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REVIEW: Alpha Instinct by Katie Reus

Dear Ms. Reus:

Anyone who listens to the podcasts will know that I (and Sarah Wendell) are huge fans of werewolf books, particularly those that involve a pack dynamic. I was so excited to read this story. The promotional materials refers to the heroine being an Alpha and a “strong leader.”  Apparently being a strong female alpha means finding the right male warrior alpha to take care of yourself and your packmates because you are too weak in all areas to take care of yourself.

Alpha instinct Katie ReusAlpha Instinct is about this poor pack of she wolves who are left alone after all the men (and pregnant women) in the pack were poisoned. Connor Armstrong, a shifter from the heroine’s past returns with a new pack of his own, all warrior caste and alpha males to join with the women’s pack because the women can’t protect themselves. Not only can the she wolves not defend themselves, but they CANNOT EVEN PROVIDE FOR THEMSELVES.  Yes, this set the table for the entire book.

“At least we know him and his brother, and if the Councili has officially recognized them it means they have the financial wherewithal to support all of us”

This is said by the “strong” female warrior to her cousin.  *weeps* They can’t even financially support themselves, you guys. Not only can the chicks not protect themselves nor can they provide for themselves, they are also the last to know if they are “mates.”

She was a smart-ass. Absolutely perfect. And he was absolutely screwed, because she was human. Matings between shifters and humans weren’t exactly accepted in all circles. On either side. For all he knew, she hated his kind anyway. His inner wolf didn’t care, though. It recognized her on a primal level. When he’d been barely seven, he’d asked his father how he’d known his mother was his intended mate. His father’s green eyes had sparkled as he’d explained that some shifters knew immediately but most didn’t. And males almost always knew before females did.

The women were so dense, apparently not being able to tell that the males were wanting to have sex with them. I guess this is consistent with the portrayal of the women not being able to even financially care for themselves.

After he’d gotten back from the bank, he’d been putting out fires between his guys and Ana’s packmates. Small, unavoidable spats that were based more on sexual frustration than anything else. The females didn’t seem to realize it, but he could see it clearly. Most of his guys had been lone shifters, roaming the globe for decades or longer until he and his brother had convinced them to settle down. Now that they were on a ranch full of single, beautiful wolves, they wanted to mate in a bad way. Their most primal instincts were kicking in and wanted release.

and

She stared at him, waiting and wanting him to do something to ease the ache she felt inside. She briefly thought about asking him why he’d left, but bit the question back. Maybe there had been someone else. That thought stung impossibly deep and she didn’t want to hear the answer. If she pushed harder and he told her there had been another female . . . that would be worse than not knowing. With his hard length pressing against her abdomen and distracting the hell out of her, it was hard to think of anything other than what he would look like naked. Yes, she wanted to keep some control, but she was also a female and wanted him to want her as much as she did him.

So in sum females don’t know about sexual tension. And because she was female she wants to be wanted. Unlike males.

The basic plot in this book is that  Analena Cordona is the head of her pack, a pack that has had all its male members killed.  Ana and her pack live on a ranch but recently have been subject to increasing vandalism from a male alpha who wants Ana and her girls to assimilate into his pack.  Ana’s solution is to find another alpha male group who is more amenable than her neighbor Taggart.  Ana is an alpha wolf but she isn’t strong enough to defeat Taggart (and apparently she isn’t a good enough fighter to take down someone who has more strength than her).

Taggart plays a classic villain character.  A trill of the keyboard should accompany his every entrance on stage.  He grabs his crotch in the first scene:  “He shrugged and had the nerve to grab himself. ‘I wanted the exercise. Besides, you should get to see what’s going to be yours soon.’”  He threatens violence even though we are told Pack violence against female wolves was rare.  He calls her a bitch (is that really an insult to a werewolf?) and turns tail and runs when he spots a stronger alpha male.

