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Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Author:  J. D. Tyler (aka Jo Davis, Jo Carlisle) 
Publisher and Titles:  Signet Eclipse

To read an excerpt from any of these books, click on the pink-link below, which will take you to the book's page. Then, just click on the cover art.
        Primal Law (4/2011)
        "Black Magic" (e-novella, 3/2012)
        Savage Awakening (4/2012)
        Black Moon (12/2012)
        Hunter's Heart (9/2013)
        Cole's Redemption (3/2014)
        Wolf's Fall (12/2014)  
        Chase the Darkness (8/2015) (Micah Chase's story)
        "Phoenix Reborn" (novella, release date TBA) (Phoenix and Noah's story)

     This post was revised and updated on 1/9/15 to include a review of Wolf's Fall, the sixth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first five novels and the e-novella.  

           NOVEL 6:  Wolf's Fall              
     Finally, we get the soul-mate romance of Commander Nick Westfall, whose first mate was brutally murdered decades ago by the same rogue vampire who tortured Nick in the previous book. Nick killed that vamp in the battle that ended Cole's Redemption, so perhaps life will become more peaceful for the Alpha Pack. Nah, that's never going to happen.

     As the book opens, Nick is contemplating suicide because he is haunted by the traumatic emotional effects of his horrific torture and believes that he will never again be normal. That would be bad news for the Alpha Pack and also for Calla Shaw, the beautiful vampire who is Nick's Bondmate. The romance story line follows the development of their relationship as Nick tries to overcome his overwhelming fear of being fanged by his new lady love during lovemaking. In past books, the male in a soul-mate situation has been the one to waste away because he is too stubborn to accept the mate bond, but in this novel, it is Calla who suffers because Nick won't freely accept the bite that will complete the bonding process. One other angst-filled personal problem for Nick is his estrangement from his brother, Damien.

     Meanwhile, a new threat emerges when a vampire seeks revenge against Nick and Prince Tarron Romanoff (Calla's brother) for past wrongs. He keeps his identity and his motives a secret for most of the book while he and his minions kidnap a key character, infiltrate both the Pack and the vamps, and attack Tarron's stronghold. 

     Other than the switcheroo in the sick-Bondmate situation, this novel is typical for the series, with good-old-boy banter amongst the warriors, angst and anxiety between the lovers, and dastardly deeds by the villains, who do their worst but receive their just desserts in the end. Most of the conflicts are resolved, but a few loose plot threads remain, particularly the possibility that Jinn, the villain's powerfully magical right-hand man will be causing some serious problems for the Alpha Pack according to one of Nick's pre-cog visions. 

     This is a world inhabited by shape shifters, witches, demons, and vampires, all of whom coexist with humans but keep their true identities hidden. The stars of the series—the Alpha Pack—are all shifters, some born and some made. The made shifters were originally human Navy SEALS with various psychic talents who were attacked by rogue werewolves five years ago. Half of the members of their unit were slaughtered, and the survivors became werewolves themselves. All but one made the shift in good shape, and they teamed up with some born werewolves to fight against various types of evil. Pack headquarters is on government land in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming, where they have a huge compound that includes living quarters; medical, laboratory, and training facilities; and acres of wild terrain for midnight roaming. 

    Book 1 sets up the series story arc as the Pack discovers the existence of NewLife Technology, a huge corporation that, publicly, does research on diseases like AIDS. Secretly, however, NewLife has an underground laboratory that is experimenting with gene splicing using captured shifters as subjects. Their goal is to create an army of super-soldiers. The company's scientists are "taking existing shifters and fit humans, enhancing their greatest and deadliest genetic strengths, and striving to perfect the process of making an intelligent man-beast that has Psy gifts and is virtually indestructible." (Primal Law, p. 280) 

     This is one of the classic (and overused) mythologies of paranormal fiction, so there's not much that is fresh or inventive here, except for a twist that has been added to the soul-mate situation. If one of these shifters finds his true mate (aka Bondmate), he must complete the mating process by biting her on the neck or he will gradually weaken and die. Here, one of the Pack's doctors summarizes the situation for a shifter in the early stages of mating: "You're already symptomatic, with the sore throat and fever, which seems to accompany the start of the mating urge. The longer you put off biting your female, taking her as your Bondmate, the sicker you'll become. Of course, if you do bite her, then there's a possibility she'll turn into a shifter as well." (Savage Awakening, p. 145) This tricky mating process, of course, puts a strain on the shifter's relationship with his romantic partner, who usually finds herself in a position in which she either agrees to the mating or watches her boyfriend waste away. This "mate or die" rule is at the root of the lengthy, angst-filled interior monologues of both the shifter hero and the (usually) human heroine

