Friday, November 23, 2018

Caged Wolf (Tarot Witches #1) by S.M. Reine

Ofelia is hiding. After her horrendous past she has fled as far as she can and now lives in Lobo Norte, the almost unknown hamlet in Mexico near the US border

There’s not much there - but bikers come for drugs, for the local prostitutes and for the cage. The cage matches are massively popular and the lifeblood of this small town

But when a different gang comes to town, werewolves with their own agenda, the cage matches become much more important and much more dangerous. But despite Gloria’s insistence on keeping her head down, Ofelia is drawn out - both the promise of money and the unnatural attraction she has for one of the bikers. But drawing attention to herself is the last thing a hiding woman should do

As I mentioned in a previous review, I am on a mission when it comes to thisauthor’s world. I will read them, in something resembling a reasonable order.

And when I picked up this book, the first in the Tarot Witches series, I have to say I had some regrets. And part of that is simply because erotically charged Paranormal Romance isn’t my thing per se and I’d likely have skipped past it if I weren’t on the mission.

The sex comes hard and fast in this book (literally and figuratively) in a way that I find more irritating than titillating. Woman sees man and he hasn’t even opened his mouth to speak and already everything is hot and wet and moist and throbbing and pumping and zomg this is the hottest guy there has ever been ever and she can barely think. And this may work for a 14 year old ingĂ©nue raised by nuns seeing a man for the very first time. But she’s a sexually experienced, sexually adventurous stripper and former sex worker in her mid to late 20s and it just feels tired.

And it’s not just burning lust, we’re rapidly shoved forwards to Connor (or “Trouble”) being jealous of Ofelia, calling her his, giving her orders, being protective of her, willing to face down his pack for her, being drawn to her on a full moon, risking his life for her. And she, with less highhanded possessive dominance and jealousy, doing the same to him – deciding he’s hers, planning to run away with him, willing to fight a werewolf for him, ignoring his nearly biting her, getting all hot and bothered when he tells her what to do or seems angry when she disobeys.

I have no idea why these two characters like each other, let alone are madly-in-love-willing-to-run-away-together level attached. I don’t even know why by the end of the book, I think they’re literally willing to die for each other and they’re still complete strangers. It makes the whole romance painfully boring because there is no romance there. They find each other hot to the point of not being able to keep away from each other and that’s it. There’s no other connection, nothing, no reason for them to be this attached and no reason for me to care about their relationship one iota – or Trouble for that matter who is just a blank sexy slate with an impossibly big cock (of course).

Ofelia I have a little more time for – and when you clear Trouble OUT of her story, we have something interesting. In fact, her story was even getting really good before he and his unnecessariness pulled her out of things. Her discovering a Tarot card with dire meaning was interesting. Having a paranormal romance or an urban fantasy with a sexually active and charged main character was interesting and fun, complete with her lack of hang ups and, despite being badly scarred, with a strong body image. That last one is pretty unique. She has a tragic past and though it motivates her to hide and drives her to anger and vengeance, it’s integrated into the character as a defining and essential moment rather than an all consuming element of all she is. Her relationship with Gloria, who runs Lobo Norte’s bar, was excellent, all gruff and loving

Aside – I love Gloria, give me a book of Gloria. In fact, no, I want Gloria to just be taken and dropped into any book anywhere just to have her listen to the protagonist’s latest nonsense and have her say “blah blah blah, all I’m hearing is ‘Gloria, I am stupid’”. More Gloria would have helped this book so much because her slap upside the head and scathing tongue has no time for over dramatic romantic  nonsense. Every book needs a Gloria.

I also like how her relationship developed with the other inhabitants of Lobo Norte - the sex workers in the brothel who she comes to respect and know as well as the man who runs it. Ofelia learns a lot and could truly grow well with it. And it frustrates me that we got lots of this really dull romance rather than focusing on these relationships that actually had character

I also find the way the world building is presented. When Trouble first shifts Ofelia seems to be all “OH MY GOD WEREWOLVES EXIST!” but then gets over it super fast… and she knows the sex workers are succubi and she knows there’s a powerful Incubus gang we’ve seen in another series. It’s like she suddenly forgot that this wasn’t a Masquerade setting… or wasn’t sure if it was a Masquerade setting which was weird. The actual world itself was, of course, good from what I saw. I liked the idea of the isolated Mexican town off the beaten track, off the map entirely, where the supernaturals gather for their nefarious purposes, without law or order but with plenty of Gloria keeping everything in order.

But we don’t see as much of this world as I’d like - because of that damn romance. But I am left on a rather hopeful note - while the story had not nearly enough focus because of the romance of awfulness- but the hint we got was intriguing. The Tarot, each card having personal meaning being sent to different people for reasons unknown but with possible life changing repercussions - and ending with a quest to find them all. That I’m here for - magical biker quests? Yes I’m here for that.
Diversitywise, Ofelia is Latina as is Gloria and pretty much everyone else in Lobe Norte because it’s set in Mexico. And some of the bikers are different ethnicities. I also like the respect Ofelia has for the succubuses when they could have been far more competitive. I also like that Ofelia was unashamedly sexual and confident, even with her scarring. But there were no other ethnicities beyond the odd biker and no LGBTQ people