Story Rating: 2.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: John Solo
Length: 5 hours, 29 minutes
For the past few years, Titos has been living on the run, always dancing one step ahead of the Trackers and Hunters who have been sent to kill him, and doing his best to keep humans from discovering what he is. Or, rather, what he isn’t. With a human father and an inhuman mother, Titos is something — and someone — no one wants around. His own aunt, the woman who has raised him all his life, is willing to present his head to her Queen in order to gain favor. His own cousin is one of the Hunters now chasing him through the woods.
If it wasn’t for the impressively large stranger who intercedes, rescuing him from the Hunters, Titos would be dead. Instead, he’s staring up into the bluest eyes he’s ever seen, fighting hard to believe the words the stranger — Seth — is telling him. Seth tells Titos that he’s wanted, that he’s precious and worthy of protection, that he’s loved. Seth wants to belong to Titos, and is willing to do whatever it takes to win his heart and keep him safe. But Seth isn’t the only Keeper who is drawn to Seth. So are Mazki, Adom, and Kail…
In this world the paranormals, called edoli, are an interesting combination of shifter and vampire, but only some of them have ‘beasts inside them’ that allow them to take the animal shape, and even then only when they’re bound to a more powerful King or Queen. Kings and Queens bond to their Keepers, Hunters, and Trackers by the exchange of blood … only Titos can’t do that, because he can’t drink blood. Instead, he drinks souls, which makes him a boogyman to the edoli. If other Kings and Queens knew, they’d have him killed on sight. Not that they don’t already want him dead. As the names of the edoli indicate, Trackers have the ability to track and Hunters hunt. Seth, Adom, Mazki, and Kail are, or are going to be, Titos’ Keepers. Their animal selves shall be released, their magic and strength increased, and they will give their lives to protect him. They’re not forced to love him or to have sex with him. That’s just the cherry on top of the cake.
Titos feels like more an archetype than a person. He’s innocent and kind, and while he’s virginal and shy, once he realizes that sex with Seth is a thing that can happen, he’s all for it. And then with the next fated mate, and the next, and the next, until all he can think about is how often he wants and needs to touch his Keepers, to hold them, to be near them, and how perfect they are.
So, to the men. Seth, the first to find Titos, the most powerful and the alpha of their group, is a rather id driven force of nature. He’s strong, aggressive when he needs to be, gentle when he needs to be, and unused to human ways of speaking or thinking. (Until he needs to be.) His beast is an ice manticore wolf, which, combined with the second Keeper being a phoenix, hints at a greater mythology than just wolves and panthers. Each Keeper has some small quirk that separates him from the others, but they each treat Titos as though he’s a precious being in need of constant comfort and protection. And there’s a lot of time talking about and thinking about sex.
For all the world building, this story is mostly focused on the erotic elements. It wasn’t until a third of the way into the book that I knew Titos’ race drank blood. It wasn’t until halfway that the book stopped for an exposition, which was so very, very clumsy. Character A explains to Character B about something (“A hunter does X, a tracker does Y”) only to have Character B repeat it right back almost verbatim. A character would think “we should be careful not to involve the humans” only for another character to say, out loud, “we shouldn’t involve the humans.” Even the erotic elements were more talked about. “I want to do this super sexy thing to you,” and described in graphic detail, but when it came time for the sex to happen … Titos would be walking through a mindscape of a snowy wood to find a phoenix, or stopping to pet an ice manticore wolf in a cave. It was just jumbled and confusing. I appreciated that there is obviously a great deal of effort put into the intricate world building, it just didn’t come out smoothly or understandably. The pacing was all over the place, and the characters, especially the Keepers, never really had a set personality so much as each one had a task or what seemed like a plot-dictated emotion. So, overall, this just didn’t work for me on any level.
As I mentioned above, I listened to the audio book and, while John Solo does a great job with it, I hated listening to this book. Once the characters had their bond, the telepathy came into play and it just grated on my nerves like sandpaper. It was like having a play read to me, complete with stage directions, interspersed with the story itself, only to go back into the stage play. For a clumsy example: Seth: “conversation”, Titos: “conversation”, Seth: “response”, and so on and so forth for long, long minutes of exposition. I like Solo’s voice, I like much of his work. But not even he could save this book for me.