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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Christine Feehan: LEOPARD SERIES

Author: Christine Feehan
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Publishers and Titles:
        Fever (Berkley, 2006, reprint: contains both the .5 novella, “The Awakening,” and novel 1, Wild Rain)
        Wild Rain (novel 1Jove, 2004)
        Burning Wild (novel 2Jove, 2009)
        Wild Fire (novel 3Jove, 2010)
        Savage Nature (novel 4Jove, 2011)
        Leopard's Prey (novel 5Jove, 2013)
        Cat's Lair (novel 6Jove, 5/2015)
        Wild Cat (novel 7Jove, 11/2015)
        Leopard's Fury (novel 8Jove, 11/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 4/8/17 to include a review of Leopard's Fury, the eighth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building, brief summaries of the prequel story and the first four novels, and full reviews of novels 5 through 7.

                         NOVEL 8:  Leopard's Fury                         
     Passion melts the will of an ice-cold criminal when he meets the one woman who can tame the beast inside him.

     With her own bakery in San Antonio, Evangeline Tregre made a new life far from the brutal lair of shifters she was born into. Though she is all too aware of her leopard-shifter blood, she never felt the sensation of a wild animal stirring inside her. Not until Alonzo Massi walked into her bakery. The powerful shifter is as irresistible as he is terrifying, but his icy demeanor tells her to keep her distance.

     Alonzo knows better than to let himself get involved with someone like Evangeline. She doesn’t deserve the type of danger that follows him, or the threat of his Amur leopard. But even with his lean muscle and iron will, Alonzo isn’t strong enough to stay away from the one woman who can make him feel at peace. And when their secret lives draw a mortal threat, Alonzo unleashes the feral passion he keeps pent up inside himself.

     This time, our virgin heroine is Evangeline Bouvier-Tregre, a 20-something leopard shifter who grew up rough in the Louisiana bayous, but escaped to begin a new life as the owner of a bakery in San Antonio, Texas. Evangeline is different from Feehan's usual leopard heroines in that she knows that she is a shifter, and she has had a communicative relationship with Bebe, her inner beast, since she was a toddler. Evangeline and Bebe have actually gone through Han Vol Dan (sexual awakening) twicebut without consummation because Bebe decided Evangeline was either too young or that the right man hadn't yet appeared on the scene. When Alonzo Massi (aka Fyodor Amurov) strolls into Evangeline's bakery, both Evangeline and Bebe recognize that he is "the one," although Bebe accepts the inevitability of the soul-mate bond much sooner than Evangeline does.

     We met Alonzo earlier in the series as Siena Arnotto's bodyguard, not the violent one, but the nicer one. Currently, Alonzo is the area's newest crime boss, having taken over the Arnotto territory. Of course, he isn't really a bad guy because he is involved with the heroes of the other novels in an alliance that is working to clean up the underworld by putting a halt to human trafficking, gun running, and other dark businesses that put innocents in harm's way. Unfortunately, Alonzo is just as much of an arrogant, high-handed über-alpha as the rest of the series heroes, snapping out orders and getting his way 100% of the time.

     Both Evangeline and Alonzo have survived horrific childhoods, his in a Russian lair where he was forced to kill or be killed, and hers in the Louisiana swamps where her parents abandoned her. Evangeline has always been on her own, so she doesn't buckle under to Alonzo's bullying as easily as other heroines in this series. For his part, Alonzo has rescued his brother and several of his cousins from the Russian lair, but all of them are at risk of losing their lives if their Russian relatives ever find them (which, I'm quite sure, will make up the plot of a future novel). Naturally, there are many, many angst-filled interior monologues as both Evangeline and Alonzo reminisce about their terrible childhoods and the insurmountable difficulties they will face if they follow through on their hormonal urges. He doesn't want to drag her into his dark life, but he needs her because she is the only one who can keep his inner beast calm. She is sexually attracted to him, but she wants a "normal" life and fears that his criminal activities will doom her to becoming a prisoneralways under guard and looking over her shoulder for enemy attacks.

     Like the rest of the heroines in this series, Evangeline minimizes Alonzo's bullying behavior by calling it “bossiness.” In a scene reminiscent of one in the previous novel, Evangeline and the other heroines chuckle over the similarities among their adorably bossy husbands, always concluding that their huge, violent, arrogant mates are just being protective in the only way they know how. 

