Dear Ms. Laurenston:
It had been quite a while since I read one of your Pride or Pack books, so when Jane sent me Big Bad Beast to review, I was very excited to check in with a series I’ve really enjoyed. The good news is that I now really want to read Blayne and Novikov’s book. The bad news is that Ric and Dee’s story was more miss than hit for me.
Ulrich Van Holtz is definitely big, and, on occasion, turns into beast (wolf), but he’s not what most of us would deem bad. In fact, Ric is a truly nice guy, an impeccably trained chef with a pretty boy handsomeness, and a natural leader who really has no ambition to lead beyond his kitchen and the work he does for the Group, a sort of FBI/SWAT organization run by the Van Holtz wolves. His greatest ambition, beyond the perfection of his kitchen, is to claim Dee-Ann Smith, the woman he met and fell in love with when she was a mere nine year old with a Bowie knife, cold yellow eyes, and enough confidence to scare most adults.
Dee-Ann is no average she-wolf, though, and is certainly not the kind of woman one mates in an average way. A former Marine and a woman who enjoys fighting just for the sake of fighting, and who wears the scars on her body like badges, Dee-Ann isn’t looking for commitment or even comfort. She’s a little put off by Ric’s “supermodel” good looks and unsettled by his persistent need to feed and take care of her. Ric, however, is determined, and when he realizes that Dee is hardly even living in the apartment she’s rented – an apartment that is home to rats the size of large cats – he insists she come and stay with him, providing the perfect opportunity to make Dee see that she and Ric are perfect for each other.
As Ric stalks his prey, there is another, much more sinister predator at work in New York City, one that is using hybrids (mixed breed animal-humans) in brutal to-the-death fights around the City, their mangled, dead bodies discarded like trash on site. The sheer magnitude of this movement prompts an uneasy alliance between the Wolves and the Cats, which brings numerous characters from past books into the story (including the Shaws and the Llewellyns) and creates numerous opportunities for interspecies competition and trash-talking. Dee, like Ric, is very involved in the investigative work, as well as the efforts the Group is making to bring orphan hybrids to safety, providing them with a sort of in-house foster care, education, and training.
The set-up for this story is very compelling. In fact, at many times I wished that the hybrid story was a stronger focus in the book, because its implications were so fascinating. I could not help but read a racial analogy into this aspect of the story, which further deepened its significance, especially when we become acquainted with several of the young hybrids who live at the Group’s headquarters and are having great difficulty adjusting to life in either the human or the shifter world. And not surprisingly, it is Dee-Ann who is often the strongest role model for these young shifters, as her fearless strength and bad-ass demeanor make her an obvious object of awe for some of these youngsters.
Still, when it comes to love, Dee-Ann is not an average girl, or even an average wolf, and Ric has to plan very carefully about how he is going to entice her into more than the friendship he currently has with her, which is itself a far cry from his love at first sight meeting 25 years earlier, but still not enough for Ric, who is certain Dee is the mate for him. And truth be told, I expected a great deal more drama in the relationship between Dee and Ric, especially given the fun turn-around of expectations regarding Ric’s need for commitment and Dee’s apparent aversion to it. However, most of the conflict seems to occur at the beginning and primarily in Ric’s head. While he’s kissing her:
With their mouths still fused together, Ric slid off the kitchen stool and caught hold of Dee around the waist with both hands, yanking her up and off her chair, pulling her in tight against his body. She groaned a little, her body jerking in surprise when Ric’s tongue dove into her mouth.
God, she tasted perfect. Perfect for him.
The wolf inside him responded immediately, having already decided that Dee was the one for Ric as soon as they’d seen her amble into Lock’s hallway. Dirty, loose-fitting jeans hanging on her hips, boots scuffing Lock’s hardwood floor, worn jacket that had seen better days hanging off a strong powerful body.
Yet Ric fought the wolf’s need to make Dee-Ann his forever.
In fact, he fights it for more than ten additional paragraphs, during which he “quickly analyzed the situation” and determined that he had to make it seem that Dee was chasing him. Which may attest to Ric’s supreme logic skills and intelligence, but also reflects one of the biggest problems I had with Big Bad Beast – namely that every time I started feeling really engaged, something pulled me off track and the excitement dissipated.
As I said earlier, there is a lot of promise in this book. And there are some nice moments when the attitude I’ve come to expect and love from these stories shines through:
He leaned in a bit and sniffed her. “You’ve got strange wolf on you.” His eyes narrowed. “Who you been fuckin’?”
“Rory Lee Reed! You speak to me proper!”
“All right.” He lowered his voice several octaves and said, “Who you been fuckin’?”
Dee grinned. “Ric Van Holtz.”
“Yeah, but don’t tell.”
“Why? You ashamed?”
“Nope. Just seems more dirty that way.”
“You and your dirty fetish.”
“Can’t help it . . . turns me on.”
“Besides,” Dee went on, “you can’t tell anyone because once Ronnie Lee knows everyone will know.”
“Including your daddy.”
“And Ric is just so damn pretty, it would be a right shame to see him all. . . “
She sighed. “You do know how Daddy likes to eviscerate.”
Overall, though, despite all of the foundation for great drama and humor, the moments of connection for me with this story were always just moments. I did notice that the prose was smoother and clearer than in some of the earlier books of the series, but I also felt like some of the magic from those books was missing here, as if the polish had smoothed out not just the rough edges of the writing, but all those points at which the story could get some good traction and really take off. Lots of internal narration, which nixes some of the spontaneity between the characters, as well as a general surplus of telling and descriptive prose. Further, the relationship between Ric and Dee never really faces any danger, and the suspense aspect of the book, despite its strong promise, unfolds with more ease than drama, which ultimately made it not so suspenseful.
Big Bad Beast wasn’t an awful book by any stretch. And I will certainly be seeking out Blayne and Novikov’s book. Still, I found Dee and Ric’s book sort of bland, despite the promise of the title and several of the plot and character elements. C+