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shapeshifters

REVIEW: Duck! by Kim Dare

REVIEW: Duck! by Kim Dare

Dear Ms. Dare.

You have a knack for writing characters who are all different, no matter how many times you seem to write them into similar situations or how similar they seem at the start. And your conflicts are entirely character-based, so the conflicts are all different. I find your construction of BDSM sometimes requires a lot of suspension of disbelief but as you get the emotions right, no matter how far-fetched some of the scenarios, I (usually) don’t really mind.

In my shopping sprees buying your books, however, I had avoided this particular book. I’m a simple girl and tend to like my romance non-paranormal, non-world-building-heavy. I like books to focus on the characters, not on supernatural aspects. But when I was rhapsodizing about your other books, Duck! was recommended so often and by so many people I trust, that I bought it, devoured it, and loved it.

Ori Jones is an avian shifter. The avian shifter community is rigidly heirarchical, with birds of prey as the aristocracy and all other birds fulfilling more or less submissive roles below them. The bird you are seems to guide your personality to a great extent, so crows are assholes who hang out in packs, ravens are clever and strong, seagulls are bad-tempered, peacocks are tattoo artists. And everyone’s gay. Or at least, willing to fuck other men.

Up front, the one thing that bothered me most about this book is that there are NO women. Anywhere. Not one female is mentioned — literally, the words “she” and “her” don’t show up once. I have no idea if there are female shifters, no idea how shifting gets passed down, no idea if women CAN be shifters, or if they can be a part of the shifting community. I found that extremely odd, especially since, if the entire world is built on heirarchies, some species of birds are matriarchal, with reversed gender dimorphism. If the invisibility of women in m/m romance bothers readers, they should avoid this book, because women are more that invisible — they’re almost hyper-present in their complete absence.

Anyway…Ori is “an ugly little duckling,” according to the avian elders who watched his partial shift when he first joined the community. He can’t fully shift until he comes of age at 21. He’s been serving in the “nest” for six months, a sort of communal hotel/dormitory/community center, having come to the community at 20 because his foster parents suggested he see if he’s a shifter (implying a Alternate Universe in which shifting is known and acknowledged by outside humans, but this is never really dealt with or discussed in the book). Ori’s been serving in the communal restaurant/cafeteria, suffering the abuse of the birds higher in rank than him (pretty much anyone). One day, Raynard, a high-ranking hawk shifter, saves Ori (twice) from a pack of crows and eventually takes him from the nest to be a personal servant. And that’s…pretty much the story for much of the book, although the emotional stakes are higher than they sound here. Ori serves Raynard and slowly finds his place in the world as they slowly figure out their relationship. Ori is first servant, then submissive to Raynard, then lover, then beloved. But all is halted when he completes his first shift.

This gets a bit spoilery, perhaps. It happens just over halfway through the story, so if you don’t like to know this stuff, then don’t read anymore.

This story is overtly styled on the “Ugly Duckling” fairytale, so it should be obvious what Ori actually shifts into, rather than a duck. But this changes everything, because swans are:

the purest species of avian that exists. They are good, and noble, and beautiful. They have the most exquisite spirits, the finest temperaments.

Swans are the tiptop of avian heirarchy, treated like royalty, cossetted and served, able to command all other avians, no matter their rank. It would have been nice to have some sort of indication, some foreshadowing, some hint of a swan’s rank prior to Ori’s shift, so we could have known what was coming. Instead, it comes out of the blue, because, really, why would a swan be royalty in the heirarchy except for the need to fit the fairy tale inspiration? So Raynard leaves Ori at the nest to get used to his new life as an unexpectedly high-ranking bird. Except Ori hates it, is actively hurt by losing his master, by not being allowed to serve, as is his nature.

The D/s in this book is all about the characters’ nature, tied up with their avian species. And I love what Dare does with Ori’s nature as a swan, why and how he’s a better swan when allowed to act upon his submissive nature. This is an incredibly emotional book. Not much actually happens, but every action is deeply felt by both characters (and we do get both Ori’s and Raynard’s viewpoints), their motivations deeply explored, their responses deeply examined. And it’s a very sexy book. Raynard and Ori have a lot of hot sex, all of it D/s flavored.

In fact, it’s got one of my favorite lines so far for a D/s sex scene. Ori, of course, is not allowed to come unless with his master’s express permission. Raynard’s just had a wonderful orgasm, leaving Ori wanting:

The older man pushed the last of his clothes off the bed and collapsed back against the mattress. Ori nibbled at his bottom lip as he watched the dominant settle and rest. There was a sensitive spot on his lip, where his master’s teeth had caught him hard enough to draw blood. He ran his tongue over it, relishing the sensations it sent spiraling through him.

“Come here.”

The first word almost had him spilling onto the sheet. Somehow, Ori managed to shuffle forward without tripping over his orgasm en route. [Seriously, I just love that. Sweet and funny.] His master’s hand wrapped around his cock as he reached his side, his grip tight and perfect.