     Most of the book (with the exception of the final few chapters) follows the development of the lust/love that develops between Alonzo and Evangeline. This includes many scenes in which Alonzo bullies Evangeline into doing whatever he commands. Once he decides (in the first chapter) that she belongs to him, he basically takes over her life: putting guards around her home and business, hiding cameras in her home and business (with a direct feed to his cell phone), having his men shadow her wherever she goes, and keeping track of her cell-phone calls. Despite all of his precautions, though, Evangeline falls victim to several attacks.

     The action part of the plot involves some real mob bosses (not part of the alliance) who want Evangeline just as much as Alonzo does. The resolutions of the various conflicts sputter along with several anticlimaxes, each of which I thought would be the final one. But no, there was always another bad guy out to get Evangeline, but—predictably—always failing in his attempts. Although there are a few minor attack scenes scattered throughout the book, the primary showdown takes place very quickly at the very end. Basically, this is an erotic novel with a handful of plot action. 

     If you read and enjoyed previous novels in this series, you’ll probably like this one, but if you are looking for a paranormal romance with a strong, independent heroine and a hero who doesn't use bullying to keep his woman "protected" (aka under his complete control), this book is not what you are looking for. Click HERE to go to this novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio. 

     This series tells the stories of a group of shape-shifting leopards, with locales ranging from the jungles of Borneo and Panama to the wide-open country of the American West to the swamps of Cajun country.

     Each male shifter meets and romances his soul mate as they fight off a series of predators, both human and supernatural. Angst levels are always high as a result of self-doubt, distrust, and miscommunication between each pair of lovers. Generally, each heroine is approaching the Han Vol Dan, a sexual awakening that occurs in young leopard-shifter females in this world. "Female leopards didn't emerge unless the human counterpart and the leopard both came into cycle at the same time. Only at that time could a woman's leopard emerge for the first time." (Leopard's Prey, p. 79)

     In each book, the story centers on the rise of the mating heat in the heroine, which tends to drive all males in the vicinity absolutely crazy. Each female heroine mates with the hero and then the two go on to solve the mystery posed in each plot. The male dominance and female submission can be a bit off-putting, but if you can get past that, the stories are told in Feehan's usual spell-binding manner.

     Christine Feehan is always a great story-teller, and she always includes lots of passionate (frequently raw) sex between the lead characters. Although the villain can usually be spotted by the reader well before he or she is unveiled on the page, the plots are still compelling. Each character, of course, has plenty of reason for many angst-filled interior monologues, mostly from terrible childhoods, but also from crippling self-esteem issues. I don't need to tell you much more than that. You've probably read some of Feehan's CARPATHIAN/DARK books, so you know that she's the real deal when it comes to paranormal romance.

     Click HERE to go to Feehan's "Leopard Series Research Page" on her web site. The books in this series have been published in a variety of media, including hard cover, paperback, audio, and e-book.

                    SUMMARIES OF NOVELLA .5 & NOVELS 1 - 4                    
     In the novella, "The Awakening," veterinarian Maggie Odessa takes her dream trip to Borneo to claim her inheritance, an estate deep in the rain forest. As soon as she enters the jungle, her Han Vol Dan (sexual awakening) begins. Maggie, of course, has no idea that she is going to shift into a leopard, but her soon-to-be-mate, Drake Donovan, is right there to help her through it. Click HERE to read an excerpt from "The Awakening."

     In Wild Rain, Rachel Lospostos, a naturalist, hides from a mysterious and dangerous assassin in the rain forests of Borneo, where she meets up with Rio Santana, one of the leopard people. The couple realizes that they are meant for one another, but Rio has dark secrets and Rachel is approaching an awakening that she doesn't really understand. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Wild Rain.

