Mitch has a price on his head - he’s due to testify and the very bad man who he’s testifying against would rather he didn’t. This didn’t stop Mitch, a werelion, attending a wedding full of shapeshifters with his best friend Sassy; but the evening was rather ruined when he was shot
Sassy decided the best way to keep him safe was to take him home to Tennessee to heal where none of his enemies should suspect him being. Of course with her brother, pack politics and an upcoming football game this definitely isn’t a quiet life, especially when friendship creeps into more
I do quite like how the animals that each person turns into informs their culture and personalities. Like the werewild dogs are playful and completely lacking in any kind of shame, extremely communal and convivial and have all kinds of fun while being super, ridiculously over-enthusiastic. I can see these people virtually wagging their tails as they hit the dance flaw with their terrible moves or sing karaoke, all the while the werewolves look on with embarrassment and the werecats are utterly horrified.
Even when this skirts close to reinforcing dubious tropes - like the male lions eating a ridiculous amount and expecting the lionesses to serve them (while at the same time it’s clear the lionesses only tolerate a certain number of lions in the pride) but at the same time it being very clear that there’s a whole lot of veiled tolerance going on and the lionesses in general considering them nigh useless because of this. It’s a nice subversion of having animal traits translate over to their were equivalent without upholding it as good and proper or justified or something to be happy about.
I like the idea of shapeshifter villages and towns in rural America with their own customs, shops and hobbies, linked with how different they are from urban shifters because, in their own towns, they can be so much more openly themselves and develop these practices without humans watching. At the same time I also like that they’re clearly affected by human culture as well, not necessarily unified as one shapeshifter unit or by breed (like a werelion who feels more alignment with southern shapeshifters than she does a yankee werelion)
This book may be one of the very few romances out there that I was actually invested in - because it was one of the very few romances where I could truly believe Sassy and Mitch as a couple long before they had sex. Because they’re fun - they’re so much fun together. They’re friends, and it shows. They can actually have a conversation beyond their relationship or the mission. They can spend time together and laugh and joke and generally enjoy each other’s company without having to be constantly having sex. I never realised just how rare it is to see a couple actually laugh together, a couple willing to make jokes, spend time together and genuinely enjoy each others’ company. They’re both silly, (especially him), enjoy humour, fun and yanking people’s chains for the sake of it.
In some ways them having sex actually dragged the story down because that’s it, that’s what they do. The minute they start having sex that’s all they do and their relationship suddenly feels so much less powerful: the connection between them fades under a wave of endless sex (though I do like Sassy’s horror in realising how much sex her parents are having)
One of the main flaws with this book, especially in the beginning, is the sheer number of characters (of course it turns out my google-fu fails and this is book 3 in a series damn it). There’s a wedding with everyone from very very large families all come together and there are names after names after names and I have no damn idea who half of these people are. Half way through the book I just have so many names in my head I have no idea whose Sassy’s friends whose Mitch’s relatives which of Sassy’s gazillion brothers I’m supposed to like, which are the enemy and… gods alone know who all these people are! It makes it very very hard to follow and recognise what is happening. It made things frustrating until the number of characters were pared down.
I am all kinds of ambivalent about another aspect of the book - the stakes are low. And a lot of me likes this. How many times do we pick up a book about werecreatures and it’s all life and death? Are the hunters going to get them,? Or the rival pack? Or there’s lethal pack politics. Or a demon or vampires or some desperate conflict for survival. Their lives are consumed with endless battles to survive. So reading a book where the chief concern most people had was a football game? Or a car race? I like that! Show me shapeshifters who have lives and hobbies and are ridiculously passionate about their sports team or a TV series or whether their company is going to make a profit - show me the mystical and the mundane, I’m all for that.
But we also have Mitch being threatened by a contract on his life which no-one pays much attention to, an old werewolf who apparently has woo-woo which is fearsome and directed at Sassy and lots more alpha and pack issues which I feel we could have examined more. Like spend a few minutes less on the endless endless endless sex scenes and develop a few of these side elements a little more.
One of our protagonists is Sassy, a determined alpha werewolf, a determined and capable woman with some excellent friends who are equally powerful and capable. They’re intelligent, fun, driven, live their own lives, are happily sexual (she most certainly is not a virgin!). They are skilled race car drivers which is immensely fun and different; she has close female friends and while she does dislike some other women it’s not a blanket level of hatred of all things female. And even some of the women she dislike turn out to have depths and levels and their own non-evil motivations. Sometimes Sassy, a passionate strong willed woman, dislikes another woman but it’s not because that woman is evil of vapid or shallow - and is usually because she’s a strong willed woman herself. Throw in Sassy’s mother, Mitch’s mother, just about every lioness and Sassy’s pie making manipulative aunts and we have a whole plethora of
In terms of race we do not have many POC… honestly for a long time I was debating on whether Sassy was Black (we have a whole lot of not helpful descriptions here) but I think they’re all right (and if they’re not we have a WHOLE lot of erasure of racial characteristics, culture and tension going on which I just don’t think this book would do). We have some Asian characters, weretigers based out of Japan, who may be more prominent in later books but are bit characters here), a Brazillian werejaguar, an Asian ADA but none of them are really important characters. We have no LGBTQ characters.
I am intrigued by this world and these characters. In terms of personal taste I don’t know where I am when it comes to these very personal stories, these stories where the characters both have the supernatural permeating every part of these characters while at the same time not being the point of the story. Personally, I like a lot of supernatural in my stories so seeing storylines which could just as easily translate into conventional people risks losing me - it’s going to be a difficult balance to strike for my personal taste. Ultimately, this is too much a pure romance for me ever to be a major fan. But I stress this is a personal taste matter and not in any way a judgement of the books or the series.