Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars

Narrator: Michael Fell
Length: 10 hours, 15 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Dr. Linden Grove has been assured most of his life that as an alpha wolf, he’s pretty useless. He’s a doctor when shifters don’t need them; he’s thoughtful, practical, and almost pacifist by nature instead of the typical violent, fighting alpha. Basically, Linden is everything a pack leader is not. Content to quietly tend to the pack elderly, oversee the care of a young omega with the Condition, and never wanting nor expecting to lead the pack, Linden is perfectly fine with this assessment. Unfortunately, when the neighboring Reid pack kidnaps a Grove pack member and the rescue ends in tragedy, quite of few pack members look to Linden to lead, and having listened to his pack mates’ extreme dislike of the other alpha positioning himself to be leader, Linden reluctantly agrees to toss his hat into the political ring.

When reporter Colt Doherty receives permission to visit the Grove pack, he jumps at the opportunity. Having been trying for months to connect with rural packs that seem to be managing the Condition better than urban packs, the invitation couldn’t come at a better time. As the only omega child of the only wolf Senator in Congress and having only alpha siblings, Colt needs a break from his father’s constant demands, perpetual disappointment, and his alpha-heavy family’s suffocating, condescending alphaness. Expecting to write a simple story about some hick pack’s “weird traditions and backwards habits,” he’s surprised to find a pack in mourning and upheaval and the most progressive alpha he’s ever met.

Between the death of the pack leader; distress over his kidnapped friend and pack mate, Brook; and trying to figure out how to deal with the Reid pack, Linden is less than pleased (and a bit distrustful) to have a reporter in the middle of pack business, but soon learns that Colt is as compassionate as he is handsome and delicious smelling. For Colt, the uptight doctor with a love of sweater vests and wariness from the pack will not deter him from getting his story (and possibly another juicy scoop). Instead of finding a town full of backwards yokels, Colt finds a vibrant, warm community of (mostly) forward-thinking people whose omegas are simply equal pack members (not commodities), and despite himself, Colt feels more at home within this small, rural town (and in the arms of the swoony town doc) than he ever has with his own family. But with Colt’s life being back in D.C., their reluctance to admit to one another what they want, continued danger from the Reids, and pressure from Colt’s family, Linden and Colt’s rosy, apple-picking dreams may be squashed if the two can’t learn to trust in themselves and their own worthiness enough to overcome the obstacles in their way.

Black Moon is the first book in the Wolf Moon Rising series co-written by Sam Burns and W.M. Fawkes. The series opener has a distracting combination of both solid and flimsy world building and development, but is still an overall good listen. I’ll be honest, the story and Colt had to grow on me. In Colt’s own words, he’s sharp and difficult, and he comes across as the arrogant, presumptuous, city slicker who hopes to benefit from a rural pack’s success with omega care while simultaneously doubtful he can learn anything from primitive, countrified rubes. Despite being snarky, opinionated, and a bit defensive and judgy, Colt’s a good person whose outer confidence is more hollow than he realizes. ‘Finding your inner worth’ is the main obstacle for both MCs (and unexpectedly the main plot point), the difference being that Linden is fully aware of his lack of self-assurance, while Colt comes slowly to the realization.

Linden lacks faith in himself in all areas of his life, even his worth as a physician. What’s endearing about him is that even as he questions his value and abilities, he’s still willing to push himself outside his comfort zone and improve any way he can. Colt’s awareness comes from moments of realization as he interacts with members of the Grove pack and “facts” about his uselessness that pop into his mind. Despite his lifelong attempts to prove his independence, capability, and value to his family, Colt has internalized the garbage alphas spout about omegas. As a couple, Linden’s almost painfully formal manner and Colt’s straightforward, yet teasing way with Linden make them adorable and oddly well-matched. Their individual growth and unexpected romance is the strongest aspect of the story, especially since there are several plot lines introduced that have less weight/development than I expected. Even the ever-present danger of the Reid pack turns out to be less tornado and more stiff breeze. And I know blurbs are meant to sell books, but “To save the day, sheltered Colt has to drop the politics and become the action hero he never thought an omega could be” is a bit much considering Colt isn’t sheltered, he DEFINITELY doesn’t drop politics, and if he’s an action hero then every person who’s done some self defense should be qualified to scream “Yippy-ki-ay” while running along the outside of Nakatomi Plaza.

While I appreciate the in-depth look at the MCs, trauma, and the many lovely personality traits of important secondary characters, the lack of follow through on plot points and/or presenting them as important when they’re more like background noise are examples of inconsistencies in the narratives that are also found in the world building. Black Moon takes place in an America where wolf shifters came out of hiding decades ago, and for twenty years, omega populations have been afflicted by a degenerative, often fatal disease known as the Condition, which seems to strike during times of hormonal imbalances/physically taxing times such as puberty, pregnancy, and childbirth. No one seems to know its etiology (origin or continuing cause) or how to cure it, although rural packs have larger numbers of healthy omegas, as well as ones living with the Condition. I love a good medical mystery, so I was disappointed that the only known medically trained shifter has done nothing but treat the disease. Until Colt’s arrival, it doesn’t seem to cross Linden’s mind to begin research into the condition or try to establish some connection with other packs. This is particularly odd to me as effects of the Condition are what motivated Linden to become a doctor and Linden apparently takes great pains to document every aspect of an affected pack mate’s treatment.

While unraveling the Condition is a great set-up for Colt’s arrival and an overarching series arc, the incongruity between what is and isn’t the same in the human world highlights the world building elements I find mismatched. For example, a shifter holds an office as high up as U.S. Senator and the story gives the impression that there are other wolves (some out as shifters, some not) involved in government, but there is no human or wolf governing body and law enforcement “leaves wolf problems to the wolves.” Considering the founder of the Grove pack came from a rich, landed family who upheld the same societal markers as humans, such as status, wealth, and primogeniture-based succession, having no centralized group or even a local council/loose alpha affiliation or something doesn’t fit with the other details to me. While I like Fawkes and Burns’ attempt to portray more modern cultural elements and how modern shifters struggle with urges from their wolves that don’t bow to progressive thinking or logic, I think creating specific details without comparable general ones weakens the story.

However, Michael Fell’s performance as narrator helped keep me engaged. His voice for Colt is spot on and manages to convey all the character’s sass, vulnerability, and fire. Linden’s voice is also well-matched to the character, but Fell doesn’t always take advantage of the opportunities first person POV gives in my opinion. Having access to the character’s inner thoughts usually provides a layer of distinction between how the character is perceived and who they are. Linden is perceived as somewhat remote and uptight, but has very strong feelings and reactions to situations that are muted when Fell continues to use Linden’s contemplative and distanced tone even when the narrative shows Linden isn’t holding back and/or is deeply affected. This isn’t overly disruptive; what is though are the weirdly placed and/or too long pauses. Generally, overly long pauses are present when a narrator’s pace too slow. But, the pacing here is fine; there’s just pauses in dialogue or between connected/related sentences that are as long as those between paragraph and some as long as section breaks. It’s the first time I had to speed up a book because the pause lengths made the sentences disjointed. However, I found that at around 1.6-1.8x speed, the pauses are much less noticeable and the quality of the character voices and performance are not distorted, allowing Fells’s engaging and enjoyable narration to take center stage.

Overall, I think Black Moon is an entertaining introduction to an interesting shifter world and culture that I think many readers of paranormal will enjoy, and that the quality of Fell’s portrayal of the Grove pack and Colt in particular can obscure that particular production issue (especially for listeners who don’t mind higher narration speeds).