     In Burning Wild, Jake Bannaconni, another of the leopards, finally turns his back on his cruel and manipulative family and strikes out on his own on a ranch in Texas that was left to him by his grandfather. The early sections that detail the abuses of Jake's childhood are very graphic, in a stomach-turning sort of way. Since Jake has had difficulty with shifting (which was a huge bone of contention with his family), he goes off to the Borneo rain forest to find his heritage. There he meets several of the men who become part of his team (and stars of future books in the series). Back in the U.S., Jake gets involved with the pregnant Emma Reynolds, and they begin to fall in love. Since both the hero and the heroine have loads of unresolved issues from their pasts, the plot is extremely complex, but worth the effort to sort it all out. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Burning Wild.

     In Wild Fire, Conner Vega, yet another leopard shifter, is a native of the Panama rain forest. His soul mate turns out to be Isabeau Chandler, a Borneo shifter with whom he has had a failed relationship in the past. Although they know that they are true mates, they have remained apart—until now. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Wild Fire.

     In Savage Nature, Saria Boudreaux has grown up wild in the swamps of Louisiana Cajun country. She knows that her brothers are leopard shifters, but they don't know that she has discovered their secret. When Saria finds several murdered men in the swamp, she notifies the owner of the land about the problem, and that owner turns out to be Jake Bannaconni from Burning Wild. Jake sends Drake Donovan, his top investigator (and one of the friends he made in Borneo), to Louisiana to find out what's going on. You can guess what happens next. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Savage Nature.

                         NOVEL 5:  Leopard's Prey                         

     Like book 3, this book is set in Cajun Louisiana, and the hero is the oldest brother of Saria, heroine of book 3. Saria has found yet another body in the bayous, a body that has the trademarks of a serial killer who has waited four years to kill again. These are grisly crime scenes, with the victim strung up on a tree branch, tortured, and finally eviscerated. The killer then removes a few bones from the body, including the left hand, and creates a primitive altar with black candles and a bowl of blood. Remy Boudreaux has been investigating these murders ever since they began, and he is disheartened to realize that he can anticipate three more deaths because the killer always butchers four men, takes a slightly different set of bones from each, and then moves on.

     What Remy doesn't anticipate is that Saria wasn't alone when she found the body. Accompanying her was the beautiful jazz singer, Bijou Breaux, who grew up just down the road from the the Boudreaux family. Bijou is sixteen years younger than Remy, but the two have always had a connection. Back when Bijou was only eight, Remy rescued her from some drug dealers who planned to rape and kill her, and he has been her hero ever since. Bijou's father was a dissolute rock star whose off-stage life of drugs and sex turned his daughter into a loner who distrusts everyone. She has been stalked all her life, first by deranged fans of her father, and later by some of her own fans, and she has come back to the New Orleans area to try to live a more normal life.

     The romance plot follows the usual path: Bijou is on the verge of her sexual awakening, which means that she will be shifting into leopard form for the first time. Of course, she has no idea that she is a shape shifter, so this is all a big shock for her. Remy realizes almost immediately that she is a leopard, and that she is his true mate. The romance story line follows the development of their relationship with all of the usual bumps and jolts and passion. Once again, Feehan gives us an animalistic, dominant male and a virginal, submissive female, so the "love" scenes are rough and raw.

     The action plot is problematic because Feehan has thrown in so many crimes, villains, and possible suspects that the book has multiple climaxes. By the time we get to the take-down scene for the final villain, the connections between crimes and criminals are so perplexingly convoluted that they frequently don't make much sense. If you just read at a bare surface level, the story is enjoyable enough. But if, like me, you attempt to untangle the plot labyrinth and try to assign means and motives to each villain, things get murky very quickly. This novel is a textbook example of over-plotting.

     Just one more small problem: In a couple of places, one character reacts to another character's words before that character says them. Here is just one example: On p. 10, Remy thinks to himself, "He could arrest Bodrie, but he'd lose his job, just as Bijou said." But Bijou hasn't said that yet. She doesn't say it until the middle of the next page: "Don't do it. If you arrest him, hell be out in an hour and you'll lose your badge." (p. 11) Someone at Jove should have caught these continuity errors before publication. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Leopard's Prey

                         NOVEL 6:  Cat's Lair                         

    The fifth novel, Leopard's Prey, had a complex plot and a relatively large cast of characters, but Feehan takes a different approach in Cat's Lair. Except for the beginning and ending chapters, the hero and heroine are all alone in an isolated cabin in the wilderness having constant sex—a familiar trope in paranormal romance fiction that is used primarily to set up alternating scenes of graphic sex and morning-after regrets, interspersed with lots of angst-filled interior monologues in which both characters over-think their previous conversations and interactions. Basically, the bulk of the book has no plotjust a succession of scenes throbbing with energetic foreplay and vigorous fornication. 

