Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Chris Chambers
Length: 6 hours, 53 minutes
Nate’s father was a terrible, horrible, no-good warlock, and Nate finds himself painted with the same brush, now that his father is dead. People seem to think that, just like dear old dad, Nate wants to do nothing more than gain as much power as fast as possible, with no care for who he hurts, like Jordan — a werewolf cousin of the Armitage pack who was Nate’s … well, fuck buddy — who ended up dead. There wasn’t any proof, mostly because Nate didn’t do it, but that doesn’t stop people from being certain Nate had something to do with it.
Never mind that Nate has no control over his power, because his father used him as a magical battery, enslaving Nate to him with a spell and draining him dry over and over and over. The best thing his dad ever did for Nate was die. When a rival pack’s shaman casts a mate bonding spell on Nate, it triggers two things: the need to get the hell away from the people hurting him, and flashbacks to what his father did to him. Unfortunately, this spell is the real thing, meant to bind Nate to an alpha werewolf as his mate … or die.
Nate isn’t one for dying.
There’s more than one werewolf pack in the woods, though, and Nate drags himself, cursed and dying, to the Armitage pack lands to beg Matthew, pack alpha, to help him. He needs an alpha mate or he’ll die. But Matthew won’t take Nate, which shouldn’t hurt as much as it does, because Nate knew Matthew probably wouldn’t. Instead, the alpha offers up Ian, his brother. A man who hates Nate almost as much as Nate hates himself, most mornings.
Isn’t life wonderful?
Nate is a wonderfully written, unreliable narrator. Unreliable in the extreme. He’s lived all of his life as as slave, his magic taken from him against his will again and again and again. He’s powerful, he knows that, but he’s never had any training because his father didn’t need him to, or trust him to. And now that his dad’s gone, no one will touch Nate with a ten-foot pole. He fell into bed with Jordan because he wanted a relationship, not a string of one night stands, but Jordan used him, dumped him, and then died. Needless to say, Nate’s pride and self esteem have taken so many hits, it’s a wonder they still exist.
Nate’s lonely, he’s hurt, and he finds himself begging people for help. He’s pretty sure they’ll help, even if they don’t like him, because they’re the good guys and when Matthew offers up Ian as Nate’s salvation … he takes it. He has no choice. He never has. Fortunately, Ian isn’t entirely reprehensible. He’s quick to anger, easy to provoke, and passionate, and as much as he seems to hate Nate, he’s still gentle when it counts. He’s as considerate as he can be for their first mating, trying to make sure Nate enjoys it, and tries to help him through the pain of the knotting. When Ian realizes Nate isn’t going to enjoy their first time — the draining of his magic leaves him unable to gain an erection, and the fact that he’s dying through much of it puts a damper on things — he does his best to at least make it quick.
Because the story is told through Nate’s eyes and, as I said, he’s super unreliable, this is a story in two parts. Nate’s part, which is opinionated and — though in parts deservedly so — self-pitying. When he isn’t castigating himself, he’s picking at Ian, trying to get a reaction out of him because, while he can’t control what Ian thinks of him, he can at least control when and how angry Ian gets at him. Nate can deal with anger; he’s had it from Ian all his life.
Then there’s the second, more subtle part of the story: the reading between the lines to see what’s really happening around Nate’s inward focused camera. Watching Ian, Matthew, and all the others through their actions and words, stripped bare of Nate’s helpful color commentary, you see the shadows of why Ian acts the way he does and the slow respect Nate gains. Nate goes from wanting Matthew to help him to bitching (in his head) at Matthew for how he treats Ian with absolutely no self-awareness. And that’s the part of the story that worked for me. I’m not saying I like Nate as a person, but as a character? Absolutely.
However, Nate’s entire life has been one where he isn’t given a choice. His father takes away his personhood, repeatedly taking Nate’s magic away from him without his consent, leaving him with panic attacks. His ex-boyfriend used him and then threw him away. He is kidnapped and cursed, forced to find a mate against his will, forced to have sex with Ian against his will, and in their first encounter is physically incapable of either arousal or orgasm. Everything is done to Nate. He has very little freedom of choice, very little autonomy, and it’s something that — for some readers — may be a deal breaker.
However, the plot didn’t quite work for me. It felt like there were three stories here, pieced together, and none of them really gelled for me. The story of Ian and Nate (and Matthew and Jordan and the pack politics) gets hijacked by a lengthy visit from a vampire and his ‘magic ninja’ friend, and while they were interesting as characters, they felt like they needed their own book. And the plot twist didn’t feel supported by the story, itself. Characters came out of nowhere with no setup or foreshadowing and rather than ramping up tension or adding to the plot, it felt like they brought everything to a stop.
Because this book launches the Mismatched Mates series, it’s introducing characters and plots for a following book which, in my opinion, really did a disservice to the second half of this one. I had wondered if, due to the way this book started — halfway into some major events in Nate’s life, such as numerous attempts to kill his father, the death of his father, the relationship with Jordan, the breakup and his death — if there was a side series or companion books that should have been read first. But I don’t think so.
The entirety of this book is salvaged only and entirely because of Nate as a character, his flaws and his personality, which were delivered beautifully by narrator Chris Chambers. He plays up the dry, wry humor, the hysteria and panic, and especially the vulnerability so very well that I couldn’t help but be drawn into Nate’s journey, even as I picked apart the story. This is another book that I think is best experienced through the audiobook. If you’re into very voice-y characters, growly werewolves, and a kitchen sink approach to world building, you might enjoy this book.