NOTE: This is the second book in the Steele Pack series. The beginning of this review contains major spoilers for two heart-stopping, game-changing reveals at the very end of book 1, Prisoner. That means this review will have major spoilers for the first story. If you are interested in the series, but have not yet read book 1, please take a moment to read my review of that book.
By rights, Thomas Mitchum should have died when the transport carrying him and a handful of other convicts suffered a head-on collision with oncoming traffic. However, as a minor, Thomas had been buckled up. Pure instinct helped him survive the immediate aftermath, but it was a power far older and more compelling than any adrenaline-fueled fight or flight response that saved his life—it was his wolf of a father tracking him down and turning Thomas into a wolf himself.
The ways of the wolves are both comforting and confining for Thomas. Over the course of nine long years, he learns the rigid customs and antiquated ways of life. According to wolf law, Thomas should have nothing to do with humans. But there is one human Thomas would move heaven and earth for–his boyfriend, Ryan. Thomas bucks the rules to make clandestine trips to the prison and, when Ryan escapes, Thomas is overjoyed at the chance to reconnect. Especially since the Mitchum pack council had previously agreed to let Thomas go to the human. Unfortunately, some powerful pack members disagree, leaving Thomas with no choice but to watch Ryan from afar. Day and night, Thomas stays in wolf form to be near Ryan in secret, all the while Thomas grows more distant from his pack. Finally, Thomas can take no more when another wolf attacks Ryan and Thomas himself on orders from the Mitchum pack council. Thomas breaks all the rules to save Ryan and hopefully earn the right to be with him again. If the council could break the rules to keep them apart, Thomas is determined to break the rules to claim what is his.
Meanwhile, the Bellum pack, a large group known for being ruthless warriors, is rumored to have set their sights on the Mitchum pack and their lands. No one knows why the Bellums are coming, but Penn, Thomas’ best friend and the fastest scout for the Mitchum pack, gets intel that confirms the Bellums’ plans. Thomas and the Mitchum pack know there’s no way the pack can win against fifty Bellum War wolves. That is until Thomas and Ryan find a solution that may help in the fight. It takes a little convincing, but eventually, the Mitchum pack is all on board to spend every moment of winter preparing for a fight to survive. When the battle finally comes, though, no one is prepared for the outcome.
Fugitive is the second book in GiGi DeGraham’s series Steele Pack series. This is absolutely not a standalone, so if you have not read book 1 (Prisoner), I highly recommend you drop everything and read it so you can fully enjoy this second installment. The end of book one is a stunning cliffhanger that threw the world I had understood in its head, what with an 11th hour save by not-dead-and-is-actually-a-wolf Thomas. Fugitive is broken up into two chunks; the first half focuses on Ryan and Thomas and, this time, it’s mostly Thomas providing the perspective. The second half of the book shifts focus entirely and puts Thomas’ best friend, Penn, in the main character role. These two halves are joined by an enigmatic snippet of a chapter that is told from the perspective of one of the Bellum wolves and really rearranged my expectations about the power structures in this world, while also leaving me keen to find out who was right and who was wrong.
First, I loved the Thomas/Ryan part of this book (don’t worry if you already love these two, they’re in the whole book, but it’s the first half that really focuses on them). Rather than picking up immediately after the big climactic fight scene from book 1, we go back in time to when Thomas was going to get transferred from a juvenile detention facility to a prison, but the vehicle is involved in a devastating accident. This made for an amazingly bittersweet read knowing Thomas was safe and alive and learning how to be a wolf (read: a shifter), while Ryan was still in prison. That angst gets kicked up to about 100 when Ryan escapes and is taking refuge at a cabin that is literally next door to Thomas’ wolf pack, but the powerful cultural norms and allpower gods the wolves obey made it impossible for Thomas to reunite with Ryan. All Thomas can do is watch out for Ryan while in his wolf form. Thomas also does his best to interact with Ryan as a wolf, which tears at the heartstrings if you recall Ryan befriending what he thinks is a regular wolf in book 1. The climactic fight at the very end of the first book is where these two finally get back together, but not without hiccups. First and foremost, there’s the whole wolf thing Thomas has to explain. Second, there’s the shame and upset Thomas feels about obeying the rules of his pack, rules that kept him from going to Ryan despite being right there, because he’d promised he would never leave Ryan. The whole package is just chef’s kiss. And, of course, because these two are so completely in love with one another, they learn to forgive and move on…eventually. Plus, mating sex.
Penn’s part of the story feels like a mini book unto itself. At first, he seems like he’s “just” the vehicle to drive the action. Penn is a scout, so he’s running around trying to get information on where the Bellum war wolves are and what their plans are. He helps prepare his pack’s land for a battle and he fights. When the war has come and gone, Penn gets a new purpose: find out why there was a helicopter in the pack’s very remote location nearly immediately after the fighting finished. As he goes out to scout, he finds an injured wolf and knows it to be one of the Bellums. Despite being sworn enemies now that the Bellums attacked the Mitchum pack, Penn is dead set on observing wolf law, which demands he help the injured wolf either heal or die.
The second half of the story is primarily about Penn saving and falling for Iver Bellum. Maybe it sounds out of left field, but I thought the wolf culture and laws were solidly explored in this book to make the details of the world building around Iver work well. As sweet and steamy as Penn and Iver’s courtship is, it’s also bounding with the same kind of bittersweetness that Thomas and Ryan’s relationship has been–albeit for different reasons. Penn has a lot of complex feelings about being from the Mitchum pack and the war with the Bellums, and especially about how the Mitchum pack handled the aftermath of the war. Despite being on opposite sides of the fight, however, Penn and Iver truly are able to find happiness with each other. Plus, mating sex.
Overall, I loved this story. I loved how it challenged me to expand my view of good and bad when it comes to war. I loved how it challenged me to accept a big shift in the character focus, away from Thomas and Ryan and towards Penn and Iver. There was just one thing that stuck in my craw. This book hangs the literal and emotional conflicts over who breaks wolf law, how, and for what reason. It’s literally what prevented Thomas from immediately reuniting with Ryan, it’s why the war is fought, it is such a big part of the story. That’s why it just didn’t make sense to me that one pack very clearly breaks a formal wolf law, but never gets held to account for it, while another pack gets a hefty series of punishments thrown at them en masse. Maybe it will tie into the next book, but as-is, it just felt like a huge plot hole.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a story with shifters, wolves, near-cult like social rules, star-crossed lovers, lovers-reunited, a version of “woke-up married,” and a lot of angst, then I think you’ll enjoy this story. I unreservedly recommend this series to everyone who enjoys a thrilling story featuring sweet and strong characters.