At age 17, Vash was given as a tribute to a rival pack in penance for his brother’s actions. Vash’s brother killed the twin of the rival pack heir and Vash’s life was forfeited to him as a result. Vash has spent the past eight years under Corvaiz Arculi’s complete control. The man regulates everything that Vash does, every move he makes. Vash has no freedom over his own life, and must follow every rule and abide by every decision Corvaiz makes. He lives like a shell of a man, eking out an empty existence with a man who hates him and knowing that any steps out of line will lead to punishment. Vash’s only respite is when Corvaiz allows him the occasional night out of the house.
Calen is a teacher at Moonrise Academy and attends a fancy holiday party with his friend and school headmaster, Julian. When he meets Vash, sparks fly between the two of them, but Vash ends up having to leave in a hurry. Calen reaches out to Vash, but hears nothing for weeks on end. But when Vash gets back in touch wanting to meet, Calen can’t give up the chance to see him again. The men have stolen moments, but there is so much Vash can’t and won’t discuss. He only makes clear that his time is not his own, and as much as Vash likes Calen, he has no control over when — or if — they will see each other again.
Vash knows he is tempting fate by getting even a little involved with Calen. If Corvaiz even gets a hint that Vash has feelings for Calen, it will be a disaster. Corvaiz wants complete control over Vash and that certainly doesn’t allow for Vash to fall in love. But despite knowing it a dangerous idea, Vash can’t help but act on his feelings for Calen. For his part, Calen knows something has a hold over Vash, but he has fallen too hard to step away now. But with Corvaiz having total control over Vash’s life, finding a way for him to be with Calen for good will be nearly impossible.
Moonrise Academy: The Mysterious Boyfriend is the second book in Wendy Rathbone’s Academy Shifters series. The book follows Moonrise Academy: The Headmaster, but while Julian and Toby appear here as supporting characters, this story stands alone just fine. This is an omegaverse world with both shifting and mpreg, and as we learn here, a world of old school laws that also affect some of the packs.
From a romance end, I enjoyed this one as Vash and Calen have a sweet and compelling connection. They fall for one another quite quickly, but I liked them as a couple. It takes a while for Calen to really understand what is going on with Vash, but he knows something is wrong and is willing to be patient and accommodating to Vash’s needs. I liked that Calen doesn’t give up on Vash, that he is willing to fight for the man he comes to love. Vash has been so drained, so worn down by this awful abusive relationship with Corvaiz, that is rewarding to see him find happiness and love with Calen. Just for clarity, Vash and Corvaiz are not in a romantic or sexual relationship, nor are they married. Vash is essentially Corvaiz’s possession, a tribute given to him as payment for his brother’s lost life. Corvaiz doesn’t love Vash or want him romantically or sexually, he only wants to own, punish, and control him. So there is no cheating here in any way, just a man trying to eke out some happiness in his horrible life and finding someone who truly loves him in Calen.
Where I struggled here is with the larger world building. The first book sets up a contemporary omegaverse world of shifters and mpreg, but here we learn about another aspect of the world with regard to these old packs that follow traditional laws. One of those laws says that if someone kills someone in your family, you are allowed to take the oldest unmated son as recompense. In this case, Vash is 17 and given by his parents to Corvaiz to own and control for the rest of his life. Vash goes along with it, as it is a sign of dishonor to his family to refuse, but he essentially has no choice as a minor at the time. The book then picks up eight years later and Vash is mostly a shell, emotionally destroyed by Corvaiz’s abuse. Where I had trouble is that I don’t feel like we get enough understanding of this part of the world building. For something this extreme, I felt like I needed more development to really understand where these people are all coming from. I mean, Vash’s parents just give him away, allowing him to be owned by someone else for his brother’s crime. We are told Corvaiz would even be in his rights to kill Vash if he wanted to.
I particularly need more to better understand why Vash doesn’t try to get away. We get multiple explanations at various points, but it often comes down to the fact that it would dishonor his family if he didn’t keep his obligation to Corvaiz. Again, the man is abusive and awful, yet Vash feels this duty to stay with him and I just didn’t feel we had enough background into this whole culture to really get why. Even when given a way out, Vash is hesitant, and I feel like his ultimate freedom comes by way of a technicality more than any agency or determination on his part. I was happy to see these guys find their way together, but just felt frustrated at how it comes about. So I think more introduction early on as to how Vash grew up, what he was taught, and why he believes all of this is reasonable would have gone a long way to better understanding him and his actions.
I was also so confused about Corvaiz and what exactly he wants from Vash. He makes Vash train endlessly to be an elite runner and forces him to race as a human and a wolf. Corvaiz demands success, yet he doesn’t seem to care about publicity or get any benefits from Vash winning. Corvaiz also seems to want to hone Vash into this skilled warrior, making Vash fight him and do all this intense training, but it was just never clear to me why. Why does he want Vash to be an elite runner? Why does he abuse, ignore, and mistreat him, and control every aspect of his life, forcing him to train non-stop, but then not care about whether Vash wins these random races?
FWIW, the next book is a redemption story with a romance for Corvaiz, which I find a really surprising choice. I am a fan of redeemed villains, but wow, this feels like a stretch. Corvaiz is abusive and essentially tortures Vash. He controls every aspect of Vash’s life. He is allowed no friends. The servants can’t speak to him. He can’t do anything without Corvaiz’s permission. Vash scarcely is allowed to leave the house. Even his limited sexual encounters are controlled by Corvaiz. Corvaiz physically abuses Vash, verbally assaults him, and has turned him into a shell of a man, a ghost in his own life. At one point, Corvaiz is mad at Vash’s disobedience and makes him stand on a balance beam for hours with his arm overhead tied to an ice water bucket in order to earn food for the week. When he doesn’t last long enough, Vash is starved for days. I don’t care how sad Corvaiz is over his brother’s death, he is a monster and I just struggle to see how Rathbone can turn him into someone I’m supposed to feel sympathy for. So I am really not sure if I am going to read on for his book.
That said, I am enjoying this series and the world Rathbone has created. While I may skip the next book, I am still engaged enough to see what else is in store for the series. If you enjoy omegaverse, particularly with a shifting component as well, this series is worth a look.