feral woods coverRating: 3.5 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Cambry is an omega, but his body doesn’t react like one. Instead of shifting into a prey animal and being docile and eager for an alpha mate, Cambry is instead a muscular wolf shifter who can’t stop himself from attacking any alpha who comes near. Cambry still hasn’t had his first heat and can’t even begin to find a mate with his inner wolf so aggressive. His family has all but given up on Cambry, particularly his cruel father. As a last resort, his father sends him to Feral Woods, a couple’s therapy retreat, where he hopes they will “break” Cambry so he will accept a mate.

Bryce loves his job working with shifter couples who need some help. He has zero intention of forcing Cambry into a mold that his father wants, but he also hopes that he can help Cambry be more comfortable with himself. With Bryce’s partner, Jake, acting as Cambry’s surrogate alpha for the week, they want to help Cambry get in touch with his inner wolf and find the peace he needs to be able to be around potential alpha mates. Things go much better than anyone expected, and Cambry finally is able to interact with alphas without turning violent. But what no one expects is for Cambry’s interest to turn to Jake and Bryce, or for them to return his feelings. The three men are forging an unexpected connection, one they want to continue exploring. But Cambry’s father has plans for his son, and they don’t include Bryce and Jake. Now, the men must decide if they are going to take a chance on reaching for a future Cambry, or if they will lose him before things even really start.

Feral Woods offers some interesting world building in the shifter/omegaverse trope. Cambry is an omega, but not only does he not fit the common omega mold in his appearance, his inner wolf gets violent at even being around an alpha. It has made it impossible for him to find a mate or fit into shifter society, as he can’t hold back from attacking anyone who comes near him. So I liked this bit of a different take on the trope and enjoyed seeing Cambry find himself at the retreat and get to a place where he was happier and feeling more comfortable with himself. I also enjoyed the set up of the retreat as a place where shifter couples could come and work through their issues. We meet the other couples who are there for the week and get to see some of the therapy and group events (including a “cuddle pile” turned orgy, FWIW). Bryce leads the counseling and he is very much of the mindset that who you are is exactly right, and mostly focuses on helping clients work through issues with their partner with that idea in mind. I particularly liked meeting the omega couple who end up befriending Cambry, giving him his first taste of friendship and companionship. Their acceptance of him helps Cambry start to feel calmer and helps him move forward on his own journey to self acceptance. So I think the setting here works well and I enjoyed the basic setup for the story.

I did find myself confused at first as to the nature of Jake and Bryce’s relationship. I assumed they were a couple, but then they tell Cambry they will “bunk together” while he uses the other room in their house, which made me think friends (with a lot of sexual benefits). Then I realized that they were hiding from him (and everyone) that they were a couple, as they are both alphas. So that left me sort of off kilter at first as I tried to follow their dynamic. Also, given the retreat asks its guests for full honesty about very sensitive topics, and Bryce counsels alpha/alpha and omega/omega pairings, I am not totally clear why no one at the retreat was supposed to know they were together in the first place. Most of the chapters are from either Bryce or Cambry’s POV, so I don’t feel we get to know Jake as well, especially early on. I think overall the three work together and there is a nice heat there. The men are also distinct in their characters and personalities, which is important in a poly story.

However, I did find myself frustrated that they talk about essentially nothing with regard to their feelings or their relationship. The men would constantly have various conflicts, big or small, that just never get addressed or resolved. For example, for reasons unclear to me, Cambry is terrified at the idea of anyone finding his stash of romance novels. When Bryce accidentally walks in while Cambry is reading, Cambry completely freaks out and runs away. Then it is never brought up again. Cambry never explains his actions, Bryce never inquires if he is ok or reassures him he is not upset. It just happens and is dropped. And this happens on a big picture level too. At one point, in the throes of sex, Cambry accidentally

Spoiler title
bites both men, initiating a mating bond against their will.
Jake is so upset he curses and slaps Cambry. Yet, they never discuss it. Not what happened, not what it means for them, not how it affects their future. This has major implications for all of their lives and they never talk about it. The men also never discuss their feelings for each other or their hopes for the future. So at the end of the book,
Spoiler title
Cambry just leaves and goes home
because none of them ever thought to discuss anything different. And when Bryce knows information that is very relevant to all three of them, he doesn’t tell Cambry until right before it plays out and Jake not at all. I just was so bewildered by the way it all comes together. It is not just that they don’t talk to one another, it is also that we rarely are privy as readers to what they are feeling. So it left me feeling very adrift, like I wasn’t really sure what the plot was building toward or where the conflicts would come, because nothing ever really gets addressed.

I also was unclear just why, as an adult, Cambry is so under his father’s control. I get that early on, Cambry is a danger to just about everyone, so maybe his father has some sort of custodial oversight (or Cambry just can’t trust himself). But once he gets the therapy at Feral Woods and is better, why does Cambry allow his father to continue to make decisions for him and control his future? And why do Bryce and Jake not try to help protect this man that they love? Even if they aren’t sure about Cambry’s feelings because they never talk about it, why don’t they at least try to help him as friends?

In the end, I think the foundation worked nicely here and I really liked the therapy scenes and the message about accepting yourself. I enjoyed the omega shifters and the other couples at the retreat and liked seeing them all work through their issues. And I did like the journey for all three main characters. But the lack of communication on so many levels just really took away from the story for me. I was frustrated with their actions, as well as just feeling like the story was drifting as a result of never addressing any of the conflicts. That said, if you enjoy omegaverse, shifters, and poly stories, this one may be fun to check out.

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