Snow Leopard shifter Isaiah Trujillo has always felt like the dumb brother of his family. He isn’t smart like his brother Timothy, the Ph.D. investigating shifter history and genetics. Isaiah never wanted more than to be a good mechanic, own his own business, and be happy. And maybe, just maybe ,find a mate of his own, like his brother and cousins have. When a customer mentions he helps out at a GLBT youth center that could use Isaiah’s help, Isaiah volunteers and changes his life forever. At the volunteer dinner, he meets Dr. Bae Allen Warren, a mobile veterinarian and fellow cat shifter. Bae is an Amur leopard shifter and Isaiah’s mate. But Bae runs from Isaiah at first sight. Confused and hurt, Isaiah chases after his mate only to learn that Bae carries with him a truckload of trouble.
Bae comes from a lepe, or clan, almost cultlike in its actions and outlook. Amur leopards are becoming extinct, both as animals and shifters. Bae’s lepe has kept its shifters isolated to keep their bloodline pure, demanding that each contributes by mating with as many other clan members as possible to produce offspring. These children are promptly sent off to other lepes to live in hopes they enlarge the gene pool. No one has ever questioned their leader or the manner in which the lepe live their lives until Bae brings home his mate, Isaiah. Bae is gay and has refused to mate with the females of his or any other clan. That is the only reason his father has allowed him the freedom of an outside education and life. Isaiah changes Bae’s perspective on his clan’s lifestyle to his father’s disapproval and threats by his grandfather, the lepe’s leader. Even as Bae finds Isaiah, his mate, the lepe closes in around them, threatening their bond and their future together.
Isaiah is the fourth book in the Leopard’s Spots series and the best so far. Bradford introduced the idea of a spiritual connection between animal and human in the last book, Timothy, that I felt was jarring at the time. But clearly this idea or story thread is becoming a major theme for the series. Isaiah is a spiritual man, good and decent. Only he feels insecure when he puts himself next to his brother’s achievements, never seeing himself as others do. Bae is a shifter forced to fight for his right to live his own life, while feeling the guilt and pressure brought on by his father and clan. Both men bring to each other a shift in perspective that each desperately needs, along with the message of accepting who you are.
Bradford also brings back the focus on endangered cat species by including Amur leopards, also known as Korean Leopards. Look them up, they are stunning in their beauty. Snow leopards remain a center species and the author brings in a hybrid species known as pumapards, which actually existed earlier in the century. Bradford has clearly done her homework on big cat species and wildlife conservation. Timothy and Otto from the 3rd book are back to help Isaiah and his mate, Bae, with several of the mysteries running throughout the series. One is the low shifter population within species as birthrates are at an all time low. Is it due to inbreeding, like Bae’s lepe? The fact that none of the isolated clans are finding their mates? Or something more ominous, that their animal/spiritual side must be nurtured, treasured, or they will lose their animal part of themselves, remaining forever damaged. Bradford obviously has a plan with her series that is just now becoming clearer with each new book.
I loved the characters here. I find Isaiah and Bae to be the most captivating of the group so far. And Isaiah with his spirituality and humble outlook charmed me immediately. I really like where Bradford is taking this series which leads me to my main quibble all around. These books are way too short for the goals Bradford is trying to accomplish with each story. That was my problem with Timothy, which I will now have to reconsider given this story. She set out so many new plot lines in Timothy that the main story suffered under the lack of space for its development. Here she comes close to doing it again but still pulls off her agenda. If these books would be enlarged even a little, I think the series would benefit as new ideas could be more richly explored.
Another thing about the series is the huge amount of sex contained within. I find that realistic as the sexual activity helps in the bonding and if you have ever heard the neighborhood cats yowling during their nocturnal activities, well, let’s just say Bradford has that right too. There is one section concerning the pumapards that is left completely unsettled here but I suspect that a future book will find that resolved. At any rate, I am onto the next in the series, Gilbert, with renewed enthusiasm about the series and the vision behind it. I promise I will let you know how it goes.
Cover by Posh Gosh. The glorious covers just keep getting better with each book. Nominated for the best series covers.