off the beaten pathRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

Years ago, a super soldier experiment designed to create men with wolf-like abilities went wrong, instead creating people who turned into wolves. The government, fearful of these wolf shifters, divided them up and put them in packs that remain hidden away and kept separate from everyone else. When Ward Johansen’s young daughter, Ava, unexpectedly turned into a werewolf, the government swept her up and took her away, sending her to one of the packs and telling Ward he would never see her again. But Ward refused to accept that, and now he has finally tracked down the pack where Ava is living and he is determined to remain with his daughter.

Henry Dormer is the reluctant Alpha of the La Garita pack. Reluctant because part of being an Alpha is the requirement to be used by the government for their most dangerous military activities. Henry hates the death and the killing, but he refuses to subject anyone else in his pack to the job, so he keeps on as Alpha. Henry has just completed his latest horrific assignment when he returns home to find Ward having been taken in by Henry’s sister. It is illegal for humans to be on pack lands; in fact, there is no way Ward should even have known where the pack is located. This will undoubtably lead to trouble for all of them. But Henry agrees to let Ward stay for the sake of Ava, who has been dangerously unable to shift back to human form. Henry hopes with Ward there, they can help cajole the young wolf to learn to shift.

As Henry and Ward get to know one another, an attraction between them grows. Something about Ward helps to ease Henry, bringing him peace that he seldom feels. And Ward finds himself so drawn to the strong, caring Alpha, the man who puts everyone else ahead of himself. But even as the men are growing to care for one another, there is still trouble to face. Ava must learn to shift before she passes the point of no return. And the men must deal with Henry’s boss who seeks to punish him for a perceived military failure, as well as dangerous pack politics and more. But if the men can survive all the challenges, they just may find a future together.

Off the Beaten Path was a really engaging shifter story, all the more noteworthy for being like nothing I have ever read in this subgenre. It is so hard in the shifter world to create something totally unique, and Cari Z has done it so well here. The world building is quite well done, and there is an almost post-apocalyptic feel to the world as these wolves live hidden away and isolated from everyone. They have hard lives, with small packs that must survive on what the government gives them and what they allow. The government controls their lives and uses their Alphas as weapons. Not only is it a really engaging take on shifters, but it allows us to see so clearly what kind of man Henry is. He gave up his life to lead his pack, and even though the burden is incredibly heavy, he continues on because he can’t bear the thought of anyone else having to do it. He loves his pack and he always puts them first, even as he grows increasingly weary and overwhelmed by his job.

You can’t help but love Henry, and Ward is a great match for him. Ward is stubborn and strong willed and from the start, refuses to be intimidated by Henry. Ward has dedicated his life to getting his daughter back, and upon finding her, is willing to give up everything to stay with her. To live as a human with a wolf pack means leaving behind his entire life, and he does so willingly. I love the mix of vulnerability and strength in Ward, with his love and dedication toward Ava combined with his ability to stand up for what he wants and needs. Ward gives such strength to Henry, provides him with a partner that can help him weather whatever comes their way. Ward’s steady presence and unflappability are just what Henry needs to ground him, and I loved these guys together.

The story opens with Ward just arriving at the pack lands, jumping in after Ava was taken and his search to find her. I think this is a great approach, as it immediately brings the crisis into focus and jump starts the action. This isn’t a suspense story, but there is a lot for the guys to deal with and Cari Z nicely balances the relationship development with the world building and the obstacles that that guys face. There are some engaging side characters, and the pack politics and how they play out add a lot to the story.

I am not sure if this is to be a series, but there is a lot here that would lend itself to more books, and I would definitely be interested in reading more. I think Cari Z has done a great job here with a really unique take on shifters and an engaging story. This is one I can definitely recommend.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

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