Aodhan Donne has dedicated his life to his his chocolaterie, Little Star. He works long hours and keeps mostly to himself, but he can’t help but delight each week when Thomas Wilson comes by the shop at lunch. The men only have a casual friendship that comes from the two years of weekly visits, but something about Thomas just thrills Aodhan. He is starting to realize that he may be interested in Thomas, but as a demisexual, it takes a long time for Aodhan to feel and recognize his attraction to others, and he fears that it is too late for things to move beyond friendship with Thomas.
Thomas runs a local museum on the shifter history of Western Australia, and he too is mostly married to his job. After getting out of an a verbally abusive relationship with an omega, Thomas has been wary about getting involved again. But he can’t deny his heart beats a little faster around Aodhan.
When Aodhan mentions that his grandfather is a national hero to shifters, one of those who led the fight for shifter rights years ago, Thomas is thrilled to find Aodhan’s family has a trove of archives that would be wonderful for the museum. It also gives the men a chance to spend more time together, and for each to recognize that there could be something more between them. But both Thomas and Aodhan have to take things very slowly. Each man has a past that looms large on who they are today, and neither is ready to move quickly, whether it be emotionally or sexually. The men are slow and careful with one another, and soon are beginning to develop real feelings for each other. But Aodhan has spent years keeping secrets about his past, and he hasn’t been comfortable sharing his burdens with others. Now he has to figure out if he is ready to be open with Thomas and rely on the man he has come to love for the support he truly needs.
The Gentle Wolf is the second book in the Perth Shifters series by Pia Foxhall. While Aodhan shows up in Blackwood, and Coll and Braden appear a couple of times here, these stories do stand alone quite well and this works fine as a standalone. This is a really interesting series for me as it reads as almost a combination of a traditional paranormal shifter story and an omegaverse world. Here we have wolves with packs and who shift. The wolves came out to the world a generation ago and fought for their rights among humans. At the same time, this is an omegaverse world with alphas/betas/omegas, where the males do go into heat, but there is no mpreg. So it is an unusual genre blend that I think works really well. The world building is nicely developed and the way shifters and their history are integrated really adds nice depth to the series. I also really like how Foxhall incorporates so much of the setting and culture of Western Australia in the books. The series very much has a sense of place, particularly in Blackwood, as well as a clear recognition of the significance and contributions of the native people of Australia.
While the first book isn’t light and fluffy, this story definitely has a heavier and more intense tone as we see both Aodhan and Thomas struggle with moving forward in the wake of their pasts. We learn early on about Thomas’ relationship with an omega who was emotionally demanding and abusive. He made Thomas question himself, his worth, and his decisions. Thomas has mostly come out the other side, but he is still wary of relationships and worries about trusting someone else after that experience. So Thomas needs to take things slowly and get his footing with Aodhan. For Aodhan’s part, he has a lot going on. He has an incredibly painful past that he has never really confronted and he mostly wants to push aside. (I’ll put this under the spoiler warning so readers who may have sensitivities can get more information:) Aodhan has been trained to keep a good public front, not to share his burdens but to instead pretend things are always fine. And while Thomas can see that they are clearly not, Aodhan has no framework at all for how to share his feelings with someone else or how to ease his burden by opening up to others. On top of that, Aodhan is demisexual and it takes him a lot of time to recognize the attraction he feels to someone. He has very limited sexual experience and, when he begins to feel an attraction for Thomas, he still needs to take things slow. The title here is Gentle Wolf and it is very apt, as there is a sweetness here, a sense of tenderness between the men, and an almost a naive awakening for Aodhan. So this story is a very slow burn, both sexually and romantically, and it takes a long time before things really move forward beyond a sweet and lovely friendship between the guys, and a few kisses and gentle touches.
While I actually very much enjoyed the slow, tender, and very sweet relationship between the men, I did find that things moved a little too slowly from a larger plot end for me. This is a fairly long book and there was a lot of time in the middle where things sort of stagnate as Thomas tries to talk to Aodhan and Aodhan shuts down. I felt like the situation just stalled a little, and we covered the same issues multiple times before things went forward. We also delve a lot into the story of one of Aodhan’s friends, Hunter (who Blackwood readers may remember as the gallery owner who displays Braden’s work). He was an interesting side character, but I found we went into a lot of detail about him and his story in what is already a long book. I am wondering if Foxhall is setting him up for his own book, and I would LOVE to read more about him because his story is fascinating, but I did find it a lot here in this book.
I’ll also mention that for my food porn fans, I loved reading about Aodhan’s chocolate shop and all the things he creates. It is a nice touch and both Aodhan’s job as a chocolate maker and Thomas’ owning the museum are built nicely into the story.
This book wasn’t quite as big a hit for me as the first one, but I still think this is a really engaging series. Foxhall has a style that is really different than other shifter/omegaverse books I read and the sense of place and the more serious tone of the books works so well. I am very much enjoying this series and looking forward to more.