by Jennifer Ashley, fantasy (2011)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-24078-6
Primal Bonds is set in the same alternate Earth setting as Pride Mates, one where shifters exist but are forced by humans to wear collars that go off and cause great pain should these shifters lose control and get violent. Shifters are also treated as citizens with barely any rights, forced to live in segregated communities called Shiftertowns. If all that furry fetish isn't enough, Ms Ashley also decides to mix in some Highlander stuff, making not only Shifters long-lived (we need to make our non-human special people as different from humans as possible) but also appointing a Guardian, one that wields a sword and hails from Ireland.
In this one, we meet Sean Morrissey, the Guardian. He is mated to Andrea Gray mostly to facilitate her transfer to the Austin Shiftertown, away from the unpleasant way the pack in her previous home treated her. Sean is a Feline while Andrea is Lupine, and I don't dare to speculate on what their children will look like. In this story, Sean and his Band of Hairy Brothers have to deal with a spate of shooting which sees humans targeting Shifter establishments while Andrea has to deal with some family issues involving her half-Fae heritage. By the way, Andrea is special because not only does she not kowtow to the alpha males in the pack, she is also born with the ability to heal people.
Like most stories involving randy hairy beasts, the "romance" here is barely more than fait accompli caused by that mate-mate-mate thing. Sean is a pretty familiar guy as he is yet another super virile, hot, and randy super hero. Amusingly enough, if the mate-mate-mate thing isn't played up so prominently in this story, Sean could have been anything, even - gasp - human, for how little his Feline nature actually matters in this story. The Feline thing is just an excuse for Sean to be all possessive and horny. Andrea is another familiar feisty heroine, although in her case, she can walk the talk and she displays some smarts in the process.
While I am generally not fond of the mate-mate-mate stuff, I find the romance pretty enjoyable because of the way the author has her main characters hanging loose and having fun exchanging banters and hot glances in each other's company. Andrea and Sean come off as genuinely fond of each other to the point that I can overlook the fact that there is no build up to the romance here. The author says that her characters are in love because of the bond thing, and that's all there is to it - no depths, no complications, just two people enjoying the bond. Like many of the author's previous books, though, the characters sometimes come off as too preoccupied with sex to the point of ridiculous caricature, especially late in the story when it doesn't matter that danger is near - they need to shag now.
The plot isn't anything new, but it is nicely integrated into the story with a nice build-up throughout the story to the climax. This isn't one of those stories where the plot shows up in the last few chapters as post-sex filler scenes. There are many sequel baits in this story, but they do have their roles in this story and they aren't hogging scenes in an obnoxious manner, so I'm fine with them. It's a pity though that the author didn't let a secondary character close to Sean's father die off for good, because if there is anything I can't stand, it's a pathetic emo middle-aged man who keeps the woman hanging because he refuses to get over a long-dead wife... but at the same time he'd of course share that woman's bed. Pfffft!
Anyway, apart from the Your Furry Neighbors Are People Too premise, there isn't anything here that hasn't been done many times before. Still, Primal Bonds manages to overcome my dislike of the mate ex machina romance, and it's all due to the author's way of evoking some mad scorching hot chemistry between her main characters. Unlike most furry romances that focus heavily on eroticism and heroes being possessive beasts, this is one of those rare furry romances that have plenty of humor as well. I just can't resist the frothy fun contained within these pages at the end of the day.
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