I was interested in this book because I wanted to read a different take on the shifter story, and it is indeed that. I think that is the strongest com...moreI was interested in this book because I wanted to read a different take on the shifter story, and it is indeed that. I think that is the strongest component of this installation of the Breeds series. Leigh definitely steps into a genre rife with mythological expectations and stereotypes. The problem with this book for me is that she doesn't step out of other stereotypes, which in the end weaken the story.
Initially the reader is thrust via adopt-a-soldier letters into the mind space of Cassie, an 8-year-old who is enduring a very traumatic time. Her story is the strongest, yet it gets lost in the erotic subplots. I think these could have been artfully woven together. Instead the result was a disjointed effort to tell two different stories in very different voices. It didn't work for me. Nothing ever tied the two together, except that the reader was just supposed to accept Cassie's insta-family.
The soldier, Dash, I wanted to buy into. He's a gruff military guy, but in the end I found his constant barking of orders and self-centricity so annoying that I didn't care why he was the way he was or if he ever reached an epiphany. His unchanging mannerisms got old and flat, which was a tragic loss in developing an otherwise powerful character. I also could never shake the feeling that I was reading him as a woman trying to be a man--what a man would do, how a man would react, what a man would say, rather than just letting the character speak, himself. When he finally did have a real emotion or two, the distance already so deftly set in his aloofness made him seem like he didn't genuinely have feelings but tried to express them anyway. He never read as real. Leigh builds him up to be gruff with a soft spot for Elizabeth, when there's no middle ground between the two. And the extremes just aren't cohesive, as it is written. Even his dialogue was stilted with the things a hypothetical woman would want to hear a man like him say:
"His voice was a dark, sexy rumble that had her ___ creaming with hungry abandon."
"Don't cry, baby. Your tears tip at my soul. Don't you know that? I would move heaven and earth to wipe away any pain you would know, if I could."
Of her breasts: "So full and sweet, with the prettiest little berries resting atop them."
I also found Cassie's mother, Elizabeth, to be a petulant little girl talking about protecting her child but not actually doing it. In her narrative we get lots of internal monologue about how hard things have been, so much running, worried for her child. Externally we gets lots of frustrated tears and sexual tension. The maternal expression gets lost in the mix, largely pointing back to the plot device that the reader (along with Elizabeth) just accept that Dash is in charge, even of Cassie. I never saw Elizabeth have an agreement in herself that this was the right thing. Rather, she complied out of duress. It didn't add up from the beginning, which cast a bad power dynamic on Dash and Elizabeth's relationship for me. As well, I never bought Elizabeth as Mother Pack Leader, thus equal to Dash, as it seems the reader was supposed to.
Regarding the joining of Elizabeth and Dash, there wasn't much distinction in the narrative voice between Dash and Elizabeth, using the same descriptors over and over --rasping, throbbing, moist, "pleasure/pain." Leigh actually wrote "pleasure/pain," and an editor allowed it. Such chewing left the writing feeling lazy, and it left otherwise hot sex reading as formulaic and intensely purple. The sex in this book is the most prosaic clinical mating ever. Were it not for the introduction of wolf anatomical curiosities into the mix, it would have just been any other verbose romance, flailing at BDSM.
In all I give this book 3 stars because ultimately Leigh broke new ground in the physicality of genre, and for her courage to sustain momentum in trying something different. I'm not crazy about her style of writing or characterization, but I see that she's a good worldbuilder and is very good at fleshing out her plot across this series. I'd just like to see more of the plot with less purple prose in the flesh. I'd also like to leave this review with the book's best lines, from Dash: "I've always loved you. I just haven't always known you."(less)