huntsman coverRating: 3.75 stars
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Length: Novel

Fox shifter, Liam Reynard, was tipped off just in the nick of time that a Huntsman was after him. The man was sent by Liam’s ex to kill him, but fortunately, Liam got away before he was found. With nowhere to turn, Liam heads north to the town of Fox Hollow. He has recently received a job offer from a friend and mentor to take over as the town librarian. With nowhere else to turn, Liam takes off, hoping to stay ahead of the Huntsman.

When Liam arrives on the outskirts of town, car trouble leaves him in the need of a tow. He is rescued by wolf shifter, Russ Lowe, and one touch between them makes it clear the men are fated mates. But Liam is wary of getting involved after his cheating ex has tried to have him killed. And Russ is still grieving the loss of his husband from two years ago. Neither man thinks this is the best time for a relationship, yet the attraction and the mate bond is strong.

As Liam and Russ start getting to know one another better, the feelings they have for each other continue to grow. But troublesome things are happening in Fox Hollow, including mysterious fires and disappearances. Liam is concerned it is all connected to the man who is after him, and he is determined to do whatever it takes to stop him before it is too late.

Huntsman is the first book in Morgan Brice’s Fox Hollow Zodiac series. I have enjoyed the author’s romantic suspense and urban fantasy stories, so I was interested to check out her foray into the shifter world. One area where Brice always excels is in developing her settings. Brice’s books have a wonderful sense of place, whether it is real or fictional. She gives such detail and really manages to capture the essence of a location and build it richly into her books. That is the case here as well, both with the larger region of the Adirondack Mountains, as well as with the town of Fox Hollow itself. I will say that the town is pretty much perfectly idyllic in the way that many romance-land small towns tend to be. The people are warm and welcoming, and the town is adorable with a vast array of businesses that meet every need, and with seemingly never ending financial resources courtesy of the local Fox Institute. It is a little over-the-top perfect, but still, I think Brice does a nice job developing the town and it seems like it should be a fun setting for the series.

I like overall Brice has an entertaining take on shifters here. I enjoy shifter worlds that feature a wide array of animals, and Brice includes that here. I particularly liked seeing Liam in his fox form and the bits of how his internal fox plays into his build and personality. The shifter world building isn’t breaking a lot new ground here, but it comes together well, particularly if you are a fan of fated mates. The other supernatural element is with the Fox Institute, a group of educators and researchers into psychics, mediums, and the like. We do meet some folks from the Institute, but aside from seeming to fund everything in town, this side of the world building is somewhat undeveloped. We never really see anyone use their abilities and the fact that all these folks are here in town doesn’t really come into play at all in the story. However, this is the first in a series, so perhaps more will be integrated in future books. I also noted that the series name is Fox Hall Zodiac, and there are few places where passing mention is made of Liam and Russ’ zodiac signs and their compatibility. But given it is part of the series title, I was kind of expecting to see it featured here more directly.

On the relationship end, this story is a fated mates trope, so Liam and Russ fall for each other pretty hard and fast. As the book begins, we hear how each man is not interested in a relationship, but that falls by the wayside pretty quickly as the men meet and start acting on their attraction. This is a sweet and sexy and relatively low angst relationship and I liked both men together. There is a fated mates element here, as I mentioned, so the men have a definite immediate connection. They do both take some time to think about what they want, so they aren’t just blindly following the mating instinct, though the move from interested to being in love does happen pretty quickly.

The narrative here relies a lot on characters’ internal monologue. At times, it felt like too much to me in that it left me feeling like I was being told a lot of information, rather than seeing it develop. I wanted to have this information unfold within the story, rather than just told to me through the characters’ thoughts. In addition to the internal monologue, there is also a lot of internal dialog between Russ and Liam and their respective shifters. The concept of the shifter self having a sort of separate mental identity is fairly common in paranormal romance, so this in itself wasn’t an issue for me. But here it is almost like two separate personalities and I found it just too much at times. Just as an example, here is Liam waking from a hot dream:

I’ve got to get a grip. I think I’m losing my mind.

His fox swished its red, bushy tail, impatiently. No, we’ve found our mate.

Fated mates are only in romance books.

Amber eyes narrowed, unamused. He is our mate. His scent is unmistakable. Not like that other one.

Liam sighed. I was wrong not to listen to you.

That tail swish could have outdone the flick of a feather boa from every drag queen on every runway in the world. I tried to tell you, darling. You wouldn’t listen. But what do I know? I’m only your wildly intuitive other half.

Dramatic much?

The fox smiled at him, baring the tips of his fangs and a bit of his pink tongue. Always. Might as well add cunning and wily—we’re going to need it with a huntsman after this beautiful tail.

No one is getting your tail.

Maybe not mine, but you can give yours up to that gorgeous wolf any time, his fox replied, with an expression Liam could only consider a leer. He might be a wolf, but he’s a total silver fox.

Liam sighed in exasperation. He’s only a few years older than I am. Ever heard of premature gray?

Or as I call it, “hello, Daddy.”

You’re incorrigible.

Oh sweetie, I encourage a lot. We could do worse than having a wolf watching our back. No one is going to come through him to get to us. We’d be safe.

Liam cringed, admitting that the same calculation had crossed his very-human mind. Russ is a good guy. I’m not going to use him for protection. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.

I deserve to be a kept fox. I have expensive tastes. Raw rabbit disturbs my digestion.

I am not looking to be a “kept” anything. Give me a little breathing room. I need to figure things out.

That tail swished again, eloquent without words. Fated matings are never wrong. You picked the last few boyfriends, and how did that work out? But what do I know…

With that, his fox flounced off to the corners of his mind, but the glint in his amber eyes made it clear he relished having the last word.

I think this is a “your mileage may vary” situation, as many readers may find these interactions cute, but for some reason it just didn’t totally work for me.

One last note here is that the conflict in the story rests on Liam’s ex hiring the Huntsman to kill him. The only backstory we really get is that Kelson was cheating on Liam and then decided to hire a hitman after they broke up. I really needed more development or backstory here on this plotline, as even awful exes rarely resort to murder. This type of response seemed way too over the top (particularly since Liam, not Kelson, was the hurt party in the relationship) to just drop it here with no further explanation. I wanted to better understand what was going on with Kelson and why he would want to have Liam killed. So as it was, this part just didn’t really come together for me.

Overall, I found this one an entertaining read. The story is a little lighter and sweeter than some of the books of Brice’s I have read, so that may appeal to readers looking for a bit more fluffy fated mates type book. I think the setting is really well developed and Brice has laid a nice foundation for the future of the series with Fox Hollow.

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