     The hero is Eli Perez (aka Ridley Cromer), who—at the beginning of the story—is an undercover DEA agent. He has the usual tragic childhood history—early loss of parents, tough upbringing in a series of loveless foster homes. He is also a leopard shifter. One detail that doesn't quite fit with this pitiful back story is the fact that at one point in the story, Eli explains that he can afford his beautiful wilderness home because "I inherited a lot of money. It was in a trust and I couldn't touch the bulk of it until I turned thirty-one." If there was money from an inheritance, there would have been an executor to handle the trust, so why was Eli dumped into the foster-care system? 

     We met Eli in an earlier book in a supporting role as a friend of Jake Bannaconni and Drake Donovan, the shifter who taught Eli how to get his inner leopard under control down in the rain forests of Borneo. Jake and Emma's ranch borders Eli's property. Jake, Emma, and a few other familiar shifters enter the story during the final chapters.

     The heroine is 21-year-old Catarina (Cat) Benoit, who has also had a rough childhood. When she was just eleven, her drug-addicted step-mother sold her to Rafe Cordeau, a vicious leopard-shifter crime boss in New Orleans who kept her in complete isolation. Each time Cat tried to escape from Rafe's clutches, he punished her by turning into his leopard form and attacking her. Although Cat is a leopard shifter, she has not yet reached the Han Vol Dan, the point in a female shifter's life when her human and leopard come into a fertility cycle (aka heat) at the same time and she makes her first shift.

     Cat has been hiding out in a small Texas town, working as a barista at a coffee shop/book store. When her cover is blown, Eli carries her off to his safe house, where they engage in an endless stream of repetitive scenes of passionate, explicitly annotated sex. Some sections read like pages from a manual on how to perform oral sex—filled with very clinical details and performance tips for the female. Eli, the alpha male, makes all of the sex rules and requires his female to follow them—all the time, no exceptions. 

     Although Eli is one of the good guys, his hyper-alpha, overbearing behavior is so over-the-top that he frequently comes across as a violent stalker rather than as a lover. Sometimes I pictured him in a wife beater shirt posing for a domestic abuse mug shot. He says things like this: "I told you, I like my way. My rules, my way. That's just how it is….It's that simple." In another scene, Cat has the audacity to lock the bathroom door when she goes in to take a shower, which infuriates Eli so much that he breaks down the door and screams at her: "Don't f***ing lock that door again, you hear me?…Not now, not ever. I don't give a damn how angry or upset you are, you don't lock me out of any room you're in." Then, when she tells him that he is hurting her feelings and asks him why he is so angry with her, he gets all needy and claims that he just wants her to initiate the sex for a change. This guy is a real piece of work—definitely in need of anger management therapy. 

     Although the threat of Rafe Cordeau hovers over the story like a black cloud, the resolution of that part of the plot is remarkably quick and dirty, consigned to a page or two at the very end. In this book, Feehan is much more interested in the long and lusty sex scenes, and she definitely takes her time allowing them to play out.

     If you enjoy reading endless scenes of erotic acrobatics, you'll probably like this book, but if you are looking for a novel with an actual plot, this one isn't for you. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Cat's Lair. In the next book, Elijah Lospostos (one of Jake's crew) meets his true love, Siena Amotto, who is yet another unsuspecting young shifter female on the verge of her sexual awakening.

                         NOVEL 7:  Wild Cat                         
     Passions explode like wildfire when a young woman’s feral instincts are ignited by a man who’s too dangerous not to desire… 

     A simple request for Siena Arnotto: deliver a gift to her grandfather’s friend. One look at Elijah Lospostos, hard-bodied and stripped to the waist, and Siena succumbs to a feline stirring she never felt before, and to Elijah’s reckless and pleasurable demands. But when that pulse-throbbing moment ends in the murder of an unexpected intruder, Elijah accuses the shaken and confused Siena of setting him up. 

