hero coverRating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novel

Jazz Whitten has been on the run for years. His wealthy father was never interested in Jazz and made his dislike clear. Jazz left home, never being one to stay here he is not wanted. But lately, his dad seems to want him back, and has sent a steady stream of hired thugs to track Jazz down. Jazz has managed to stay ahead the men who are after him, particularly with his magical abilities at sleight of hand, allowing him to create small illusions. But this latest team of mercenaries is far more skilled than the others and eluding them is much harder than in the past. It doesn’t help that Jazz finds himself hot for Knox, the leader of the group. But he knows he shouldn’t let his defenses down, no matter how attractive the man may be.

Knox and his team are a group of alpha wolves whose entire pack was killed. The men have made it their mission to find out what happened to their pack, and if that means taking some less than savory jobs for the money, they are willing. The payout for bringing Jazz back to his father will go a long way to helping their investigation. While Jazz has proven much harder to catch than they imagined, the men are eventually able to capture him. But Knox can tell something is off about Jazz’s father and, until he can figure out what is up, he is not turning Jazz over. Instead, they bring him to the rundown hotel where they live, the former Royal Paynes resort.

Being with Knox all day makes Jazz’s attraction to the man continue to flare. As it becomes increasingly clear that Knox isn’t going to hurt him, as well as that Knox wants him in return, Jazz is ready to explore those feelings. Yet even as Jazz finds himself accepted as part of the pack, and things begin to grow more serious with Knox, everything isn’t smooth sailing. Knox and his men are hitting roadblocks with their investigation into their pack’s murder. Jazz’s father is not letting go in his attempts to track him down. And Jazz and Knox find that their relationship brings them more than either man had planned.

Hero is the first book in Kiki Burrelli’s new Wolves of Royal Payne series. I enjoy omegaverse stories, and the blurb for this grabbed my attention due to the mercenary and investigation angles. They are not themes that you usually find in this type of story, so I was interested in to see what Burrelli would bring to the omegaverse world. I think, overall, this book has some interesting elements and a unique spin on the omegaverse. But I also found that there is a lot going on and there are many things that didn’t feel sufficiently developed and explored.

The book starts with some excitement as Jazz is on the run with Knox and his men after him. We see Jazz use his magical abilities to evade capture and there is some fun energy here as the guys face off against one another. However, things were a bit rocky for me, as well. On one hand, Jazz is very clear he doesn’t want to go back to his father and is fearful for what will happen to him if captured. He also notes that if he were given a few words to describe Knox, they would be “scary and terrifying.” Yet at the same time, when he encounters Knox, all Jazz can seem to think of is getting in his pants. I understood that this story would inevitably have the prisoner fall for the captor, but those early moments where they are only adversaries, it was frustrating to see Jazz seem so much more focused on how hot Knox was than actually escaping. He also seemed to inexplicably have so much knowledge of Knox and the men, noting at one point that “Knox wasn’t a surface-level kind of guy. He was the type of man that would burrow under your skin and wrap himself around your bones.” How would Jazz possibly know that from only interacting with Knox as the mercenary trying to capture him?

Once the guys end up at the hotel, this issue settled for me as Knox and Jazz get to know one another and fall for each other. At this point, there are a lot of different plot threads happening, including Knox and Jazz’s developing relationship, the threat from Jazz’s dad, and Knox’s team’s investigation into their murdered pack. On top of that, there is a random woman, Hallie, who they meet and befriend (and who’s purpose in the story never really felt totally clear to me), as well as a surprise pregnancy for Jazz. I think the relationship end works the best here, and once things get going with the men, this part develops well. Knox is, at times, annoyingly overprotective, but Jazz doesn’t seem to really mind. But this is a long story and, for much of the book, they are all just hanging around the hotel and not much happens. Eventually, toward the end of the book, things heat up and somewhat coalesce with these various plot threads. But so much time is spent with not much happening as the guys research or hang out. The beginning and end both have excitement, but the middle would have benefited from a lot of tightening up.

I think the main issue I had with the story is that the set up for the world building is so interesting, but it is never really adequately developed and, at times, portrayed so unbelievably. For example, Jazz has no idea that shifters even exist, yet he somehow just guesses that Knox and the team are all shifters based on some barely there information. Even more unbelievably, they tell Hallie they are shifters, as well as that Jazz has just had a baby through some magical means no one really understands, and she has zero reaction. I also wondered how Knox’s group suddenly transitions from Jazz as captive to Jazz as member of the pack. Even if Knox is sleeping with him, aren’t the rest upset that they aren’t getting their desperately needed money? Even if they all changed their minds about getting their payout, I wanted to at least see this discussed or acknowledged. But instead, it is like the story just moves on and ignores the whole subject. In addition, random things seem to happen with little explanation or without being clearly tied to the world building. I can’t mention specifics without giving too much away, but Jazz’s pregnancy, what they learn about him in the aftermath, and other plot twists seem to be just thrown out there without explaining them at all. You just need to accept everything at face value, instead of the author developing the story to incorporate these elements.

In addition, this book connects with Burrelli’s Wolves of Walker County series and they both exist in the same larger universe. In the blurb, the author states that though the series are connected, they don’t need to be read together. But I will say that I don’t feel like that is the case and I found myself quite confused at a number of points, particularly before I realized that there was another series out there (my review request didn’t mention the other series at all). Early on, Jazz mentions a friend in passing and, later, one of the other guys mentions a different friend. Then suddenly, these two men are connected to a whole group of other wolves who have some sort of powers that make them “blessed” and they can all get pregnant, and the guys are consulting with them about Jazz’s pregnancy, and somehow they tie in with an accident in Jazz’s past, and I was totally confused who all these people were all of a sudden. Even once I figured out the series shared a world, the author still assumes way too much reader knowledge about the previous books for many aspects of this story to make sense without reading the first series. If this is going to be a standalone series, these other characters and their past can’t be thrown out there with no introduction or explanation with readers just expected to understand what is happening.

So as I said, I enjoyed the story overall and thought that the plot was interesting. But there was also too much underdeveloped world building for me and too much time spent with not much happening. I think for such a long book, much more could have been developed throughout all those pages. That said, the story is engaging and I am invested in finding out what happened to Knox’s pack, so I may continue on to see where the story goes from here.

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