Title: Dark Wolf [Spirit Wild 1]
Author: Kate Douglas
Genre: Paranormal, Erotica, Romance, Shape-Shifters, Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars
Description/Synopsis: Sebastian Xenakis is still coming into his power as a wizard. He can shapeshift by magical means and runs as a wolf using the power he draws from the elements. But young women are dying—raped by a human and then slaughtered by a wolf. Suspicion falls on the shapeshifting Chanku, but Sebastian wonders if he might somehow be guilty of the crimes.
Then he meets Lily Cheval, the uncrowned princess of the powerful Chanku, and realizes he will do whatever it takes to clear his name and win her love. But evil walks where Sebastian goes, and there are mysteries neither Lily nor her father, the powerful wizard, Anton Cheval, cannot unravel. Is Sebastian the perfect mate for Lily, or is he instead, one she should fear?
WARNING - SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT - REVIEW BELOW
First off, I need a disclaimer. I don't read a lot of erotica. I don't particularly care for it because usually what I'm looking for in a romance, is the actual romance - not necessarily the sex. unfortunately, I didn't realize this was an Erotica when I picked it up, so I was a bit thrown at first when I discovered it was.
Overall, this was a good book. There was intrigue, obviously bad guys, and some wonderful world building that I enjoyed. I did find the sex scenes a bit blunt for my liking, but again, I'm not a huge fan of erotica. I got used to it after awhile, and it didn't really detract from the story for me - but usually I do prefer my sex-scenes to be integrated a little more smoothly into the story. With this book, it seemed there was a sex-scene just about anywhere one could reasonably be thrown in.
Now I have to take a moment to talk about the erotic side of this novel. There were quite a few sex-scenes, and that's wonderful, this is an erotica after all. Yes, they were a little blunt for my tastes, but again, not a huge fan of erotica. I don't think it would have bothered most readers. I do have to applaud the author for making it clear that in the Chanku society there really aren't any reservations when it comes to gender. I sort of wish I'd been warned about the gay/lesbian/orgy scenes beforehand. I don't have a problem with it, but it doesn't interest me to read about it, and, unfortunately, the cues about this being normal in Chanku society didn't appear until AFTER it had already happened. By then, it was a little too late.
The whole scenario was really written to sound blase, which I found helpful - but later when the main male character kept thinking about his first male/male encounter, I couldn't help but feel that maybe too much of an issue was being made over the encounter. It's hard to say "it's not a big deal" and then turn around and make it a big deal... and then expect your readers to keep agreeing with your first message.
I also found it somewhat strange that the Chanku seemed to put importance on having "one true mate" that they were wholly devoted to, but on the other side of the coin, didn't seem to have a problem sharing their mates (or themselves) with any person who possessed genitalia. I found it to be contradicting and I almost wish the author had just stuck with one side of the argument. Either have them sexually open or have them devoted to one person. I'm not sure you can pull off having both at the same time. It made the whole situation very confusing.
Another point I'd like to take the time to mention is the wolf sex. I don't know if it's just a me-thing or a human-thing, but reading through animal sex is not enticing, it's gross. I could have done without hearing the intimate details of several wolf-couples mating. I really wish it had been glossed over, rather than reading through all the detailed narrative of what it'd be like to have sex as a wolf. It was a neat idea - I'm glad the author had the tenacity to write sex from an animal's point of view - but it certainly wasn't high on my list of things I wanted to read about.
I'll also admit that I was somewhat thrown when I started reading a paranormal shape-shifter book only to discover part way in, that I was actually reading an alien shape-shifter book. It was only mentioned in passing that the Chanku were actually descendants of extraterrestrials from another world, but perhaps the reason I found it so jarring, was because it was only mentioned in passing. It almost seemed as if the author wasn't quite ready to commit to the story line, so instead lots of different elements were thrown together. (Kind of like how the wolves had one-true-mate but also participated in mass orgies) In this case, it seemed it wasn't enough that there were necromancers, mages, and shapeshifters, there had to be aliens too. I think the fact that there were so many different elements to the story took some of the credibility of the story away. It didn't feel as real and solid to me because I wasn't sure what was going to pop up next. I didn't get the sense that I could trust the author to stick to the world-building. Maybe that's just because of the way it was executed, or maybe it was the number of unbelievable elements. I don't know - but it left me with the feeling that things weren't as cohesive as they should be.
All negative aspects aside, I did really like the characters - particularly Lily, Alex, and Annie. I wanted to like Sebastian, but he just seemed so lost most of the time that I found it hard to appreciate him as a male lead. He sort of radiated a certain weakness to his personality that didn't convince me of his very masculine role. I certainly don't feel he came away from the story looking anything like the guy on the cover.
Lily, however, was a very strong, independent female character - and I thoroughly enjoyed her personality. Annie was adorable in a soft girl-next-door sort of way, and Alex I think fit into the male lead role very well. It's actually a shame that he and Lily weren't destined to be together - but on the other side of things, I really enjoyed their deep relationship. They were what friends should be. They loved each other greatly and were comfortable enough in their relationship to have sex, and talk about intimacies with other characters without feeling insecure or jealous. It was a beautiful relationship - and I found it endearing that Alex tried so hard to make Sebastian feel at home with their group.
I do really wish there had been more of a plot twist to the story. It wasn't a surprise to find that the main evil guy of the story was ... well... doing evil things (not to reveal too much!) It also wasn't a surprise that rogue Chanku were helping him. The author took every opportunity to hint or explain things in a way that really didn't leave much to the imagination as far as plot went. So when we got to the big end-all scene where the good guys fight the bad guys, it lacked a sense of satisfaction. Instead of going "omgosh I can't believe that's what was going on!", it was more like "Yah yah, get the battle over so we can see the squishy romance bit at the end."
For the most part, I enjoyed the book - mostly the character relationships and the detailed narrative that really gave me a sense that I was there. From a technical standpoint, the story was well written. On the other side of the coin though, I think a lot of things could have been written better - or at least cleaner. I'm leaving this review with a solid 3 stars. This one was a mixed bag. I'd still recommend it to anyone who enjoys paranormal fantasy stories full of magic and shape-shifting, or anyone who enjoys erotica. Just be forewarned about he gay/lesbian orgies and the animal-sex, and I think you'll be prepared. It was a fun afternoon read, but not what I'd consider a serious fantasy novel.