Kit Linfield is home to spend the holiday with his family. He knows he needs to tell them about dropping out of uni. And he should probably also talk to them about how much he dislikes shifting, how foreign and uncomfortable it seems to him, even though it is a natural part of being an eagle shifter. But Kit puts off the discussion, instead going on a flight with his family. There, horror strikes as hunters shoot his family out of the sky, wounding Kit as well. He barely makes it out alive, particularly when a forest fire ignites, but his determination to find out who hurt his family fuels him enough to make it through the fire. There he is found by a fire fighter who brings Kit to the local vet for care.
Errol Hart left Perth after his divorce from his wife. He works as a veterinarian, a job that is aided by his witch ability to speak to the animals. When someone brings in an eagle with a badly wounded wing, Errol worries that the poor bird will not be able to survive after such a bad injury, but he is determined to try. But Errol is surprised to find that he can’t talk to the eagle like he can with other animals, and he has no idea why. It is quickly clear that the eagle is not like a normal bird; it seems to understand him and the situation around him far more than it should, even though it can’t speak to Errol through his magic. Then Errol realizes that the eagle is actually a shifter, a human caught in shifted form, and not a regular bird. For some reason, the man cannot shift, but the pair do manage to find a way to communicate and Errol is horrified to learn what happened to Kit’s family.
When Kit wakes up and realizes he is caught in shifted form, he is terrified. Errol assures him that when Kit gets his strength back, he will be able to return to being a man, but Kit knows that the longer it takes, the less likely it is he will be able to change forms. Fortunately, Kit eventually manages to shift, but he now must fully face what happened to his family. The attraction Kit has to Errol also flares and the two seek comfort and passion in each other’s arms. But neither expects their connection to be more than just shared release; they also ignite the witch/familiar bond. However, neither man is looking for a relationship, let alone a lifelong partnership. Not to mention that Kit still is looking for retribution from the men who killed his family. And there may be more to the attack than either man imagined. Now Kit and Errol must work to bring justice to those who harmed Kit’s family, while also figuring out if there can be a real chance for something more between them.
The Vet’s Christmas Familiar is the fourth book in T.J. Nichols’ Familiar Mates series and a really nice addition to the group. As with all the books so far, this one stands alone very well. The books take place in a shared world where shifters and witches can be fated mates and form a witch/familiar bond. The books so far don’t overlap characters and each reads as an independent story. The cross over element is the central theme of familiar mates, as well as the Coven, the group that oversees witches. So while having read the first book, The Witch’s Familiar, does give some good background on the world building, you really can jump into any of these books in any order. (That said, we do meet a character here who is the focus of the next book, so once that comes out, those two books will have a link.)
I absolutely loved the set up here with Kit a reluctant shifter stuck in shifted form and forced to try to communicate with Errol. The beginning is pretty intense as Kit’s family is killed and there is a disturbing scene of the hunters burning his family’s bird bodies. But the story then moves to developing the connection between Kit and Errol and I found this part so interesting. At first, Errol is just confused why Kit doesn’t understand him, but he soon comes to realize that Kit is a shifter who can’t shift. Errol knows that he can’t bring Kit to the hospital, so even though he is not an animal, Errol will have to treat him. I found their interactions so much fun here as human Kit in his bird body makes very clear what he wants (like beer and bacon) and the two find ways to communicate with each other. As with snake shifter in The Rock Star’s Familiar, Nichols does a really nice job taking the animal traits and building them into person. I love nontraditional shifters and so it was fun to see Kit as an eagle shifter and the different ways he views and interacts with the world.
Once Kit is able to shift back, the focus moves to the growing connection between the men, as well as what to do about Kit’s family’s murder and these issues are the source of the two main conflicts. From a personal end, neither Kit nor Errol is looking for a relationship. They also sort of fall into being mates, the bond being what it is, and they don’t really know one another that well when it happens. I appreciated that this story doesn’t have the men immediately falling in love just because they are mates, but they need to sort out if they really have the feelings for one another to make a life-long romantic partnership, versus more of a “business” relationship. Errol is so sweet and caring and he just soothes Kit in a way he really needs. The men also share a bond of feeling like outsiders because of their magic. There is nice chemistry between them, but I do feel like the resolution happens too quickly. We are almost at the end of the book and the men are still unsure if they are ready for a romantic relationship, and then suddenly things tie up really fast. I wish we had more time to explore them together after they decided they wanted to have a go at the real thing, as well as some more time to really see them work though their decision.
The second conflict focuses on Kit’s understandable desire for justice for his family. He is devastated by their deaths, particularly given that he left things unresolved between them. He wonders if he had taken the time to talk to them as planned, if perhaps they may not have been in the wrong place, wrong time to be in the hunters’ sights. Not to mention that humans don’t know about shifters. So we have both the issue that these hunters presumably have no idea that they actually killed people, but also the fact that Kit can’t go to the police. Which creates the problem of how Kit will explain that his family has just disappeared. I think the set up here works really well and makes for a quite interesting story, but things fell apart a little for me at the resolution. The story takes an unexpected turn with regard to the hunters that felt somewhat out of left field for me. Also, Errol makes a connection between two events that tie the story together, but felt like a too convenient leap of logic and understanding for me as a reader. Things just got kind of jumbled for me in how it all played, with people’s motivations not totally clear and the resolution just felt a little fast and messy. I also was confused because Errol talks a lot about not using his power to influence animals, as he doesn’t want to take over their free will. And he gets very angry when Kit uses his magic in a way to influence the animals. But at the same time, we see Errol using his magic all the time to ask, encourage, and at times make the animals do things for him. So I am not clear where this distinction lies, but I wish that had been a bit cleaner.
Just one last note that while this book’s title includes “Christmas,” I really wouldn’t consider this a holiday story. The book does take place over Christmas time, but the holiday isn’t part of the story beyond the reason that Kit is home and there isn’t a “holiday feeling” to the book in any real way. That was no issue for me at all, but I just mention it because I was expecting a holiday story and that isn’t really the vibe I got here, so be aware if that is what you are seeking.
I continue to really enjoy this series and thought this was an interesting installment. One of my favorite aspects of these books is actually how different they all are. There is a strong thread throughout with the witch/familiar bond, but each book has a really different feel, different setting, different conflict, etc. They all have a suspense element, or at least some sort of excitement at the end, but they are all unique in a way I find a lot of fun. This story, in particular, had such an interesting set up and I love when I find books with unique storylines. I am really curious about the character we meet here who is getting his own book this spring, and I will be very much looking forward to it!