Connor Armstrong appears with his brother Liam and a whole host of alpha males ready to defend Ana’s pack and mate with them.  When Conor had disappeared from Ana’s life, she wondered why. In keeping with the obvious and unoriginal nature of the story, it was because Ana’s father didn’t think he was a fit mate for Ana and so Connor ran off.  He’s back and with a pack of his own, he has something to offer because while Ana and three of her cousins and sisters are alphas they are not Alphas.

Even the thought of one of her sisters at his mercy made her see red. “We might be alphas,” She gestured to the four of them at the table, “but none of us are Alphas and certainly not of the warrior class.”

All true Alphas were also warriors, though warriors weren’t always Alphas. They were just damn good fighters. Warrior shifters were so different from the rest of the population. Bigger in human and shifted form, they seemed to be born with slightly different DNA, even from their shifter counterparts. They embraced their animal side a lot more than their human one. It’s what made them the protectors of the rest of their kind. Ana might hate it and crave complete independence from outsiders, but she wasn’t an idiot. She wasn’t an Alpha or a warrior, and if it came down to it, it was better to embrace someone like Connor as pack Alpha than an unknown.

I guess in this world only the men are born with a warrior shifter gene? She’s only an alpha, lowercase “a” as are all her fellow she wolves. In sum, the worldbuilding includes alphas, Alphas, Warrior caste Alphas, and betas. There is additional external tension provided by vamps and weres coming out  of hiding about 40 years ago.  They are viewed with suspicion by the human populace. This is supposed to add a layer of external tension by bringing the human police to their doorstep for perceived problems but instead it read like a retread of other paranormal worlds.

I didn’t find the world building to be all that consistent either. Ana complains that the North American Council won’t pay attention to their little tribe of female wolves, but obviously the female wolves were important enough to have two Alphas ready to go to battle over them. If female wolves were important yet viewed as weak and ineffective (which they were), then it made sense that the North American Council would award them to some Pack that they wanted to elevate in power instead of leaving them to flounder and possibly die out.

Ana and Connor renew their past acquaintance, fight off the bad guys, and prepare for all the girls to be nicely matched up with the boys.   The world building was  uninspired.  There was no tension, either suspenseful, emotional, or sexual, and the depiction of these poor little she wolves who couldn’t even financially care for themselves was depressing.  D

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

22 Comments

  1. LG
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 14:37:25

    Okay, I just had a little giggle imagining the line about “alphas” vs. “Alphas” spoken aloud. I wonder, is “Alpha” said in a slightly more melodramatic way than “alpha”?

    I wonder what these ladies do when they have males around. Just have sex, look pretty, and bear children? They certainly can’t be working, if they can’t even provide for themselves financially.

  2. CK
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 14:41:38

    Wait. Is it April already? OTOH, if a reader doesn’t like strong heroines, then this might be right up their alley? I fear for the safety of my Nook if this book ends up on it. I’m curious why it’s a D and not F/DNF.

  3. KMont
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 14:57:24

    “Connor Armstrong appears with his brother Liam and a whole host of alpha males”

    That right there, that would not work and is part of what makes PNR romance series as a whole so unbelievable within their own contexts. All those alphas/Aplphas, working harmoniously together (for the most part in PNR) and not having one alpha/Alpha problem with one everyone else who also an alpha/Alpha? This only makes less sense when the PNR series is about werewolves. The sex cannot be that good, that they would throw every instinct that makes an alpha/Alpha an…you know…out the window.

    “…they seemed to be born with slightly different DNA…”

    Nice vague attempt at worldbuilding and species differentiation. The word “seemed” needs to be banned. It seems like a cop out. But I dunno, if the womenz can’t be counted on to provide for themselves or protect themselves, what would they know absolutely for sure about their own species?

    Weaksauce. It all sounds like weaksauce. Reminds me of why I tend to shy away from PNR these days. Finding the gems is getting harder; I know they’re likely out there (and I’ve enjoyed PNR immensely in the past) but seeing a lot of stuff like this makes me want to try less.