     All in all, I'd say that this is a middle-of-the-road shifter romance series with the usual alpha males running around back-slapping and knuckle-bumping each other and growling if someone touches their mates. Click HERE to go to a page on the author's web site with brief biographies of the members of the Alpha Pack. Each entry describes the person's inner animal (if he or she is a shifter), Psy skill, and history with the team. To read an excerpt from any of these books, go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

           NOVEL 1: Primal Law           
     The hero of book 1 is Jaxon (Jax) Law, one of the original Navy SEALS who became werewolves. Jax lives with both emotional and physical scars incurred as a result of an ambush seven months ago in which several of the Pack died. The team was betrayed by Beryl, a witch who was Jax's lover at the time, and Jax holds himself responsible for being deceived so easily. Jax was severely wounded in that fight, winding up with a badly scarred and poorly healed leg that slows him down in his human form. This is one of the weak points in the mythology. All of Jax's other injuries heal up immediately, and the leg injury doesn't bother him at all when he's in wolf form. But when he's in human form, he's in constant pain and he limps. Why didn't his leg heal? Who knows? Jax feels particularly guilty about his part in the ambush, not only because he trusted the deceitful woman, but also because he was injured so badly that he couldn't use his Psy skill of time-bendingmaking time replay itself for a few minutesto change the outcome of the ambush and save his buddies' lives

    One night, Jax and his Pack buddies head to Las Vegas for some R&R (i.e., drinking gambling, and sex) when Jax hears a scream and heads off to find a lovely young woman being man-handled by two thugs. Kira Locke is a lab assistant for NewLife, and she has just gotten caught stealing some lab specimens because she is suspicious about what's going on in the underground lab. Jax shifts into wolf form and rescues Kira, but because she has seen him shift, Jax and his teammates take her back to their home base. The plot follows the Pack as they investigate the NewLife facility. Eventually, they learn NewLife's big evil secret, and they also discover that at least one of their men who was believed dead in the ambush has been a prisoner in the NewLife labsone of the experimental subjects. Add all this to the fact that buried bodies of shifters have been turning up on the outskirts of a near-by townall showing evidence of tissue samples being cut from them and all being full of suspicious drugs that are similar to those in Kira's stolen samples. The Pack members connect the dots and realize that NewLife is at the heart of a very bad situation

    The heroine in this book is a stereotypically beautiful, feisty woman whose inquisitiveness causes her to gravitate toward TSTL moments. The main plot is well written, with all of the story threads neatly woven into the resolution. The problem for me is in the details. For example, on Kira's first morning at the Pack complex, she is left alone to roam about freely. Doors to critical areas have no locks, so she even wanders into the area in which they keep dangerous supernaturals in locked cages. This is supposed to be a top-secret government facility, so the lack of security definitely does not ring true. In another example, the Pack leader assigns Kira to work with potentially dangerous supernaturals who are being held in captivity because they show promise for rehabilitation. Within minutes of walking into the cage of a hostile fairy who has been caged for months without speaking a word or even responding to anyone, Kira has him talking, smiling, and promising to be good. Her Pack escorts even allow Kira to let the fairy have immediate free access to the entire facility. Again, this is totally illogical, both from a security angle and from a get-real standpoint. The Pack's medical staff, including a psychologist, have been trying to get this guy to respond for months, and Kira does it in a minute flat. I don't think so. Still, if you love shifter romances, you'll probably like this one if you can overlook the illogical parts of the story

           E-NOVELLA: Black Magic           
     This novella begins the love story of Kalen Black, sorcerer and necromancer, and Dr. Mackenzie (Mac) Grant, the Pack's parapsychologist. When the two are in a near-by town they are set upon by one of the same monsters that ambushed the team seven months ago. Despite escaping with their lives, both are injured by the creature, who scratches Mac and bites Kalen. Soon thereafter, Mac begins hearing evil voices in her mind. To save her from going to the dark side, Kalen gives her his pentacle pendant, thereby rescuing Mac but putting himself in danger. As soon as he removes the pendant, the evil voice gets inside Kalen's head, ordering him to do bad things and promising dark power. Book 2 tells more about the source of the evil voice, and book 3 tells the full story of Kalen and Mac's trials and tribulations and eventual mating

