Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
As a member of the FBI’s Demon Investigation Department, or DID, Kane has his work cut out for him. For one thing, he’s constantly under the microscope for being of the same ilk the department is meant to investigate: inter-dimensional demons. For another, none of his partners to date have been up to scratch. Kane made an informed decision to remain on Earth instead of traveling back to his home dimension, but that doesn’t mean he has to like the crap he has to put up with. And Kane fears he’s about to go through it all again when his commanding officer informs him that he’s getting a brand-new, just-graduated partner.
Al Barker has spent his whole young life working towards earning a spot on the DID team. Now that he’s graduated, Al finally gets his chance to prove he is a partner worthy of a man like Kane. From the get-go, Al stands up to bigots and makes it clear he is neither intimidated nor put off by Kane’s ability to shift into a wolf-like creature. That unwavering faith in his partner is a good thing when Al and Kane get called out on their first big assignment. Other shifters like Kane are hunting humans and doing so largely to taunt Kane for his decision to join DID and hunt his own kind. When these rogue shifters manage to take Al as hostage, the whole truth about Al and Kane’s past will come out…but will it be enough to save them?
Hellhound Bound riffs off the fated mates trope and features a near-future dystopian setting. Kane makes a point of explaining he’s not actually a wolf shifter or biblical demon, but rather a being from another dimension. That said, the prose overall falls back on what I interpret as familiar contemporary concepts associated with mainstream werewolf lore: shifting at will, being generally canine like, packs oriented around an alpha, mental links to others in said pack, etc. If that’s your bag, buckle up, because those are the tenants upon which this sci-fi/shifter world is built. For me, using werewolf-shifter concepts in this way made Kane’s inter-dimensional origins seem a bit superfluous. Still, the werewolf analogy was an expedient way to illustrate and reinforce the stratified social groups of “human” and “not human” and social structures within the shifter community as well.
Although this is a short story, I liked how Paige explains and reinforces a major event in Kane’s past: years ago, he attacked his own kind in order to save a defenseless human child. I also liked that the ultimate fate of that child gets addressed relatively quickly in the book because it allowed me to enjoy Kane engaging with the characters with the full knowledge of what had become of the kid. It just gave the story a bit of depth and the characters a bit of history that dovetailed well with the main plot points of the book.
Another main plot point of the book is the romance that develops between Kane and Al. At first blush, Kane comes off as gruff and imposing. He’s definitely got a chip on his shoulder because of the ceaseless barrage of bigotry he endures, despite his oath to protect humans from demons like him—though he has learned to pick his battles in order to keep his job. His inner “wolf” characteristics later morph into what I feel is pretty standard “alpha” attitude when Al is concerned. Specifically, when Kane realizes he’s falling for Al, he also realizes that there is nothing he wouldn’t do for Al, no matter how powerful the opponent. Interestingly, the plot explicitly requires Kane not to be a true alpha. Thus, it was fun to see how Kane’s being a born and bred beta played out when an enemy demon/wolf appeared and was a true alpha. Al was also a refreshing change from the dewy, doe-eyed ingenue. Despite his model-good looks, he actually came across as self-assured and confident. And there are multiple scenes where Al lays the verbal smack-down on people for being bigoted. He was a lot more fun and headstrong than I expected.
The pacing of the story and the amount of stuff going in therein was very well matched to the length of the book. As noted above, there is a bit of depth added by bringing in a major event from Kane’s past. But aside from that, we get a quick introduction to Kane and Al when they are first partnered before moving onto the main arc of the story. The details felt more like broad strokes with respect to how the FBI and other government agencies are organized and interact with each other in this dystopian future, but it was structured enough and detailed enough (and echoed my layperson’s understanding of chain-of-command and that type of stuff) to satisfy my expectations regarding procedural/military themes. It also added to the drama/juxtaposition of doing the right thing versus doing the smart thing, especially when it’s Kane (the ostracized one) trying to help maximize his skillset and a commanding officer pulling rank to hamstring Kane (because of toxic human male masculinity).
Overall, this was a pretty neat and tidy fated-lovers type book. If you like shifter stories, law enforcement stories, themes of overcoming (or at least standing up to) bigotry, then I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this book. It’s also pretty short and well organized, so if you just want a quick little m/m get together story, this feels like a low time-commitment read.
Note: Hellhound Bound has been released previously under a different publisher (in 2017 under the title Beast of a Time).