Scott, and they share stories about their mutual friend. Scott asks Dalvin to give him three words that describe Rachel as a child. Dalvin instantly replies, "Happy. Talented Determined." In return, Scott describes Rachel as an adult: "Traumatized. Angry. Determined." Together, they know the whole of Rachel, but each knows only half her story. Notice, though, that the common descriptor in their two lists is "Determined." Even though Rachel has suffered horrific torture and has been treated abominably for years and years, she has never given up, and she is still determined to leave Luna Lake and start a new life. She's right about that, but it probably won't exactly be the life that she has been planning.

     Another reason for Rachel's initial hostile reaction to Dalvin is that he is "fraternizing" with a beautiful, but hateful, female bear shifter named Larissa. Larrisa has decided to bully Rachel because she believes that she can get away with it since her father is the head of one of the bear sloths.

     As Rachel gets to know the mediators, they realize that she has powerful magical talents of which she is completely unaware. As a result, they take an interest in her and listen to her ideas about how to solve the bears' territorial problems. They also beginning making plans for her future.

     Even though there is a murky bear-vs.-bear plot, the main point of the story is the romance between Dalvin and Rachel, with Larissa as the spoiler who tries to throw a wrench into their relationship. The romance subplot is great, with a nicely told background story and just enough angst to make it all seem plausibleeven inevitablethat they achieve their HEA. The action subplot, on the other hand, starts out O.K. but soon bogs down into a convoluted mess in which both sides try to sabotage the proceedings and some characters are motivated by deep feelings that Clamp rushes through so quickly that we barely get a hint as to why they are sneaking around trying to shatter the negotiations.

     If you're looking for a well-told soul-mate tale, you'll probably enjoy this novel. But if you want the whole packagegreat romance plus well-constructed actionyou may be disappointed. Click HERE to go to the page for Illicit where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

    Cathy Clamp is the sole author of this new SAZI series, which focuses on a Sazi community in Luna Lake, Washington. This is a spin-off of the eight-book TALES OF THE SAZI SERIES that Clamp co-authored with C. T. Adams between 2004 and 2010.

     Here is my overview of the mythology of the original TALES OF THE SAZI SERIES, taken from my book Fang-tastic Fiction: Twenty-First Century Paranormal Reads (2010): "The Sazi are the shape-shifters of the world. Centuries ago, representatives of each known werespecies came together in an attempt to defend themselves against extermination by humans. They established a council, with representatives taken from the strongest of each species, and pledged to remain hidden from humans. They also established the Wolven, the law enforcement branch of their government. The books tell the soul-mate romance (SMR) stories of various Sazi couples." Here are the titles in the original series: Tor: Hunter’s Moon (2004); Moon’s Web (2005); Captive Moon (2006); Howling Moon (2007); Moon’s Fury (2007); Timeless Moon (2008); Cold Moon Rising (2009); Serpent Moon (2010).

     The LUNA LAKE series begins ten years after the events of Serpent Moon. As Clamp explains in her "Afterword" to Forbidden, some of the characters "were just children when the drug that removed the magical shape-shifting abilities of the Sazi—called 'the cure'—caused havoc among Wolven and the Sazi Council." Orphan children who lost their parents to the plague are called "after-plague siblings" (aka AP siblings).

     "When the Sazi were attacked, nearly a decade ago..., by family members who had created a magically-charged chemical that 'cured' shape shifters and made them human again, it became a plague, devastating their kind. Exposure to the cure was like a toxin and had killed many and caused madness in others." Survivors have renamed the cure "the plague" because "the thousands of deaths around the globe were spun into a tale of biological terrorism that made every front page…..Thankfully, the sheer scope of the massacres of men, women, and children, and the random nature of the attacks by 'cells of multinational terrorists' helped keep the secret of the Sazi…barely." 

     The Sazi worked together to recover from the effects of the Plague by gathering together the huge number of orphaned survivors to ensure their safety. Siblings were kept together as much as possible, but in the confusion, some families were split. Communities were set up in isolated areas around the world to house the Sazi survivors, and Luna Lake is one of them.

     What's new about these communities is that they became "a melting pot of the injured and desperate," housing Sazi of many different species, not all of whom got along together in the past. Current members of Sazi communities are trying to get a new start in life, but many have secretssome very darkthat will continue to affect their lives and the lives of their new neighbors. 

     Several characters who appear in LUNA LAKE are carry-overs from the original SAZI books. For example, Alek Siska (hero of Forbidden) and his brother, Denis, appeared as children in Moon's Web, and Clarissa Evans (heroine of Forbidden) was one of the children kidnapped by the snake, Nasil, in Moon's Fury.

                       NOVEL 1:  Forbidden                       
    Ten years have passed since the war that destroyed the Sazi Council and inflicted a horrible "cure" on thousands of Sazi, robbing them of their ability to shape shift.

     Luna Lake, isolated in Washington State, started as a refugee camp for Sazi orphans. Now it's a small town and those refugees are young adults, chafing at the limits set by their still-fearful guardians. There's reason to fear: Sazi children are being kidnapped. Claire, a red wolf shifter, is sent to investigate. Held prisoner by the Snakes during childhood, Claire is distrusted by those who call Luna Lake home.

     Before the war, Alek was part of a wolf pack in Chicago. In Luna Lake he was adopted by a parliament of Owls, defying Sazi tradition. The kidnappings are a painful reminder that his little sister disappeared a decade ago. When Claire and Alek meet, sparks fly—but the desperate race to find the missing children forces them to set aside their mutual attraction and focus on the future of their people.

