Rating: 2 stars
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After being rescued by his twin brother Preston and his brother’s mate, Nischal, Paul Hardy is suffering horribly from the aftermath of his capture and two years being tortured and sexually abused as a shifter’s “pet.” Prior to his experience at the hands of a human trafficking ring, Paul had no idea that shifters even existed. Now he can’t get their existence or his trauma out of his mind. And with his brother mated to a shifter, Paul can’t even escape from the day to day contact he dreads. Paul, Preston, Nischal, and Nischal’s brother Sabin are all headed to Colorado and the snow leopard family compound hoping to find sanctuary and therapy for Paul.
Snow leopard shifter Justice Chalmers was working at his dream job of being a police officer in Phoenix, Arizona when the call went out from his family about a human with a connection to them needing help immediately. That call required his sister Viv, with her new therapy license, to travel to Colorado and she doesn’t drive. So Justice is currently on leave to drive his sister to their family compound. Justice knows that there is more to the story than they have been told and his experiences as a Marine and cop tell him to be on his guard.
A chance meeting between Paul and Justice on the road to Colorado changes the lives of both men permanently as Paul turns out to be Justice’s mate. But their future together is cloudy. Paul is severely damaged from his years of abuse and his abusers want their pet back. Can Justice and Paul fight their way to happiness or will Paul’s past bring them both down?
Well, here we are at book ten in the Leopard’s Spots series and I am just as conflicted about this series as I was at book one, perhaps even more so. To reach the tenth book in a series is sort of a benchmark for an author, an occasion to bring various plot strands together and move the entire series forward with new vigor, purpose, and cohesion. And I wish I could report that sort of growth happened here with Justice but it didn’t. There are so many missed opportunities here, so much jumbled nonsense, and quite frankly irresponsible writing, that it is hard to know where to start.
Just the title alone starts the book off in a misleading fashion. The book is called Justice but it really should be called Paul as it revolves around Paul Hardy, twin brother to Preston Hardy, Nischal’s mate in book nine. Justice almost serves as a secondary character here and the book suffers from that element.
Then the trajectory of the book really goes askew with the character of Paul and the author’s treatment of his traumatized state. Back history for a moment. Paul was captured two years ago in Nischal, Leopard’s Spots #9, by human slave traders and sold to a pack of wolf shifters keeping humans as pets. For two unrelenting years, Paul was tortured in every way possible, including being sexually abused through gang rapes and being raped by the shifters in wolf form. Paul was tortured mentally, emotionally, and physically until he was broken so throughly that he could not even look his brother in the eyes or raise his head when rescued. The author supplies us with all these facts and much more, although thankfully no explicit scenes of torture. No, the reader gets flashbacks, nightmares, and stories about his numerous scars to help cobble together a picture of his time with his torturers. Bradford wants us to believe in Paul’s traumatized state and at the beginning we do.
When we first meet Paul, he is having multiple, desperate sexual encounters while feeling nothing. He is acting without consideration of his own safety and physical well being, trying to see if he can get himself killed without actually having to do the job himself. His actions are understandable and the compassion the reader feels for this character is well grounded in reality. Then he meets Justice and Viv and all that flies out the door. Why? Because of mates and sex, the bandaid of bandaids. Sigh.
Apparently with Justice, he wants to have sex with a shifter, lots of it (although to be fair, it is mentioned that Justice being a snow leopard shifter instead of a wolf makes some difference). Not only that, but Paul has five therapy sessions, yes only five, with Viv, who just graduated and got her license and he’s soooooo much better. No mention is made of a new therapist having the experience to deal with someone as traumatized as Paul. Nope, he just improves rapidly. Not 100 percent, as he still has flashbacks and nightmares, but nothing so substantial as to immobilize him. Now balance that picture against the one that the author built up for Paul in captivity. It just doesn’t match up. If the author wants the reader to buy in on Paul’s past and the horrors he endured then there is a reasonable expectation on the reader’s part that his recovery would be just as slow, hard, and realistic to deal with all the things that were done to him and that he was forced to do.
But that doesn’t happen. Instead Bradford uses the mating urge to slap a bandage over the pain and scars left by the experience. It’s slapdash and insufficient, believe me. Shortcuts rarely work in fiction, and this one certainly doesn’t. Instead I felt shortchanged by being denied the satisfaction of seeing Paul slowly work through the horrendous events and traumas of the past two years. That just isn’t a missed step, that a whole Marianna Trench!
And this type of plot device and jumbled narrative happens over and over again. A wolf shifter named Cliff pops up like some vengeful enforcer but does his thing “off stage” as it were. Totally unsatisfying too. His captors come after Paul again and Justice acts with such unbelievable stupidity for someone whose character was portrayed as a Marine for 10 years and then a cop, that I almost thought that Bradford had shifted the story over to a parody. Totally lacking in any authenticity, watching Justice in action was similar to watching those actors run into spooky houses on Scary Movie.
And after all this nonsense, the author ends it with a cryptic message and not much else. Trust me when I say my head hurts from banging it against the wall in frustration over this story, series, and author. So much promise is thrown away so casually and repeatedly over a series of ten books that it boggles my mind. And still I want to know where this series is going and how much worse is it going to get.
How to balance an author who gets the reader to commit to believing in a character’s degradation and two year ordeal only to see that author then negate that commitment by not treating it seriously? And all within a framework of ideas that remain compelling and new? I just don’t know. As I said, I am conflicted over this series and author and so I am not even going to say whether I will recommend this or not. I will leave it up to you. But if you continue on as I will, get yourself prepared to encounter all sorts of frustrations and puzzling events and characters. This is a wild grab bag of story elements and I never know what will appear. Consider yourself informed.
Note: This book will be released on October 4th from Total-E-Bound Publishing.