           NOVEL 2: Savage Awakening           
     The action in book 2 picks up several weeks after the big climax of the previous book in which Aric was kidnapped. Since then, Aric has been tortured mercilessly by Beryl, the evil witch who betrayed the Pack and caused them to be ambushed by the Sluagh (bat-winged, fangy monsters) seven months ago. As it turns out, Beryl is Aric's step-sister, but he has never revealed that relationship to his Pack buddies. The plot continues the series story arc as the team attacks the facility in which Aric is imprisoned and rescues him along with several others. One of the others is Micah Chase, one of the original Navy SEALS. Micah was presumed dead in the ambush, but in reality he has been imprisoned and tortured all during that time by the NewLife "scientists." 

    Micah's sister, Rowan, is a Los Angeles police officer who believes that her brother is dead until she gets a tip that he might be alive and that she can find more information at a mysterious compound in the Shoshone National Forest. When she arrives at the Alpha Pack headquarters and learns the full story about what's going on there, she decides to stay on until the Pack finds her brother. Rowan is no shrinking violet; she's a tough, streetwise cop. So...when the Pack jumps into helicopters and heads off to rescue Micah and Aric, Rowan stows away with the help of a cloaking spell from Sariel, the fairy prince. When Aric and Rowan first see one another (in the depths of the filthy cages in which Aric and Micah are being held), their inner fireworks go off immediately. Aric realizes early on that Rowan is his Bondmate, but he feels so much guilt about not having confessed his relationship to Beryl that he believes that he is not worthy of Rowan. He refuses to explain the mating situation to Rowan and gets weaker and weaker by the day. Once againjust as in the previous bookthe hero fades away nearly to the point of death before the heroine shoves her neck under his teeth and saves his life. (I believe that this is one of the most depressing mating processes in the entirety of paranormal romance fiction.) 

    In this book we get a flashback and full replay of the werewolf attack six years ago in Afghanistan that resulted in the team members becoming werewolves. We also learn exactly what those monsters were who ambushed the team and attacked Kalen and Mac. They are called the Sluagh, and Sariel describes them as "what happens when a member of the Seelie court turns to evil." (p. 167) Sariel explains that "the Sluagh "are little more than drones who exist to cause mayhem. This makes them very popular for members of the born Unseelie court to...send out and do their terrible bidding." (pp. 167-168) As the team members put the clues together, they realize that Sariel's villainous Unseelie father, Malik, is the real power behind the NewLife gene splicing program

    Once again, there are some illogical moments during the story, mostly related to the mating process, of which by now, all of the Pack members are well aware. At one point, Aric is prevented by his friends from committing suicide during a particularly despondent moment, and he announces to all of them that it doesn't matter that they saved him, that he's going to die anyhow because he's found his mate, and he refuses to mate with her. Then, he makes them all swear that they won't tell Rowan that he is going to die if they don't mate. Would you believe that not one of Aric's BFFs breaks the no-tell pledgeeven though he's going to DIE? It is totally unbelievable that his close friends would behave like that. But, of course, if someone told Rowan the truth then we wouldn't have Rowan's melodramatic life-death race to Aric's side in the exciting conclusion

    As the book ends, Malik's evil voice is growing stronger in Kalen's head and he takes his first dark, Malik-directed action. In book 3, we'll see how Kalen fares with Malik, and we'll get the rest of his love story with Mac.

           NOVEL 3: Black Moon            

     This book concludes the love story of Dr. Mackenzie (Mac) Grant and the sorcerer/were-panther Kalen Black that began in the e-novella, "Black Magic." In that story, Kalen and Mac were attacked and injured by Malik's Sluagh monsters, giving Malik an entry into both their minds. Malik is the villainous Unseelie Fae megalomaniac who is at the heart of the shifter experiments being carried on in various laboratories, with the goal of producing unbeatable soldiers whom Malik will lead to world domination. (There always seems to be an arrogant someone in these paranormal series who wants to take over the world.) To protect Mac, Kalen gave her his magical pentacle pendant, but that left him vulnerable. Now, Kalen constantly hears Malik's evil voice in his mind as Malik attempts to lure him over to the dark side.

