Rating: 4.25 stars
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Zoologist and primate specialist Carl Anderson’s thoughts are consumed by one man and one kiss whose message remains unclear to Carl. And it is not just the kiss that has unsettled his life, but the fact that the man who kissed him was a vampire, one of many who live all around him hidden to most of human society. This fact was revealed to Carl through events involving his best friend Andreas Nikandros and his vampire lover, Titus Antonius Calidus. Those events saw Carl caught between the vampires and the vampire hunters, including another of Carl’s friends, Matthew. At one point Carl and Andreas were threatened with death and one of Carl’s rescuers was the vampire warrior, Egill Dalgaard.
Egill Dalgaard, Viking warrior and member of vampire society’s ruling body, the Tribunal, is used to having complete control of his life but one special human has upset his calm and ordered existence. Egill hasn’t been able to get Carl out of his thoughts since he first met him and helped save his life. And that one kiss has insured Carl’s place in Egill’s nightly dreams. There are so many reasons why a continued association with Carl is ill advised and just one reason to do so. Egill hasn’t felt this way about someone in a very long time, and for that reason alone Egill cannot let this human go.
Carl’s thoughts are still so divided and upset. There is Matthew, mixed up with the vampire hunters, on one side and Egill, Viking vampire on the other. Carl’s life is now full of fearful glances at the dark, and longing too. But the vampire hunters are still out there , posing a threat to Carl, Andreas, and the vampires Carl has come to know and respect. Any relationship Carl and Egill might have will be threatened by a variety of forces all around them, including the Tribunal. Carl has always been afraid of confrontation, but if he wants Egill in his life, then he must decide on which path to take, including one that will take him away from his humanity.
Adapting Instincts is the fourth book in the Instincts series by S.J. Frost, a series that continues to deliver wonderful characters and a deepening overall story arc that runs through the entire series to date. In this latest installation, all of our favorite couples are back and fully involved in this book’s narrative. We have the original couple of Andreas Nikandros (now a vampire himself) and his eternal partner Titus Antonius Calidus, vampire Samurai Ryunosuke Kimura and his vampire lover Daniel Valente (my favorite couple), and now brought into the center are Egill and Carl.
Adapting Instincts picks up three months after that last events of the previous book, Loving Instincts, events that have left reverberations through all the lives of those involved, human and vampire alike. One of the strengths of Frost’s writing is her wonderful world building and complex narrative. While each book normally revolves around one main couple and their romance, multiple plot threads and characters weave themselves throughout the romantic relationship, acting not only as a foundation but as the perpetuator that lends the story momentum and depth. Coexisting with the daily conflicts that arise with being a human, Frost contrasts that with the rigid societal structure of the vampire world. It makes for a fascinating and absolutely addicting read to see how the two worlds will not only collide but continue to mesh as vampires and humans interact. The first three books are full of conflict and harrowing events for all the couples involved, so it makes sense for the fourth book to deal with the aftermath and emotional letdown. With two exceptions, most of this story concentrates on relationship issues, those between Carl and Egill. And while that choice simplifies the storyline, it also carries with it a more lightly layered plot as well, lacking the depth and complexity of those books that precedes it.
After the emotional events, that is a very realistic way of dealing with the aftermath of the kidnappings and near death experiences of book 3. I really enjoy the character of Egill, former Viking warrior and formidable vampire lord. Stolid and controlled, it is lovely to watch such a character react to love entering his life after such a long existence. Frost does a great job with Egill’s personality, making him both realistically regal and yet vulnerable too in his tightly controlled mien. Carl, on the other hand, felt a little too passive for me to connect with. True, he has a poor self image and his need to avoid conflict puts himself and others in terrible situations. It is hard to connect with a character that you want to give a shake to most of the time. Carl’s indecisiveness is just unattractive to me so it helped immensely that Frost gave us Davy, the Black-headed Spider Monkey. Davy, along with all the other marvelous animal characters in this series, adds a touch of humor and endearment just when the story needs it the most. By seeing Carl’s relationship with Davy, it helps connect us to a character that lacks some of the vivid personality traits of the others in the series. I loved Davy and hope that the author will bring him back into the series somewhere down the line just as she did with Dakarai, Andreas’ lion, and all the other animals who a such a delight in the series. Here is your first introduction to Davy:
Carl stopped outside the habitat for the spider monkeys. He released the cart’s handles to place his hands on his hips, fixing Davy with a disapproving look. “Really? Is that necessary?”
Davy quit banging the bowl on the mesh and stared up at him with intelligent black eyes.
Carl swore the monkey was trying to play innocent. A smile broke over his lips despite trying to stay stern. It was all Davy needed. The monkey scurried up the mesh to be at eye level with him, reaching through with his left hand, the one missing the index finger. Carl held a finger toward him, and Davy wrapped his others around it. The warm, soft leathery feel of Davy’s palm made him grateful he’d been able to save the monkey’s hand. When Davy and the others came to the zoo, starved and sick from the poor care they’d received in a backyard zoo—or deathtrap, as he called it—Davy’s hand was so infected from a baboon biting his finger off, he didn’t know if he’d be able to save it. But he had, and after months of diligent care, Davy and his brothers were healthy and sassy.
The interplay between man and monkey is telling. It is humorous, affectionate, and clearly a wonderful relationship. Even when you are fed up with Carl’s dithering about, moments like this will keep the reader invested in his character and his future.
Is this book a stand alone? No, it must be read as part of the series and in the order they were written, otherwise key elements will be lost or misconstrued. I love this series and absolutely recommend it. Start at the beginning and work your way through. Instincts shows no hint of slowing down, as new characters are introduced here as well as persons left over from the last book, such as Matthew. And the fact that all the other beloved characters will be there as well is just the icing on the cake. If you are already invested in this series, I guarantee you will enjoy this book too. Adapting Instincts carries the main plot thread forward while satisfying us with another romance completed. Great job, great story, wonderful series.
Here they are in the order they were written and should be read:
- Natural Instincts
- Enduring Instincts
- Loving Instincts
- Adapting Instincts
Cover art by Winterheart Designs is evocative in design and tone. I thought the two landscapes a nice touch.