In 1968, the world learned of the existence of supernatural beings — mages and shifters — who lived among the humans. Since then, the Supers have become more integrated into society, but it is still an uneasy truce between them and humankind.
Louis Blackwood is a powerful mage, but he has kept it a secret all his life. He is incredibly strong and skilled and he knows if his abilities come to light, he will be feared at best and locked away at worst. However, when Louis is attacked, he must defend himself any way he can, even if that means giving away his secret.
Lucas Lopes is a shifter and a professor at New York Supernatural University. He is well respected for his research about shifters and well loved by his students. But Lucas is harboring his own secret.
Both men are recruited by a covert organization known as SINS—the Supernatural Institute of National Security. SINS helps to protect the well being of Supers and they are forming an elite team of recruits to train for a critical assignment. Louis and Lucas clash almost immediately, however, and the early months of their training are filled with the two men feuding. But once they finally move past their animosity, the men realize they are a prefect pair and begin falling for each other. However, someone is making trouble for their team and if they get their way, the men could lose their lives before things between them really get a chance to grow.
Ok, so I am going to be honest here and say that this book was very nearly a DNF for me. I had problems right from the start with the writing style that made it very difficult to get into the story and the early portions were a real struggle. I pushed through to the 25% mark (our minimum threshold for a DNF) and by then things had smoothed out a little (or maybe I got used to it) and I was far enough into the story that I decided to continue on. But I had some definite issues here that affected my enjoyment.
So first off, the positive. I think the Louise Czarnobai has done some nice world building here with her take on mages and shifters integrating into the human world. The mages were particularly interesting and I enjoyed seeing the different types and how they worked. The set up to the story is clever in the way that she depicts both Louis and Lucas in their own lives and then brings them together as part of the team. And I liked the ensemble cast and the way they were integrated into the story. But other than that, I had a lot of struggles here.
There were several aspects of the writing that I found really problematic. My biggest complaint is that there is just so much telling versus showing. Everything is just laid out and told to us — what people are thinking and feeling and doing — rather than actually seeing the action. We get a lot of “as you know” type sentences with heavy exposition and things are often repeated multiple times. I know this concept of “telling versus showing” may seem like nitpicking, but it just takes away all layering and subtlety to the story and makes the writing feel so much more simplistic when there is no nuance and everything is just dropped there in front of the reader. Along with this, the characters are constantly psychoanalyzing each other, explaining to each other (and the reader) exactly what another character is thinking or feeling — which again just tells us rather than showing it through the character development or the actions people take.
The story is also told in third person, present tense, which is very unusual and I found it incredibly jarring early on until I got more used to it. This was probably my biggest issue initially with the writing. This style often gives the narration a heavier hand, as it sounds like someone external to the story is describing the events, ie “Lucas walks down the street” or “Louis enters the room.” When combined with all the telling versus showing, it left me feeling like I was so removed from the story and just watching the action and being told what is going on, rather than really being a part of it.
As the story continued, I got used to this style and that did help. But I also had issues with Louis and Lucas (starting with the fact that their names are frustratingly similar). The men are just not particularly pleasant, either individually or to each other. Louis is reserved and fearful of engaging with others, but he also is aloof and rude and makes no effort to be friendly to anyone on his new team. Lucas is arrogant and obsessed with being the best at everything. It’s not in a “strive to be all you can be” kind of way though, but in a sense of superiority over everyone and a determination to have everyone admire and appreciate him. The two of them dislike each other almost instantly and are horrible to each other right up until the moment when one apology has them suddenly friends and almost immediately falling for one another. It happens so quickly that I just never felt the chemistry between them, even once they are happy together. I’ll also note that Lucas like to bruise and bite Louis during sex to the point he gets him bloody, which is not done with any kind of explicit consent or discussion.
Based on the blurb, I was expecting some action here as these guys train to be part of an elite force in a secret organization. But I was disappointed that not much happens. The majority of the story is spent with them at their training facility, but even there the training itself is never really the focus. We see the team learn to fight and hone their supernatural skills. But we don’t learn almost anything about SIN and what they do until the very end of the story. The guys themselves have no idea what this supposedly high level team they are training for is supposed to do either as no one ever tells them. They never learn any kind of law enforcement or investigative skills, nothing that would really make them qualified for this job. There are three teachers, but no one else from SIN there (and no one else is training in this huge facility?) and no one ever tells them a thing about what their actual jobs will be. Most of the time, the focus of the story is on the interpersonal relationships among the team or between Lucas and Louis.
Toward the end of the book, the focus shifts slightly to a “suspense” plot as some of the team members disappear and the remainder suspect foul play. The way this is handled is so bizarre to me. This group is alone on this huge training facility, along with their three teachers who live in a different building. Again, the is no one from SIN there overseeing things or managing the facility or doing anything else. We are told early on that the team must order their food for weeks at a time and cook and clean themselves because no one else is at this enormous, high tech facility at all. No one has any contact with the outside world unless a delivery is being made. So this all felt like a super contrived set up by the author to get them trapped there with danger afoot. Then when the team thinks someone has kidnapped or killed a team member and they go to tell the instructor, they are told to just work it out themselves. This will be good learning experience for them. But don’t miss any training classes while they try to find the killer. What?!? Someone is missing and maybe dead and the only people in charge don’t seem to care at all. I honestly thought this was some big set up, like maybe the disappearances were faked to get the team to “solve” the crimes, but no. The only people in charge just don’t care and tell the team to solve the murder case themselves. Not that they have had a single minute of training on conducting an investigation or criminology or anything that would possibly prepare them for this (or for any mission, frankly). I found this ludicrous to be honest and it just destroyed any credibility to the storyline for me.
I could go on, as there were a host of other little things that bugged me (like the women always being called “girls” and Lucas’ rude sexual comments, or the “Straight sex makes me want to throw up” comment Louis makes), but I am not going to pile on. I just felt like this one didn’t work for me on many levels. The writing was way too much telling, the characters were hard to like, and the storyline didn’t end up living up to its potential. This is the first book in a series and I think there are some interesting directions this could go in future installments, so if you find the premise appealing this may work better for you, but I don’t think I’ll be continuing.