     As the story opens, Mac learns that she is pregnant with Kalen's child, but she doesn't tell him. (Why do so many of these silly paranormal romance heroines keep such important secrets when doing so invariably causes a huge amount of trouble?) In the meantime, Malik is steadily increasing his control over Kalen, and Kalen isn't sure that he can continue to resist Malik's seductive persuasion techniques.

     The story follows the truly rocky romantic road that Mac and Kalen stumble down, accompanied by pages and pages of angst-filled interior monologues and anguished dialogues. The action part of the story is directly connected to the Kalen-Malik relationship as Malik sets up a dangerous situation in which he expects Kalen to do his will and turn on his fellow Alpha Pack members. What will Kalen do? (As if we all don't know the answer to that question.)

     This is one of the weaker books in the series with a whiny hero and a shallow and thoughtless heroine. Each one is so self-absorbed that neither really tunes in to the other's emotions. Time and time again, words and actions by one are misunderstood in the most negative manner by the other. By the halfway point in the book, I was praying that someone would forcibly lock the two of them in a room with a couples' therapist. 

     The next book will tell Ryon Hunter's story. Ryon is a telepath who can also communicate with the dead. He falls for Daria Bradford, a Native American seer. Daria makes her living as a wildlife conservationist, and she just happens to be studying a wolf pack in the Shoshone National Forest. Gee, I wonder what happens next?  

           NOVEL 4:  Hunter's Heart           
    As the story opens, Ryon Hunter, a telepathic werewolf, is badly injured on the battlefield. As he recovers in the Pack's hospital, a beautiful woman appears to him in an astral projection begging him to save her life. This woman is Daria Bradford, a wildlife conservationist who has been studying the real wolves in Shoshone National Forest. She is mortally wounded, having been forced over a cliff by a white wolf just after she hears an eerie scream and finds a butchered body. When the Pack arrives at her location to rescue her, Nick (the Pack leader) tells Ryon that Daria is his Bondmate and that Ryon must bite her or both of them will die. 
     The story follows the usual two paths: the romance and the action. In the romance plot, Daria falls for Ryon as soon as she regains consciousness, and their romance proceeds smoothly, with very little of the angst we saw in the romances depicted in the previous books. Naturally enough, Daria is a bit shocked at first to learn that she has been mated and turned into a werewolf without her consent, but she (implausibly) gets over it almost immediately, and it never becomes a problem. That means that the romance has no drama at all. It's just a series of sensual love scenes and a litany of saccharine declarations of love and devotion—all after knowing one another for just a day or two.

     The action plot deals with identifying and capturing the creature who is slaughtering people in the forest. At first, the Pack believes that the perpetrator is the white wolf who pushed Daria over the cliff, but they soon learn the shocking truth—that the mutant monster has connections both to NewLife Technology (the enemy they defeated in the previous book) and to Daria herself.

     This is one of the weaker books in the series, primarily because of the oh-so-sweet love story. The love stories in the previous books were overloaded with anguished emotion, but this one is basically angst-free and—as a result—lifeless. Even the graphically portrayed sexual interludes soon become repetitious and monotonous. The only drama in their relationship comes in an improbable scene in which they have a major TSTL moment: stopping for a romantic dip in a forest pond while being pursued by an army of mercenaries and by the monster himself. Although both the hero and the heroine are brave, intelligent people, they have no interesting flaws—other than the urge to skinny dip in a war zone—and no depth of character.  

     Both the romance story and the action plot have several major problems. In one implausible scene, while Daria impulsively runs through the woods to get away from Ryon, she sits down on a log to catch her breath and a poisonous snake crawls up her arm and into her shirt. This scene is included for a single purpose: to allow Ryon to catch up with Daria and save her from the snake, thus showing off his manly skills and proving his willingness to risk his life for her. (It also gives him the opportunity to cut off her shirt and bare her chest.) In real life, that snake would either have slithered away from Daria or bitten her as soon as she sat down. It definitely wouldn't have instantaneously crawled onto her chest and gone to sleep as it does here. Dubious scenes like this reflect badly on the author's writing skills. She seems to have pulled this scene out of thin air rather than coming up with a realistic solution to her plot problem.

