Wren is the top beta of the Sezary pack, and brother to the alpha, Drew. Sezary follows the True Call philosophy, where members focus on their wolf natures rather than their human sides. As such, Sezary is a pack where the alpha rules all and Wren has learned to be dedicated to his brother and the pack. If that sometimes means taking Drew’s abuse, that is just part of his role.
When a new pack takes over neighboring territory, Wren knows it is going to be trouble as Drew doesn’t take well to any threats to his authority. The new Corwin pack alpha, Gideon, proposes a mating to bind the two packs and avoid fighting, and suddenly Wren finds himself paired with the female Corwin beta and himself now a part of the Corwin pack. The fact that he is not attracted to women, and also is incredibly drawn to Gideon, doesn’t make it any easier. But Wren takes his responsibility seriously and agrees to become part of the Corwin pack. There he learns how different life is with an alpha like Gideon, one who genuinely cares for his pack. Wren is also comfortable for the first time admitting he is gay, as well as that he doesn’t agree with the True Call beliefs.
While life is much better overall at Corwin, things are still complicated. First off, Gideon has told Wren not to worry about his upcoming mating, but he hasn’t explained exactly what is to happen. The mating is what will help secure the relationship between the packs, but Wren feels only desire for Gideon, something Gideon seems to return. Added to that, Drew is not willing to go along with the peace agreement and wants Wren instead to kill Gideon so Drew can take over his pack. Wren definitely doesn’t want to hurt the man he is growing to care so deeply about, but Drew is threatening Petey, a young Sezary omega, with harm if Wren doesn’t do his bidding. On top of all of that, it is clear that Gideon has a larger plan, one he isn’t sharing with Wren. With all the secrets and manipulation, it seems an impossible path for Wren and Gideon, but the men are falling hard for one another and just might find a way to make it work.
I enjoyed Tricia Owens’ take on the shifter world in this paranormal story. There is a nice tone here, slightly dark and intense, that I think worked well for the book. The story gets twisty as everyone has hidden motives and I think it plays well into the tone of the book. I also thought the True Call concept made for some interesting world building. Wren is used to Drew’s leadership and philosophy, and while he doesn’t fully agree with the way Drew runs the pack, he also has been reared to be a loyal beta and support Drew regardless. It isn’t until he has spent time with the Corwin pack that Wren realizes others view Sezary as essentially a cult, and that there are leaders like Gideon who take a very different approach. The world building isn’t fully developed here, but I think the basics are nicely covered, especially showing the contrast between the two packs.
As I said, the plot here gets twisty, both for the good and the bad. I enjoyed that things aren’t totally as they seem on multiple fronts, and there is a mystery element that carries through the story that is interesting. It ends up pulling the book together nicely in the end. However, I also found the hidden motives often made the story hard to fully settle into for me, because so much is hidden from the reader in terms of the characters’ plans and motivations. While that can sometimes make the story more compelling as the reader learns what is really going on, for me it felt somewhat disjointed and made it difficult for me to really understand the characters and their goals. In Gideon’s case, in particular, we know that he has larger plans that he isn’t sharing with anyone (including the reader) and I had trouble telling if he was being a “good guy” or not because everything was left so unclear. Even at the end of the book, I never really understood which of his motives were selfish and which were altruistic, which isn’t what I really want from a romantic hero.
In terms of the relationship, I did like Wren and Gideon together. Wren isn’t out until he gets to Corwin and has very limited sexual experience. There is a sort of a dominant vibe to their interactions that I enjoyed and the attraction between them is clear. The two fall for each other almost despite themselves, as both men know that there are complicated maneuvers going on and their being a couple makes things problematic. The romance has sort of an instalove vibe here, though there is a nod to a fated mates idea, as well. I struggled here somewhat in that these guys are basically lying to and manipulating each other right up until the very end. Even when they ultimately compete their mating bond, each man is doing so not only because of their attraction for one another, but also because mating benefits all the various maneuvering and scheming they are both doing. So it did take away from the relationship building for me to a degree here that these guys, even up to the end, were not being honest with one another and were doing a lot of manipulating each other.
Still, I found this one a compelling story that kept me engaged from the start. This is my first book by Tricia Owens and I enjoyed her writing style and the tone of the book. If you are a fan of shifters and don’t mind a little ambiguity in your heroes, this one is worth checking out.