    “If female wolves were important yet viewed as weak and ineffective (which they were), then it made sense that the North American Council would award them to some Pack that they wanted to elevate in power instead of leaving them to flounder and possibly die out.”

    Eh, I dunno, would a governing body “awarding” female werewolves to male werewolves make said females appear any less ineffectual? Would probably be the back-breaking straw. Wait, is that what the “heroine” and her pack of non-alpha alpha girls wanted? To be an award? I guess I wouldn’t be surprised.

  4. Jane
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 15:02:13

    @KMont I guess my argument was that if females were viewed as ineffectual and weak and I felt like they were in this book given that they couldn’t even provide financially for themselves and needed the protection of Alpha warrior menz, that the she wolves would have been treated as more of a commodity.

  5. Jane
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 15:03:12

    @CK I’m grading it against other books and since it was publishable I think a D grade is the right grade. DNF doesn’t work because I did finish it.

  6. JL
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 15:09:49

    I can handle a weak female character if there is some counter-point to that weakness, e.g., physically weak but intellectually or emotionally strong. At the very least there needs to be some variety among the female characters.

    I find myself getting pickier and picker with respect to PNR. So much that I’ve come across ignores the best things about the genres (e.g., complex pack structures and interspecies polities ala Nalini Singh), and seems to be just using paranormal creatures for tokenized titillation purposes: ‘Ooh! I’m so weak and you’re so big and strong! Save me by ripping my clothes off! I’m unable to resist you even if I wanted to. But that’s okay, cause there’s conveniently no rape in PNR, yo!’

    I think I’m at the point of a dry spell with PNR. I haven’t found a good new series to glom onto for a while, and I’m scared to try so much of the new stuff coming out.

  7. KMont
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 15:20:20

    @Jane:

    I get you, Jane. I really was fearing for a sec though that this is what the heroine wants for her pack. What a sad disappointment this one sounds like regardless. I have to keep checking what year it is sometimes, wondering why some romances want to cling so hard to the old women totally depending on men schtick.

    @JL:

    I’m in that dry spell with PNR. It used to be my most-read romance genre there for a while, and like you say with Singh, there’s definitely still some good ones, but if this is what’s publishable? Lord help us. Well, been asking for the Lord to help with that for some time. I think I’d rather have some good standalone ones for once, but the PNR genre doesn’t seem (heh) conducive to them.

    Your “tokenized titillation purposes” feels so spot on.

  8. Anna Cowan
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 15:27:46

    The idea of a female Alpha is so fantastic. What a dismal failure! Ever since the scene in Bones where Booth offers Brennan his coat, because she might be cold, and she looks at him in annoyance and says, “I would have asked for it if I needed it,” I’ve been in love with the idea of a true alpha heroine. It pretty much doesn’t happen.

  9. JL
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 15:42:11

    @KMont:
    Maybe we can form a support group :)
    Seriously, though. It breaks my heart that this kind of stuff gets to sit on the same shelves at the book store as Nalini Singh. Now that I think about it, I have a hard time coming up with other PNR series that I love (well, BDB aside, since that’s in more of a ‘crack’ category). This dry spell is worse than I thought!

  10. CK
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 16:43:13

    @Jane: Thanks for taking one for the team. I guess I was surprised you finished because just reading the snippets, I was infuriated by the weakness of the ‘alpha’ females. That’s definitely my kneejerk reaction to weak heroines, though. Just wondering what’s ‘publishable’? Put out by a large publisher or relatively clean of errors?

    @JL: Can I join the support group? I’ll bring cookies. :)

  11. DS
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 19:09:32

    @CK: It wouldn’t be so annoying if there was truth in advertizing– “here’s a book about a weak and pitiable pack of female werewolves who need some men to take care of them and how they get some”. This would clearly warn off those of us who wouldn’t be interested in this type of fiction.

