Despite my favourite YA urban fantasy series being a vampire one, I am actually a wolfgirl at heart. I am always excited to get my hands on new wolf centric books and this one sounded like a fantastic one. Lots of early reviews for it thought it was as well, so of course it was top of my must have list when it was released last week. I was totally prepared to really enjoy it and from the premise it sounded like something I'd love, and something that could be a new favourite. I wish I could say that happened, I really do, but it didn't.
This book starts out well, we're introduced to Calla in wolf form, taking on a grizzly bear and protecting the human hiker, Shay, in the process. She's clearly a fighter and in no need of someone to protect her, like say an over protective and possessive male alpha wolf (Ren, who I'll get to soon). Shortly after that incident Shay arrives at the Mountain School. It's an exclusive boarding school for the rich, and a day school for the wolves and Keepers. The humans know to stay clear of the wolves, and the wolves don't tend to interact with the Keepers either, who are their bosses in training as it were. But when Shay arrives, things are different. He's important to the Keepers for some reason and has no natural instinct to keep him from the wolves. Not to mention his infatuation with Calla. With him arrival things change drastically.
Calla is the young alpha female of the Nightshade pack. Ren, young alpha male of the Bane pack, is her mate. They're the same age, they share the same birthday, and they've been promised to each other for their whole lives. Mates aren't decided by love, they're decided by the Keepers who rule over them. Along with everything else, like when they can have kids and how many. By the Keeper's rules, Calla isn't allowed to be involved with anyone, Ren included, before her wedding night. Ren on the other hand, has no such rules to play by and is a known player. Ren, Calla and their packs may have grown up together, but they're not friends. They are two separate packs who will have to combine to one once Calla and Ren are married. Ren is an alpha male and, player or not, Calla is his. No one will touch her but him. Shay was something none of the two young packs saw coming. He's different and new but while most of them simply accept what the Keepers say, Calla can't help wanting to get closer and find out more, and with that discover more than she ever realised about her past.
A great start, a great premise, great themes, and yet somewhere it just went wrong for me. I think my biggest problem is that I can't truly buy Calla as the warrior she's supposed to be. It's stated a few times that that's what she is, that she sees herself that way and wants to be that way. And she does do a good job leading her pack. But when it comes to Shay, she's very weak. And she's worse with Ren. The first time Ren is introduced they face off in the hallway at school. Nothing wrong there. It's stated that she's fine being his mate, but she wants to be respected by him and rule with him, not have him rule her. I applaud that attitude, but Ren is a pushy alpha male. His advances are mostly forceful, and I would expect, based on what she's said already and what we'd seen, I would expect her to get up in his face, push back, put him in his place. Instead she does none of that and instead melts, not managing even a verbal half comeback. I found that really disappointing. Having feelings for him shouldn't just make her a puddle like that. She's an alpha female supposedly, so why can't she fight back? Yes Ren is experienced and she's not, so I get that she's out of her depth, but she should be able to fake it and throw attitude, which she seemingly had plenty of in the first couple chapters, back at him.
The problem is, aside from when she's ruling her pack (and then, mostly without Ren around), she just doesn't come across as the tough warrior she's meant to be. She's too soft, too passive letting the guys make the decision when she is supposed to be wanting things differently. She easily gives in to Shay and his gentle asking of her to do things which if the Keepers found out could mean her death. It's never a real battle, just a token argument. The way she bounced between Ren and Shay annoyed the heck out of me as well. I get that she's got feelings for both and is confused, but again, she was just so passive with both of them never standing up for herself.
This book is long at 450+ pages. It's got a lot of history and research to it, and while it's interesting, it's also complex and time consuming. It isn't dull actually. You would think with as much as Calla discovers without action and fights that it would drag and just be kind of boring. I didn't actually find that. I liked the depth to the world and the thought thats gone in to creating it. But it does mean it's not a quick or light read. Its got some really good twists to it, but others were a bit too predictable. The romance is obviously a pretty big part of the story as well as it's the catalyst for everything. There are moments where I enjoyed it, but most of it is a little too sappy for me. Like I made clear already, Calla doesn't fight enough in it. So even when Ren is being pushy, it's all kind of soft because Calla's not pushing back. But for everything outside the romantic plots, I really liked the story. I love the ideas, with the wolves who may rule their packs, but are ruled in turn by Keepers (witches), and how Calla is meant to start challenging that.
Those romantic plots though are my other big problem with this book. I don't see the point to the love triangle, well sure I see what it's meant to do, but I don't think it's needed. Shay is a nice guy, but I don't really feel the passion between him and Calla. I love Ren completely and utterly, I don't always like him, but I love him and I think there is a lot more to him than at first glance. What I don't like though, is that Shay is the catalyst for Calla beginning to realise she is a slave to the Keepers. Why does it have to be a love interest? Why couldn't she simply wake up enough to realise what's going on? Or overhear a conversation she shouldn't or something? I don't like love triangles very often and this one just doesn't work for me at all. And I'm not saying that simply as I fear I'm on the losing side of this one.
Overall I do still like this book. It's got a lot of potential and a lot of promise. There are just a few places where it just didn't work or live up to expectation for me. The ending was dramatic and yes it's a cliff hanger, but I wasn't left desperate for more. I was left wishing some of the earlier stuff had been cut so what was going on at the end could have been explored more before the stop point. Still, it's a decent read but it'll be book 2 that could make this series for me. I am still hopeful because there is so much promise. It just didn't come off here.
Which Nightshade cover do you prefer, the UK or US one? I am curious, go vote ;)