defender audio coverStory Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.75 stars

Narrator: John Solo
Length: 7 hours, 17 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Brax doesn’t have time to have PTSD. No one wants an alpha shifter to be losing control of himself and his shift, especially when his team mates need him. They need him to be strong, to take charge, and to hold them together, never mind that he’s falling apart a little more each day. Lost and presumed dead on a mission, Brax and his team did something they shouldn’t have: they formed a pack. Shifters are supposed to be reasonable, civilized people, putting the old-fashioned and tribal pack bonds behind them. But, it happened, and Brax wouldn’t change it for the world. He just has to hide it, like he’s hiding everything else.

Oliver is an omega and an advocate for his fellow omegas. In court, he uses logic and reason to argue for child support, custody battles, and the rights of omega partners and parents. Only now that his fathers are dead, something he still hasn’t internalized or dealt with, Oliver’s also in charge of Phoenix House, a foster home of sorts for unwanted omega children. He never wanted to take over his father’s pet project, but he can’t just say no and leave the three boys at the house with no one to take charge.

Brax, taking over his father’s private medical practice now that he’s living the civilian life, is the only doctor who will come to Phoenix House when a child is ill, bringing him face to face with Oliver. But it’s when Brax asks for his payment — for Oliver to serve as an advocate for Duke, his packmate and fellow alpha whose mate ran off with their son — that the two men have the chance to sit and talk and to realize there may just be something between them. But Brax can’t trust himself and won’t risk hurting Oliver, a decision that may cost both he and Oliver their chance at happiness.

Omegaverse, for those unfamiliar, is a world where people typically fall into one of several genetic castes: alpha, beta, and omega. This book, though, takes a fairly subtle approach. Brax and four of teammates are all alphas, but Brax was chosen — or chose himself — to take the responsibility and emotional duties of pack Alpha. He makes the decisions, he makes the rules, and he’s the one who tries his best to keep them all going. He wasn’t always this way; when they were lost, and became a pack for self-preservation during a mission gone wrong, it was someone else who held that role. But he died, and Brax is still mourning. The grief, the trauma, the anger, and the guilt eat at him and keep him from finding peace. He can’t even trust himself to shift without wrapping himself in chains and hiding in the basement. Until Oliver.

Oliver’s fathers were loving and devoted parents, but they wanted Oliver to be the perfect omega. He had to be three times the man any other omega could ever be. He had to be smarter, calmer, better spoken, more successful, more aware of what he was and what his role was in society … and it chafed. He never had the chance to gain closure, having been estranged from his fathers even at the time of their death. He has his own guilt and his own grief, but in the face of Brax’s despair, Oliver puts it all aside. He knows the two of them are compatible, and he’s willing to give it a try. To stay with Brax while he shifts, to help ground him and claim him and hopefully help Brax find himself in the process.

The two become friends, finding a kindred soul in the other man. Both suffer from the loss of people who meant the world to them, suffer from all the words never said, all the anger with no focus, and both of them have chosen to take the grief of other people on their own shoulders. There’s no great explosion of chemistry, no firestorm of lust and emotion. Instead, their relationship is more like a bowl of chicken noodle soup on a cold day. It’s comforting, it’s familiar, and when that’s what you want and that’s what you crave, it hits the spot like nothing else. However, it can also leave you wanting more.

There is so much in this book that I enjoyed. I appreciated the author’s approach to omegas and alphas, and to the history of a race of people who shifted, whose tribal past was comprised of packs, and why and how they were carefully cultivated out of modern society. There’s a brief mention fo hate crimes based on someone’s ABO status — which hints at a greater world, at bigotry and tension without hitting you over the head with it. The fact that Oliver is an omega advocate and initially pushed for Brax to find an alpha advocate for his friend hints at a court system where one’s status and rights may well be affected by how you are born. There’s a lot to like here.

However, rather than a grand romance or a steamy rush of lust, this book felt more like Oliver and Brax were already an established couple. That’s not a bad thing, but it took a bit of the zing out of the story, for me. Listening to the audio book, narrated by John Solo, was likewise calming and familiar. (In part because I’ve listened to several of Solo’s books and he has a very balanced and pleasant voice and delivery.) The characters, through his interpretation, are so soft spoken, so reasoned and rational that even the scenes that might have led to a more emotional outburst of misunderstanding or anger came across as bemused and patient.

The book ends with a clear set up for the second story in the series and I confess, I’m already hooked. Solo does an amazing job with Oliver and Brax, and I urge you to give the audio a listen if you’re considering picking up these books.

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