    Claire Evans was a human child when she was accidentally changed into a wolf shifter while being rescued from the cave in which she and other children had been imprisoned by the evil leader of the snakes during the conflicts that led up to the plague. After her rescue, she was adopted by the leaders of the Texas pack, and since then her life has been peacefulexcept for her frequent nightmares about her time in the cave. Now she is a brand new Wolven agent on her first assignment: to infiltrate the troubled Sazi community in Luna Lake and find out why people are missing from official reports even though the leaders of the town claim that everyone is accounted for.

     Claire is staying with the Williams family, owl shifters who have provided a haven for a large number of AP shifter orphans of different species. As Dani Williams is driving Claire to Luna Lake, they are attacked on the road by a huge, black, snarling…something. The monster is like a black hole with teeth and claws—and it is bigger than their car. When they are forced off the road into a ditch, both are seriously injured. First on the scene is Alek Siska, a local man whose goal is to become a Wolven agent. As he uses CPR to save Claire's life, a spark-filled attraction begins instantly, so by page 30 we know that they must be soul mates.

     Alek is a typical high achiever who excels at everything he does, and he always tries to help out his neighbors. Clamp has given Alek two major faults: He frequently acts before he thinks, a habit that is always getting him into trouble with Lenny and which leads him into several TSTL moments that endanger others and hinder the investigation. His other problem is that he is quite self-involved with his own problems. Although he does help others—all the time, in fact—he is not a good listener, so he comes across to some people as emotionally callous and unsympathetic. For example, even though two of his AP siblings have been Omegas for years, Alek has no idea that terrible things have happened to them as a result of their Omega rank, even though they have spoken to him about it over the years. The problem with this dichotomy in Alek's personality is that it doesn't make much sense. A person who goes out of his way to help others doesn't generally just ignore what people say to him or fail to realize what's going on in their lives. I just couldn't get Alek's traits to balance in my mind. He basically comes across as immature and sometimes as an insensitive jerk.

     Dani has come home because she has just learned that her younger brother and sister are missing. But within a few days, Claire is shocked when no one seems to remember that the kids disappeared. Some (including their mother) suddenly believe that they are visiting out-of-state relatives and others in town claim no knowledge of the children. What's going on?

     Unfortunately, the bad guys are pretty easy to spot because one of them takes an instant dislike to Claire and beats her up a few times while the other just watches. The aggressive slugger is Lenny Gabriel, the town sheriff. Lenny has it in for Alek as well because Alek is squeaky clean, always honorable, and always asking uncomfortable questions, like, "Why aren't you looking for the kids?" and, "Why are you making Claire compete in a dominance challenge when she has a concussion and still-bleeding injuries from the car accident?"

     After the dominance challenge, Claire and Alek are thrown together as omegas, the lowest ranking shifters in town. They are assigned dawn-to-dusk menial tasks like cleaning bathrooms, cooking school lunches, and picking up roadside trash. If they are even a minute late for work, they get a beating from Lenny. As they work together, their sexual attraction builds, but Claire can see that the mating urge is stronger for him than it is for her. She is attracted to Alek, but she's not completely sure that he is her true mate.

The novel has a few problematic issues:

 Claire's physical condition: Obviously something is terribly wrong in Luna Lake, but how can Claire investigate when she is ALWAYS limping around barely able to hold her head up? I think that Clamp went a bit heavy on the beatings because even with shifter healing powers, recovery from severe daily beatings takes awhile.

 The villains: The villains are over-the-top scumbags, with absolutely no redeeming qualities, always a turn-off for me. I like my villains to have some depth—some layers of emotion and intellect.

 Luna Lake's financial situation: The town is broke because they have maxed out their credit by buying food and supplies for the townsfolk and paying their college tuition. Some people in town have jobs, like the sheriff, his deputy, the owner of the store, and the teachers and principal at the school. So why is the town buying the food that is on the shelves in the store? Why aren't the people with jobs paying for it? This aspect of the story is very weird and completely illogical.

    Will Claire and Alek solve the mystery of the missing children? Will the perpetrators receive their proper punishment? Will the author drop a deus ex machina character into the story to get them out of this mess? (Yes, she will.) And finally, will Claire accept Alek as her mate? Although most of these conflicts are resolved, there is more to Alek's story as he and his brother continue to search for their younger sister, who disappeared after the siblings were rescued from the snakes' attack either before or during the plague. Although this opening book has some minor problems, I did like the original series so I'll read the next book before I decide whether to keep up with the LUNA LAKE series. Click HERE to go to the page for Forbidden where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

     You may wonder if you will understand the mythology if you have never read any of the original SAZI books. Well, I read all of them, but it was so long ago that I remember little about them. (By the way, I recommend that you read Clamp's "Afterword" at the end of Forbidden before you read the story.) I was able to pick up enough information in the narrative of this book to understand that the Sazi are shifters who do not shift until they are at least teenagers. While Claire was imprisoned by the snakes, her captors kept forcing bird shifters to bite her so that she would turn into a bird, but she never did. But then, when a wolf shifter bled on her, she became a wolf shifter herself. So…make what you will of that factoid. If anyone knows where to find more info on basic Sazi mythology, please let me know in a comment to this post or send me an e-mail at I searched all over the Internet for a site that has more information on the Sazi mythology, but found nothing, not even on Clamp's web site. I could go back and read the original books again, but no…my to-read shelf is sagging from the weight of the new books that I still have to read.

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