Rating: 4.25 stars
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When Seth McDaniel finds out his great aunt Irene has died and left everything to him, he prepares himself to head down to Georgia to settle her estate. Although he lived there as a child until his parents were killed by a car, Seth’s grandmother brought him to Chicago immediately after. She refused to let him have any contact with his aunt or his best friend Dusty, something that devastated Seth as a child. But it has been 20 years and now his only goal is to return to Possum Kingdom, sell the house and her belongings, and return home to his city life in Chicago.
Dr. Dustin Livingston was best friends with Seth as a child and was equally devastated when Seth was taken away. Dusty has always been close with Seth’s Aunt Irene as she was a great leader in the town. Not only that, but she shared a secret with Dusty and many other of the town citizens — they are possum shifters. Many of the townspeople have lived in Possum Kingdom for generations, all infected with the shifter virus and seeking a safe haven. Irene was the leader of their passal and her land is where the shifters gather together on the full moons.
Despite having one shifter parent, Seth has never shifted himself and apparently knows nothing about his heritage. When he returns to his home town, he plans to only stay a short time until he can take care of business. But seeing Dusty rekindles the bond they shared as children, and the two soon begin once again building a relationship. Both know it could be risky as Seth still plans to return to Chicago. But they are drawn together, just as they were as kids, and now are falling for one another.
At the same time, Dusty faces complications with the possum group. As Irene’s second in command, he is expected to either declare a new leader or claim the position himself upon her death. Dusty doesn’t want to lead, and a McDaniel has been the head of the passal for generations. He would love Seth to take over, but the man knows nothing about their heritage or their lives as shifters. And now a rival possum is looking to take on the leadership, hoping to oust those without full shifter blood and build a casino on Irene’s land. The more time Seth spends in Possum Kingdom and the closer he gets with Dusty, the more it begins to feel like home, but he must decide if he is willing to change his life completely for something totally unexpected.
I was really intrigued by this one as it obviously comes at the typical shifter story from a unique angle. Even books that stray from the usual wolf shifters most often focus on other strong predators, so a book featuring a small animal that plays dead and eats crickets was an interesting change. I think Winters succeeds really well here in creating a delightful shifter world with a non-traditional animal. She does a great job both in developing this small town where most of the folks are living these secret lives, at the same time as highlighting these unique creatures and the particular characteristics the shifters would have, both as people and animals. I liked her take on the shifter virus, explaining how this genetic anomaly would be passed along, how new folks would get it, and the “science” behind their condition. So I think this books succeeds really well in the paranormal aspects and I enjoyed these furry little guys a lot.
I also really liked Dusty, a kind, generous man who focuses so much on the care of his passal. We can tell right away how dedicated he is to Irene and how much of his life is spent ensuring the health and well-being of his group. He is just a good guy determined to protect his passal even if it means taking over himself to make sure they don’t come to harm. Even though he was only a child when Seth left, Dusty really mourned the loss of Seth from his life, and, having no idea Seth’s grandmother prevented contact, never understood why Seth didn’t reach out to him. Now that Seth is back, that bond is rekindled, this time turning into romantic feelings, but Dusty is worried about his heart once Seth leaves. I also really loved Dusty’s best friend and assistant Monica, a tough as nails Amazon of a woman who doesn’t take crap from anyone. She is wary when Seth returns to town, thinking him unworthy of his family legacy as he never contacted Irene even after he became an adult. But she too cares deeply about her people and is willing to help Seth find his way as leader once she begins to see his potential. I loved her toughness combined by her softer side and thought she was fun and a good friend to Dusty and ultimately Seth as well.
Seth was an interesting character as he starts out a little on the unlikeable side. Or at least, a little unaware of his potential and what he could be doing with his life. When he first comes to Possum Kingdom, all Seth wants to do is get the heck out of there. He only cares about his anonymous online friends and checking in on the computer, not appreciating the beauty of the land or the wonderful community or the sense of heritage he has in the town. But Seth’s behavior is understandable, as his grandmother wrenched him from everything he knew and loved as a child, kept him sheltered and isolated, and told him nothing about his family history. Seth grew up lonely and without that community that is so important to everyone else in the town. So he has an interesting journey as he returns home and suddenly begins remembering all those things that used to be important to him. And even more so as he learns about the shifters, the role of his family, and what his future may bring.
For me the only real problem I had with the story is that it moved a little slowly for me, especially the first half. There is a lot of background information that is needed to set up the story and a lot of the first portion was focused on this set up. It takes a while before Dusty and Seth really interact and the main conflicts come into play. I think Winters does a nice job avoiding info dump and it never felt like too much exposition, it just took a while to get into the meat of the story. Similarly, Seth goes through a period of a lot of self reflection as he tries to figure out who he is and what he wants for his future. This makes total sense, as this guy’s life has just been completely shaken up, not to mention suddenly finding out that shifters are real in the first place. So in real life, his actions are totally reasonable. But as a reader, it created some slow time as Seth pulls away and is dealing with issues in his own head.
But overall I found this an enjoyable story with an interesting take on shifters. Winters gives us some likable characters and good world building. If you are looking for a paranormal that is a bit off the beaten track, you may want to give this one a try.
P.S. Cute cover and very fun!