    But oh, no, the female lead character has to described as an Alpha and a strong leader thus repelling people who want to read about women who can’t even support themselves without male werewolves and annoying those who buy it looking for the promised female strong leader.

  12. Diane
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 19:37:42

    Now I’m concerned, I just ordered this book.

  13. April
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 22:08:26

    Ugh, what an utter shame and waste of werewolves. I’m sorry the book ended up being such a letdown, but thank you for the review!

  14. Merrian
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 23:09:41

    The strange coincidences of the interwebs meant I read this discussion on ‘benevolent sexism’ after reading this review and was reminded that 2012 doesn’t mean we are past needing our consciousness raised. In this case ‘benevolent’ isn’t a good word it simply means not-in-your-face/non-violent:

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/01/31/if-it-looks-like-a-compliment-and-sounds-like-a-compliment-is-it-really-a-compliment/

  15. April2
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 06:50:48

    Remind me again why big publisher books are supposed to be better than indies?

  16. Heather Massey
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 07:00:36

    @Merrian: Thank you so much for that link. In the current book I’m reading, I’ve been trying to figure out the unsettling dynamic going on between the hero and heroine. Benevolent sexism hit the mark.

  17. Karen Knows Best » Is that the baseline mark for strength?
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 11:49:03

    [...] was reading DAJane’s review of Alpha Instinct, Katie Reus debut, and got increasingly annoyed as I read [...]

  18. Jennifer
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 17:53:48

    This is what drives me crazy about werewolf books. In almost every effing series (except for Otherworld and Kitty Norville) they are all “women are so weak and need alpha males to protect them!” and “women can never, ever be in charge of a pack, the best they can ever do is to mate with the biggest alpha.” (Or Alpha. How do they distinguish this in conversation, btw?) This sounds like the worst of the lot and the most blatant about the poor weak wimmenz. Um, hi, you’re all werewolves. You can’t be smart and tricksy about fighting with male wolves even if they’re bigger than you? You can’t come up with anything else to do other than boink them? Arggggggggggggggh.

    This makes me want to give big props to the two series who have their female werewolves rise to the top on their brains, not their brawn.

  19. FD
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 21:02:58

    Mmmph, I’d though this looked quite interesting. One man’s meat is another man’s poison and all that but damn, I wish books better matched their marketing. Oh well.
    Like the commenter above, I’d like at this point to give props to another book with an alpha female who is actually alpha, (at least at this point anyway) Raised By Wolves, Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I know that there are other things I didn’t entirely like in it and the sequel Trial By Fire, but at least the teenage heroine Bryn is genuinely believable as a female leader.

  20. Patrice
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 21:24:46

    I don’t mind a weaker woman shifter if it works in the worldbuilding and honestly a woman making less money and struggling to make ends meet is pretty realistic. However the whiney sexual angst is what would turn me off.

    I like the wolf pack worldbuilding in Patricia Briggs, Eileen Wilks and Shelly Laurenston books. (although I’m not sure everyone considers those PNR) And Nalani Singh. I imagine there are others since I read a lot of PN/UF romance but those authors leap to mind.

  21. Marumae
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 01:35:45

    @Jennifer: Agreed! My kingdom for a book about werewolves that actually follows wolf pack structure dynamics! One that doesn’t think that alpha females don’t exist in the wild.

    This book could have been so COOL. The concept is great, an entire pack of werewolves who are used to submission and being taken care of now have to fend for themselves? We could have had GREAT dynamics! Character growth! Learning to be independent, to discover your talent or proper place in a pack hierarchy! And not even every growth has to have, a woman come out on top as a strong asskicking superheroine! The female werewolves could discover their ability to take care of themselves and still be happier being a lesser ranked member of the pack! A group of “heroic” males sweep into town to be the shinning knight and discover that these female werewolves have learned to take care of themselves very much and don’t NEED saving, and now the “heroes” have to earn their love? Like actually WORK FOR IT?

    Augh. So dissapointed…

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