Rating: 4.75 stars
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Vy Aleknos is a hawk shifter and the leader of his ket of hawks. Vy may be small but he is strong, fierce, and determined to take care of his ket. When Vy meets Robert Cimino, he is thrilled to realize the man is his mate. Not only is Robert male (something Vy worried would not be the case), but he is a gorgeous, sexy, bear shifter as well.
When Vy meets Robert, the sexual connection between the two men is immediate. Vy knows it is because they are fated mates. But he is shocked to learn that Robert doesn’t recognize Vy as his mate. In fact, Robert doesn’t ever shift, too afraid of the power and strength in his enormous bear form.
The two men turn out to be incredibly compatible. As strong as Vy is when leading his ket, he craves someone else taking control sexually, and he has enough trust in Robert to show that side of him. And Robert adores his prickly little bird shifter, loves the combination of strength and leadership with the willingness to be comforted and cared for. But Vy is so incredibly connected to his animal side. He craves mating and joining with Robert, not just as a man, but as a shifter, and he is wary that Robert doesn’t feel that mate bond. But Robert has no interest in being in touch with his animal side, and doesn’t understand why their bond as mates is as important as their connection as men. The men are falling hard for one another, and seem to be a perfect match, but they must find a way to reconcile their relationship both as men and as shifters for things to work between them.
So I am a huge fan of both of these authors and when I heard they had a joint book coming out I was beyond excited (and I am sure I am not alone). And I am thrilled to say I absolutely loved Control. It is beautifully written with so many elements that worked perfectly for me.
So first off, I am a big fan of nontraditional shifter stories. I enjoy a good wolf story as much as the next girl, but I really love reading about other kinds of shifters that we see less often. First, I think it gives the authors a chance to really explore world building in a different way. Different animals organize themselves and behave differently and so there is room for so much creativity in these kinds of books. I also love to see how authors explore incorporating the different animal natures into the characters’ human forms. And in both cases with Control, the authors really do an amazing job. The world building is wonderful, and we get lots of detail on Vy’s ket, his role as leader, and the way the birds group together and interact with one another. I also love the way the men’s animal natures are done so well. Whether it is Robert’s love of nesting and cuddling, or Vy’s pleasure at flying and almost literal ruffled feathers when he gets worked up, we really get a nice sense of the animals within these men.
The story is called Control, and that theme runs throughout the book but is very strong in two main areas. One concerns Robert and his inner bear. Robert is huge in his bear form, around 7 feet tall and over 700 pounds. Something in Robert’s past has taught him to be wary of the bear inside of him, and he keeps it totally locked away, never shifting. That goes against his nature, and Robert fights against his instincts to shift, having to learn breathing and relaxation techniques to keep his control and stay a man.
This denial of Robert’s bear side is hard for Vy to understand because he is so in touch with his inner animal. Vy’s hawk is such a large part of him, and he can’t imagine how Robert can live only as a man. It also leads to the major conflict between the men, as Vy’s hawk recognizes Robert as his mate, but Robert doesn’t connect with his bear in the same way since he never shifts. So while he is falling for Vy as a man, he doesn’t have that mate instinct that Vy feels. I loved the way the authors explore this dynamic, as mating bonds are such a key element in most shifter stories. Here we see the contrast in the relationship between the two men, who fall for each other due to their mutual attraction, their emotional connection, and their compatible personalities. For Robert that is enough; he doesn’t understand why fate and mate bonds need to be involved at all. But for Vy the mate instinct is very strong. His inner bird needs to bond with his mate and it is hard to have that part of him unfulfilled. I thought this was a really interesting dynamic and one that is well explored here.
The second major element of control here in the book is the relationship dynamic between Robert and Vy. When they first meet, it is clear how much of Vy’s focus is on being the kuar, or leader, of his ket of hawks. In fact, he mentions it often when asserting his authority or control. Vy is a small man, though quite powerful and strong. But he has a need to assert his leadership, to show his strength and capability for leading the ket. It is important for him not to look weak so his hawks can trust he can care for them and guide them. But there is also a part of Vy that craves being cared for, and even controlled. He has never before been able to show that side with anyone, never bottomed, never submitted to anyone. With Robert as his mate, Vy has a level of trust he has never had with others, and he is willing to show that side of himself. He let’s Robert take control and care for him, both sexually and personally. I love the way we see Vy finally be able to let go, to not always have to be the strong leader and open himself up to Robert in such an intimate way. It is really lovely and can I just say, wow are these guys hot in the bedroom together. Like crazy hot.
I loved pretty much everything about this story, but there was one small issue that kept it from being a 5-star read. There are a few times when one scene ends and we start the next with a jump in time. Then the story back tracks to tell us what happened in the time gap. I found this to be a little confusing, as I’d start reading and feel like I missed something important, and then we go back and fill in the blanks. I am not sure the reason for not telling the story linearly, but I wasn’t fond of it. A similar issue impacts the ending conflict as something happens we don’t see and then we are told about it in hindsight. So this is a very small quibble but it kept me from being 100% satisfied.
That said, this book was really a winner for me in every other way. I loved the world these authors created and the wonderful way they portray the shifters. I found Robert and Vy such a great match for each other, one big and gentle and the other feisty and small. The two men are so different, but somehow they find comfort and strength in each other in such a lovely way. The story is romantic and sexy and really engaging. I just loved Control and very highly recommend it.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.