moonrise academy: the headmaster coverRating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel


Toby is a student at Moonrise Academy, a college for shifters. As an omega, Toby deals with his monthly heats in the school infirmary. Usually it is a low-key experience where he does homework and hangs out, but this time, something goes wrong. Toby has no memory of his heat, but he apparently was shifting uncontrollably and fighting to be let out of the room. After meeting with a doctor, Toby learns he is a rare souperomega, and the condition will cause highly intense heats, uncontrollable shifting, and potentially heats that are sudden onset in times of stress. All Toby wants to do is fit in and focus on school, so he isn’t thrilled about the idea that there is something different about him, especially this incredibly rare condition about which little is known.

Julian Tett is the interim headmaster at Moonrise Academy and a former student. He loves everything about his job and hopes to make it permanent. Julian takes his position seriously and when he learns that there is a student who had a problematic heat, he is sure to take the time to meet Toby and offer to help however he can. Julian understands Toby’s desire to keep quiet about his condition; Julian too hides his own secret. When he was a younger man, he was shot while in wolf form and while his human side is still healthy, his back legs don’t work as a wolf. It is hard for Julian to no longer be able to run in wolf form and he now mostly avoids shifting at all.

As Julian continues to reach out to Toby for help and support, a friendship and connection grows between them. Julian finds himself unexpectedly protective over Toby, even more so than is typical with his students. And Toby finds Julian comforting and someone he can trust as he deals with his new diagnosis. But Toby’s health situation is complicated, as it is so rare that the doctors are just learning how to best treat him. And as he faces the stress of unwanted advances by another student, he comes to rely on Julian even more for support. The men start to fall for one another, realizing that there is something real growing between them. But with Julian the school’s headmaster, their relationship could lead to him losing the job he loves. However, Toby and Julian have fallen hard for each other and they are prepared to do whatever it takes to be together.

Moonrise Academy: The Headmaster is the first book in Wendy Rathbone’s new Academy Shifters series. This is an omegaverse world with both shifting and mpreg, and one with basic equality among the different types of wolves. Rathbone does a nice job developing these characters and giving us a chance to get to know them separately before they even get together. Julian is dedicated, hard working, and cares about his students. He gives them a little room to be college kids, but he is also protective enough to take care of them. When he hears about Toby, Julian is genuinely concerned and willing to help out however he can. And while there is a spark there, Julian is focused on his professional role early on, not a romantic or sexual one. For his part, Toby is also a hard worker and very focused on school. He also feels a spark with Julian and finds him attractive, but again, the story takes time to develop both the characters and their friendship before moving to more.

I did appreciate this character development, but I do think it takes a while for things to really get going between them. Some of the set up feels overlong and unnecessary. For example, there is a long scene where we see Julian walking the halls of the school, keeping an eye on things. I know it is to show his dedication to taking care of the students, but I am not sure we needed to follow him up and down hallways, in and out of rooms, for this whole section when nothing actually occurs on his walk. So I think things could have moved forward a little faster. In contrast, the two main conflicts — Julian potentially losing his job and the aftermath of Toby’s assault — get wrapped up so quickly as to barely get any attention. In fact, one of these is resolved completely off page. It felt like the pacing was a little off, with so much set up (more than half the book) and then the resolution to the two major conflicts happening so quickly.

I really enjoyed Toby and Julian together and Rathbone gives us some nice parallels between them. We see that both men have insecurities about their health — Julian that he can’t walk in wolf form and Toby about his new condition. They also both want to keep it a secret, worried for anyone else to know. So we get some nice moments where they both finally feel a sense of acceptance from one another that allows them more confidence in themselves. I also really appreciated that it is clear from the start that Julian sees Toby (and all his students) as an adult. While there is an age gap here (Julian is in his early 30s) and the teacher/student dynamic becomes a problem for them when their relationship develops, there is not ever a sense that this is an adult/child dynamic, nor that Julian ever sees Toby as anything other than an adult.

As I mentioned, there is an attempted rape, as well as several scenes where Toby blames himself (or at least questions himself) about whether he is at fault for any of these unwanted advances. Toby keeps worrying that maybe he has done something to lead this student on, that he is sending the wrong signals. When he gets his diagnosis, Toby fears that perhaps his body going into heats or reacting more strongly is causing the problem. It gets worked out and Toby comes to realize that he is not at fault, but be aware if these are sensitive issues for you, particularly the idea of Toby blaming himself for the advances and attempted assault.

Despite some heavier moments, I found this one a fun omegaverse story with a really charming couple in Toby and Julian. They are so sweet together and just a really appealing pair. The series seems like it will focus on the school and we meet a lot of side characters who would be great potential for future stories. I am looking forward to seeing where Rathbone takes the series.

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