     Another implausibility rears its ugly head while Ryon and Daria are on a dangerous operation in which they must traverse a considerable distance across thickly forested lands and break into a well-guarded mansion to access some computer files. Although speed and secrecy are of the utmost importance, both carry heavy backpacks filled with supplies, including several changes of clothing. This makes absolutely no sense for several reasons. First, the operation is supposed to be a quick in-an-out (so no need for lots of supplies), and second because a change of clothing is the last thing you worry about on a special ops maneuver. Each time the couple is forced to run through the thick woods while being pursued by dozens of well-armed mercenaries, they always manage to drag along their packs so that they can freshen up after they escape. This gets silly after awhile.
     The resolution of the action plot uncovers some new facts about the Pack's ambush six years ago when they were originally turned into werewolves. This new information will no doubt form the basis for the plots of ensuing books.
     The next book will tell the story of Pack member Zander Cole, who became deaf due to battlefield injuries and who now views himself as a burden to the team. His mate is Selene Westfall, who is dealing with some serious emotional problems of her own.

           NOVEL 5:  Cole's Redemption              
     The romance at the center of this novel moves along almost as smoothly as the one in Hunter's Heart. It even begins in a similar manner. When black-wolf shifter Alexander (Zander) Cole is out running in the woods, he sees a white wolf (one of the key characters in Hunter's Heart) attacking his boss, Nick Westfall. Zander immediately goes after Nick's attacker, biting her in the neck, only to discover (during the biting process) that she is his bondmate. Selena Westfall, Zander's new mate, is Nick's long-lost daughter, and she hates her father with a vengeance. She believes that Nick murdered her mother (his mate) and then ran off and deserted her. Now, she wants her revenge. 

     Meanwhile, Zander is dealing with his own problems. In the pack's last big battle, he lost his hearing because he was too close to a magical explosion. Since then, he has been feeling like an impediment to his team because he can't hear the enemy coming and he can't communicate with fellow warriors during battles. In fact, Zander was just about to resign from the team when he and Selene had their bonding experience. Miraculously, Zander's hearing begins to get better as soon as their mate bond kicks in, and he is soon back to normal in that respect. But there is still one more serious problem: Zander has been using his healing powers so frequently and so intensely that he has nearly fried his brain. If he doesn't stop healing people for a month or so, his brain will hemorrhage, and he will probably die. The love story between Zander and Selene is a bit wimpy and sappy, although they do have plenty of graphic love scenes. Selene begins as a rage-filled daughter and segues into a horny lover. Although she was supposedly her former pack's enforcer, Selene comes across as shockingly ineffective in every scene in which she tries to use her fighting skills.

     Now for the action part of the plot: Nick has received reports about a series of rogue vampire killings that appear to have been carried out by a large gang of well-trained rogue vampires who can walk in the sun. Nick gets in touch with Prince Tarron Romanoff, leader of the North American vampire coven, and the Alpha Pack heads for Tarron's underground compound deep within the Smoky Mountains where they plan to combine their forces in order to defeat the rogues. A series of battles follows, and as events evolve, Nick finally discovers the identity of the person who has been betraying them. He even learns how and why his team of Navy SEALs was ambushed six years ago in Afghanistan. As part of the inevitable showdown battle, Selene discovers powers she never knew she had (just in the nick of time, of course).

     The "big secret" that Nick keeps from Selene throughout most of the book doesn't really pack much of a pay-off punch, and to my mind, Nick didn't deserve the cruel punishment he received from his former pack for his actions twenty years ago. Near the end of the story, Nick learns the real truth about the circumstances of his mate's death under devastating circumstances. This isn't the strongest book in the series, but it is a must-read just to learn who has been behind all of the troubles the Alpha Pack has been dealing with throughout all of the previous novels. 

     The next book will tackle Nick's love story. Poor Nick has a rough time of it in Cole's Redemption, and near the end, he realizes with horror that his bondmate is a vampire: Tarron's sister, Calla Shaw. Tarron may have also found his bondmate in the person of Dr. Melina Mallory, the Pack's physician and the widow of the now-deceased and disgraced former Team Leader, Terrence Noble.   

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