     Then Siena discovers the truth of her Leopard heritage, of the secrets in her grandfather’s inner circle, and the sinister plot of revenge that has put her in jeopardy. When Siena’s grandfather is assassinated, she realizes the only man she can trust is Elijah. Now as her Leopard rises from within, Siena and Elijah share not only an animal instinct for survival—but a desire so raw and wild it may be the only thing that can save them. 

     By the end of the second chapter, our virgin heroine, Siena, has been essentially raped by Elijah (the hero), who then calls her a sexual amateur and a whore and throws her—naked—out of his house. Then, when she manages to get herself home, Paolo, her grandfather’s bodyguard calls her a slut and gives her a terrible beating. When Siena goes to her grandfather for help, he tells her to get over it, “You must forgive Paolo…You will need a man. Paolo wants to be that man and I want that for you.” Yes, it’s yet another of Feehan’s anguished “love” stories in which a virginal, naïve, uninformed female leopard shifter is completely dominated by all of the men she encounters—frequently in violent, degrading ways. 

     When Siena has trouble recovering from her violent, date-rape encounter with Elijah, he tells her that he has apologized, so she needs to let it go. When she tells him that she can’t erase the experience and his hurtful words from her memory, he says “I told you I didn’t mean them, That should be enough.” In fact he essentially blames it on her, telling her that “You made me lose control…It was because you made me crazy for you.” (This is a prime example of male spousal-abuse rationalization.) Here’s an example of Elijah’s verbal foreplay: “You aren’t leaving me. You try running and I’ll hunt you down, bring you back and tie you to my bed until you see reason. Don’t think for one minute I won’t find you.” Here’s another example: “You need to f***ing do what you’re told and stop arguing with everything as I say…You can’t defy me. That isn’t going to work. You just have to yield.” Even Elijah’s friend, Drake, tells Elijah that he is going too far and that he’s acting like a caveman. And what are Siena’s thoughts about Elijah’s abusive behavior? Here, she muses about him after he physically carries her away from a situation that she didn’t want to leave: “When she’d accepted him, made the decision to be his, she’d gone into it with her eyes open about him…She saw the dominant in him. If she was his woman, the one for him, she had to accept that in him as well.” (This is the typical rationalization of an abused spouse.) Although Siena does make a few lame attempts to stand up for herself, Elijah generally responds to these brief feisty episodes either by taking her quickly and roughly to bed or by choosing to view her behavior as adorably amusing. 

     If you read Cat’s Lair, you will recognize that the plot of Wild Cat is pretty much a carbon copy. The good-guy hero is living an undercover life as a bad guy, and the heroine is a leopard shifter who has never been told that she is a leopard and doesn’t realize that she is approaching her time of mating heat. What’s the problem with the older leopard women in this series (whom, by the way, we never get to meet)? Why don’t they ever explain the facts of leopard-shifting life to these young women? 

     What is most appalling about this series is that Feehan gives us heroines who suffer from such low self-esteem and self-respect that they view the bullying behavior of their mates as an exemplar of love. Elijah is a duplicate of Eli (hero of Cat's Lair) in his behavior toward his mate. He screams curses at her, bullies her, forces her to do everything—and I mean everything—his way, and basically takes over her life completely. At first, I got my hopes up because Siena resisted Elijah’s actions, but she soon succumbs and begins minimizing his horrific behavior as “bossiness.” In one scene, Siena and the heroines of the past two books compare notes on their adorably bossy husbands, rationalizing that their big, handsome, overbearing mates behave that way because they just want to protect their women. 

     Ninety percent of the book deals with Elijah’s sexual possession of Siena—lots of extremely graphic bedroom scenes with an overload of oral sex. The remaining ten percent is the feeble action plot in which two sets of bad guys are trying to kill Elijah and Sienna. Although there are a few minor attacks scattered throughout the book, the primary showdown scenes take place very quickly at the very end. So…I guess I’d describe this book as an erotic, sadomasochistic novel with a sliver of plot action. 

     If you read and enjoyed Cat’s Lair, you’ll probably like this book, but if you are looking for a paranormal romance with a balanced hero-heroine relationship and a real plot, this one isn’t for you. Click HERE to read the first chapter of Wild Cat

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