Waking up alone, naked, and abandoned, Ansgar cannot help but wonder what sort of testing he’s undergoing. Is he supposed to go along with the strange wolf shifter who offers to help him? Is he supposed to wait for the Scientist to tell him what to do? But the snow is cold and he’s conditioned to obey, so when Ben orders him to follow, Ansgar does.
For Ben, finding a naked man next to the abandoned bread factory wasn’t on his list of things to do that night. But when he found the strange shifter, he had no choice but to help. After all, the tall man –the tall, naked and handsome man! — is his mate. What else can he do but take him home?
All of Ansgar’s life he’s been raised in a facility, experimented on, tortured, lied to, and isolated. Brought to the Scientist as a child — kidnapped or abandoned by uncaring parents, he doesn’t know — it’s the only life he’s ever known. The only kind touch he ever had, the only kind words were from Mother Love, a woman as beaten down by the Scientist as he was, himself. When Ben discovers that Ansgar has been held captive by a mysterious individual calling himself the Scientist, he discovers there’s a lot more he can do. He can call for the Convocation to discover the truth behind Ansgar’s kidnapping and ask them to do something about the madman experimenting on shifters.
This story was simplistic, straight-forward, boring, and bad. I was insulted by the climax — such as it was — and offended by the paper-thin characters, the supposed antagonist, by all of it, truth be told.
Our two main characters are Ben the bland and Ansgar the blank slate. To sum up Ben in a sentence: He has an apartment and a job. What his job is, though, I have no idea. We’re never told. All Ben does is listlessly feel sorry for Ansgar. Ansgar has an excuse to have a limited personality; instead he has none. He’s flat, uninteresting, and for someone who’s been institutionalized all his life, he seems well-adjusted. There’s a token effort to deal with the idea of Stockholm syndrome, but that condition involves emotional bonds to be formed, which Ansgar isn’t capable of and is, to be honest, somewhat uncommon. Less than 10% of victims (according to the FBI Hostage Database) actually show evidence of Stockholm.
The Scientist himself is a dud as an antagonist. As a shifter who can’t shift he is — I think? — trying to figure out what makes shifters tick in an effort to… do something. Ansgar is only one shifter of many he’s had at his command, but other than giving Ansgar electroshock, the occasional beating, and making him stay in a white room, he doesn’t seem to do much studying or experimenting. One could argue that he makes Ansgar ‘forget’ what happens through some magical potion, but I think that’s just a Checkov’s gun. I’ll get to that in a moment. The Scientist is evil because he’s evil, which makes him a weak villain. More than that, he’s… rather aimless. He wants Ansgar to sleep with a female shifter for… reasons? Maybe he’s a voyeur? But when Ansgar decides women aren’t for him, it’s off to the beating chamber.
That scene had no purpose. Was it just to show that the Scientist was evil? If so, that’s a clumsy way to go about it. If it was just to establish that Ansgar is gay, isn’t that more or less covered by having he and Ben hook up? Was it in an effort to breed baby shifters? If so, wouldn’t artificial insemination work better? It didn’t have an explanation, didn’t have a purpose and didn’t work.
Mother Love, the Scientist’s mother who favored Ansgar, also lacked a concrete point of view. Why was she there? If her purpose was to be an emotional mother figure for Ansgar then why didn’t he care when she died? Was she showing him movies and reading him books for her own amusement, because she felt sorry for him, or in an effort to help him become a hard-working member of society? She was going to help him escape her son eventually — hinting at it when he was younger but not getting him out until he was older. What was it about that day that was special? What about the other shifters? So many unanswered questions about everything.
Making the reader question a character’s motives can be a good thing. It helps tie them to the book, makes them care about what happens next, if only to see if they’re right. When the characters have the personality of paper dolls, the plot has to pick up the slack. But when the plot is so simple and so simplified, it makes for tedious reading.
Oh, but we’re not done yet! The “climax” of the book. To set the scene, Ben and Ansgar have come across the Scientist. Ben is peeved, Ansgar is placid, and the Scientist seems confused as he heads into his monologue. Time passes. So much chatter with no one doing anything until the Scientist brings out a syringe of the magic potion and Ben decides to take action. He charges the man threatening his mate, the man who has tortured and kept captive Ansgar, who doesn’t seem able to really fight.
This next part I am putting behind a spoiler tag because it reveals what happens during the fight, as well the ending of the book.[spoiler]Ben kills the Scientist. Finally, something happens that will have actual consequences! Ben has killed someone and he feels a bit upset, he worries about what will happen, what Ansgar will think of him… and then the author does the most insulting thing and takes it all away. Remember the Checkov’s gun, the magic “forget everything” potion? Both Ben and Ansgar use it to forget what just happened. They’re informed by a friend that the Scientist is found dead, and so is Mother Love. Ho hum, happily ever after, the end.[/spoiler]
A straight-forward plot is okay. Bland, boring characters make a book unreadable for me, but different people find different characters interesting. I can still have a good impression of a story even with characters I don’t like. World building is my favorite part of a book, but not all books have to build an entire world just for my amusement. All of these issues are personal ones, and a book can still enjoyed even without them. But the ending of this book [spoiler]– the amnesia potion — [/spoiler]was an insult to any reader who opened this book. The characters took a critical action and the author just wiped it away. Then why write it? Why make me read it? Presley took away any hope of growth for the characters and any trust I, the reader, had in the author. I will never recommend this book and will take any future works from this author with strong reservations.