Ori met Raynard’s eyes. There was a touch of amusement mixed in with the sleepiness and the afterglow, but all the anger and confusion was gone, at least for a little while. Moving his own hands behind his back, Ori knelt next to his master and arranged himself as close as he could to his rest position, his knees spread wide apart and his head bowed to watch his master’s hand toy with him.

Raynard had always liked to hold him like that, to cradle him in the palm of his hand and know that he had complete control over his lover. He was treating him in exactly the same way he had when he was a duck. Ori had never been more grateful to feel so painfully frustrated in his life.

“Come.”

The word was said at his master’s discretion, and according to his own timetable. Ori knew that. He also knew he’d never been more thankful to hear it spoken.

He came. Lights flashing, head spinning and his master’s hand never even slowing its movements. The older man’s palm kept pumping around his shaft long after he had stilled.

Ori whimpered, too sensitive to truly enjoy his master’s touch right then, too lost in his submission to even consider protesting. Gradually his master’s hand slowed of its own accord until it finally left him completely.

Despite my misgivings about the utter absence of females and the sometimes sketchiness of the world building, I really enjoyed this book. It was such a different take on the fairy tale, such a different take on a shifter myth, such a different take on D/s, that all in all, it was way more interesting — and way more well-written — than it was confusing or annoying.

Grade: B

Best regards,
-Sarah

P.S. Loved the cover. Very evocative. (Except that’s only one full wing, not two, which looks kinda funny.) Copy editing from this publisher sucks (I lost all my OMGWTFBBQ highlights when my Mantano app started acting strangely on my Android device, but still, the copy editing sucks.)

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REVIEW: Angel of Darkness by Cynthia Eden

REVIEW: Angel of Darkness by Cynthia Eden

Dear Ms. Eden:

The opening scene of the book is intriguing because it doomed a character to a horrible fate, or so he believes.  Keenan is an angel of death and he has been dispatched to harvest the soul of Nicole St. James.  He finds her suffering a horrific attack at the hands of a vampire and Keenan not only hesitates but transfers his death touch to the vampire thus violating his two thousand year charge.  One mistake plummets Keenan into the ranks of the Fallen, his wings stripped and his entrance to the heavens barred.

Angel of Darkness	Cynthia EdenChapter One starts six months later.  “The rage began to heat his blood because it shouldn’t have been like this.”  Keenan has been hunting Nicole for months.  He has been told that she is the key to his redemption which he believes to be his path to grace and into the heavenly hosts.   Chapter One also begins the path of confusion for me.  Keenan’s motivations and actions are inconsistent and changeable. I suppose some of this could be chalked up to the uncertainty and newness of being fallen, but the mutability of his behavior, particularly toward Nicole, was unsettling and not in a good way.

Another problem is the way in which only parts of the entire world are shown in this book.  Neither Nicole nor Keenan know much about the paranormal world but there are vampires, fallen angels with powers, shapeshifters, and higher powers with unknown motives.  Each time they turn the corner, the body count gets higher and a new discovery about this strange world they’ve been thrust into arrives.  But if Keenan has been alive for 2,000 years, why is everything such a mystery to him.  Is he that myopic or obtuse?

Also unexplained is the heroine’s transformation from school teacher to vamp, as in scantily clad, high heeled, bar trolling vamp.  Keenan describes her pre vampiric state as being staid and somewhat conservative.  And in six months (which are not in the book but occur between the prologue and Chapter one) she turns from normal school teacher to angry vamp (in all meanings of the word).  This seems so cliched and unnecessary.  Like she all of a sudden has to look like Lara Croft complete with the belly baring leathers and tight shirt once she’s a blood sucker?

The strength of their feelings as written toward each other don’t match the overall story.  They barely know each other.  They are
running from demons, she’s learning he is an angel, she is scared of the vamps who had control of her.  He has negative feelings toward her because she’s supposedly at fault for his fall (DUDE, YOU DECIDED TO SAVE HER) and yet they are all over each other.  The whys of their attraction escaped me. The emotional character arcs seemed lost as well. The strength of the book lay within the suspense structure.

The plot, although with many parties, was fairly well constructed.  Keenan, as a newly fallen angel, is unaware that he has any powers. Angels are the most powerful beings in the paranormal hierarchy.  To get more powerful, you need only the pure blood of the angel.  Keenan becomes a target.  Nicole is one as well because of what she had to do to survive during her first six months as a vampire. Both are helped out by another fallen Angel, Sam, who is actually more interesting than both Keenan and Nicole.  Sam’s motivations for helping Keenan are murky but without Sam, Keenan would be angel dust and Nicole would be dead.  The focus of the book was on the action narrative and the lust/sex/love sections felt tacked on.  I also didn’t feel like I left the story with a greater understanding of the world than when I entered it. A lot of the world building was in the existence of the characters rather than the setting which made it feel a bit more disjointed.

I think the whole story would have worked better if it was structured more like an urban fantasy and the romance between Nicole and Keenan involved slowly.  The worldbuilding breaks no ground. It was the romance that I felt the book was tired and cliched whereas the action plot kept me turning the pages.  C

Best regards,

Jane

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