Braden Payne is a nature photographer on a shoot deep in the remote woods of western Australia. When his truck breaks down, leaving him stranded with a storm coming, things are bad enough. But when Braden realizes he is almost out of his heat suppressants and pheromones that make him smell like a beta, he knows he is in big trouble. Without his medicine, not only will it be clear Braden is an omega, but his heat will come on while he is all alone and vulnerable to any alpha who comes along. Braden had a bad experience with a violent alpha in the past and he has suppressed his heats for 10 years; the idea of being at someone else’s mercy terrifies him.
Coll MacDubhar is an alpha who works protecting the Blackwood forest from illegal loggers and generally keeps an eye on the woods. When he discovers Braden, at first Coll assume the man is just a foolish tourist who has gotten in over his head. But it is soon clear that not only is Braden terrified, he is also in serious trouble as his heat is imminent and they are hours away from a hospital or medical care. Coll has no choice but to take Braden back to his cabin to ride out the heat in as much comfort as Coll can provide. Coll’s alpha side longs to help take care of Braden, but clearly the man is traumatized and incredibly scared of being vulnerable in front of an alpha, so Coll treads as lightly as possible, trying to give Braden support, while also making clear he is not a threat.
When Braden’s heat subsides, that should be the end of the relationship between the men. He is healthy enough to travel and his truck is fixed and it’s time for Braden to return to his home in Perth. But the men have forged a connection, one neither of them is ready to break, and so they decide to continue to explore a relationship. However, Braden’s past is resurfacing and old threats are coming back into his life. Just as it seems Coll and Braden may be able to make things work between them, Braden’s life is in danger. Now the men must figure out if they can put the past behind them in order to move forward together.
Blackwood is the first book in Pia Foxhall’s new Perth Shifters series and it grabbed my attention from the very start as we see poor Braden stranded in the woods facing a dire situation. This is an interesting, somewhat genre bending story that has well-developed world building. I would say it is sort of a cross between a traditional shifter book and an omegaverse story. The story takes place in a contemporary world where shifters have made their presence known and they now live alongside humans. Wolves live in packs and there are both male and female shifters. So in that way, there is a lot of the general shifter genre here, but there are also some significant omegaverse elements. The most prominent aspects are the alpha/beta/omega dynamics and the fact that omegas go into heat (however, there is no mpreg in this story, nor in this world in general from what I can tell). So I think Foxhall has pulled together some interesting elements from both genres and combined them in some clever ways.
One of the things I think a well done omegaverse story can provide is an exploration of real world gender dynamics through the lens of the fantasy world of the story. In Blackwood, Foxhall really succeeds in that area. One of the major plot elements is the abuse Braden faced in his past as the result of a cruel alpha who took advantage of Braden’s lack of understanding of wolf dynamics. It has left him feeling scared and vulnerable, particularly as the laws favor alphas and the government doesn’t really understand wolf dynamics enough to properly punish alphas who become abusive. There is a lot of excusing violent behavior under the guise of biology and the suggestion that alphas can’t help themselves when confronted with omega temptation. We also meet several characters who are criticized and judged for not fitting into traditional alpha/beta/omega molds, for being different than their “wolf gender” (for lack of a better term) suggests they should be. So I think Foxhall really does a nice job here adding some depth and thought-provoking elements to the story.
On the romance end, I really loved Coll and Braden together. I appreciated that while he is an omega, Braden has a lot of strength and independence of his own. Coll is there to support him and show him tenderness and love, but he also respects Braden’s independence and autonomy. There is a nice balance between Coll helping to care for Braden, while also giving Braden the respect and agency he deserves. Some may find Coll a bit too good to be true; he’s a hot, Scottish, redheaded lumberjack who is also sweet, caring, nurturing, and supportive. But I think it works here. Braden is dealing with a lot of issues from his past and he needs a partner who is steady and caring and who can help him see that there is more to an alpha/omega relationship than what he has experienced in the past. Coll is pretty much dreamy in all ways and I just loved them together. The relationship develops in a way that feels quite natural. The men take time to get to know one another and build a solid connection, but there is also a warm, dreamy sense to the way things grow between them.
My only small issue here is that I was a little confused on some of the bigger picture world building. We are told that the wolves came out to humans years back and live openly, but we don’t get much detail on that. There are also some references to the fact that Coll comes from a long line of wolves, while Braden’s family has some sort of shifter magic and honestly, I can’t even really explain it because I didn’t understand this part at all. It wasn’t a major problem as these things are just mentioned in passing, but I did wish for some more clarity here.
This story is just the start of the series and we meet some characters here who seem likely to be featured in their own books. I am really looking forward to exploring more in this world as I think Foxhall has a great style and has built a lot of depth into the story. So this was a great start and a nice introduction to this author for me and I am definitely looking forward to more.