Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Mane Squeeze (Pride #4) by Shelly Laurenston


Werebears! Why do we have so few shapeshifter books about werebears? We need more werebears!

Big clumsy snuffling, curious werebears that just want to know how things work and then end up breaking them because they’re just big, hulking, strong goofy people who are just adorable!

And all the bears want is plenty of honey and salmon and sleeping a nice long time all in peace without the other shapeshifting species getting in the way.

While those other shapeshifting species view them as massive engines of destruction to be poked at your own risk. And I think that’s a nice element; I mean we have big scary wolves and lions but when it comes down to it, a grizzly bear is a grizzly bear and every other predator is better off leaving it alone.

So we have Lock, our big, sexy, lumbering bear with his ice cream and honey and nice long sleep in and his quietly perfectionist carpentry, being generally exasperated by the manic antics of all the other shapeshifters around him. Oh and he knows that lions, tigers or bears, a Philly girl is apparently scarier than anything else, which amuses me muchly.

And those antics include the Wild Dogs which may still be my favourite shifters in this series because they’re goofy and silly and they have fun and they play and they chase their tails but are still probably more united and more serious and even more dangerous than the other packs. I love their whackiness, their geekiness, their squabbles and how they leave the poor bears thoroughly thoroughly confused by all that energy, random weirdness and big tearful eyes if they need to get there.

And I like Gwen and her story - I like her struggles for independence in the face of her mother’s plan for her - and her brother’s interference. I like that, even though she has the skills and knowledge to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she’s pursuing something else she wants to do. She faces a lot of discrimination because she’s a hybrid - a child of two different shapeshifters: She’s a Tigron, half tiger half lion. I think more could have been made of her Tigron nature and what it means - same as her best friend Blayne who is part wolf part wild dog. But I think it’s interesting that they didn’t emphasise any supernatural difference: because it’s not necessary or even accurate - and instead focused on how they were treated differently. A lot of supernatural prejudice involves a group facing discrimination but it turns out that, yeah, there’s a good reason for that. This managed to emphasise both the direct hatred they faced AND the subtle, not-feeling-welcome feeling that Gwen’s family gave her felt more real.

Gwen and Blayne have a great mutually supportive relationship covering their mutual plumbing business (which is excellent) through to calling each other out on their ridiculousness, through to roller derby. They work really well together and have an excellent us-two-against-the-world vibe.

So I like Gwen and her storylines building her own life . I like Lock, the concept of him and this poor, hulking lethal giant just wanting a quiet life with his family and the wild dogs pushing him to be more

But I’m not sure I see their connection. It’s not that they’re bad together - because her random weirdness and his quiet curiosity make for a lot of very fun scenes. But I don’t see them really being connected in any of the larger metaplot, nor is Loch part of the family/friend group established in the last three books - which is different from the actions of the previous books - and rather than kind of introduce Lachlann to the greater friend group he’s kind of dropped in as if he’s always been there with a sudden military link and friendships that seem to have come from nowhere. It hasn’t said “hey, here’s Lachlan, let us introduce him and build connections”, instead it just pretended he’d always been there.

I’m also not sure there’s anything like an actual coherent plot. There’s a grudge that isn’t especially resolved and seems rather grossly excessive for what provoked it, some carpentry thrown in, a kidnapping for reasons and a plot line with a member of the dogpack and her terrible, estranged father and some insight into a greater shapeshifter organisation involving the Von Holtz family but isn’t especially developed. It’s like there are lots of mini fun events but not much of a coherent central plot. I imagine the central plot is supposed to be Gwen and Lachlan’s relationship but I don’t really think it was strong enough to carry the plot and often the least interesting thing about both these characters and their lives.

The book was extremely fun though - all of these little interactions and developments were excellent to read and often hilarious. And Gwen is an Asian woman, with no stereotypes and her best friend Blayne is Black and both of them make a truly excellent team (in fact more Blayne and Gwen would be far better than the relationship plot). POC centred, fun, entertaining and whacky is always good and I really love the bears- but it lacked backbone.