Touch Of The Wolf
by Susan Krinard, historical/fantasy (1999)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58018-3

Where do all these hard-hearted heroes come from? All of a sudden they're popping up like superheroes in a leather and lycra fashion show. This book is good, but the hero is so hard and unyielding that I feel really exhausted by the end of the day.

Cassidy Holt is an American werewolf in London (haha), 1800s London, that is, searching for her long lost family. Her mother has married an American human and as a result, is estranged from her aristocratic loup-garou family. Now Cass is an orphan and with her mother's best friend Isabelle in tow, she tries to find a family to replace the one she has lost. What she finds, however, is handsome cousin Braden Forster and his two dysfunctional siblings Rowena and Quentin. Poor Cass - she's attracted to Braden, but Braden's first and only instinct is to parcel her ovaries off to Quentin in a bid to further the Cause. The Cause is a Nazi-like werewolf plan to breed true-blood werewolves, something like making a pedigree chart. Mr X marries Ms Y, Ms Y's sister marries Mr Z, that sort of thing. But Cass insists, she wants Braden, and Braden resists. It's a tug-of-war for them both. Along the way there are subplots that pave the way for each of the other two siblings' story - Rowena's disgust at her beast inside, and Quentin's attempts to hide his unhappiness behind a mask of faked nonchalance. Then there's Isabelle's attempts to confront her past and a man who seduced her, and Braden's to confront his failed first marriage.

All are elements of a wonderfully dark romance. Everyone is so wounded, especially Braden, that it becomes a strain on my emotions to read their stories. Cassy is wonderful, however, as a woman who fights for her happiness. Her only downfall is her inexplicable attraction to a cold, bitter, bigoted, and totally a stick-in-the-mud donkey who is more in love with her ovaries than her self. Braden is blind, and I mean it both literally and figuratively. This man has closeted his emotions off and has become as cold as the acrid Artics, ruthlessly treating every werewolf in his vincinity as nothing more than sperm and eggs to be matched and parcelled off. His own first marriage is a disaster, but frankly, that is no excuse for such brutal cruelty he displayed towards everyone around him. He's fortunate there is no Mrs Giggles housekeeper around, or he'd find his darling Cause shoved up where the sun never shine, so high up that he would have thought he'd eaten the Cause for breakfast. Hmmph!

To call Braden a bigoted hypocrite is an understatement. He despises human beings and derides Cass for not being able to transform into a wolf (or Change), yet everything he does rigidly adheres to human rules, a fact ruthlessly pointed out to him by a furious Cass towards the end of the book. He is angry at his late wife for betraying him and angry at his grandfather for various reasons, but he does not think twice about imprisoning his siblings in his iron grip in order to bend them to his will. It is only until Rowena tries to starve herself to death that she finds freedom, and even then, with Cass' aid. Braden is a villian as well as hero in this story, and I find him totally infuriating. The author makes him redeem himself only at the last few pages, so be prepared for a long, painfully taxing ride if you read this book.

Then there are Rowena and Quentin. Rowena is cold, snobbish, and unlikeable, but I do pity her. I can't blame her for her behavior - living under that idiot Braden's thumb, she's lucky she doesn't end up a whimpering lunatic. Likewise, Quentin is interesting - I would love to know more about the man under his mask. In fact, I am looking forward to books two and three of this historical werewolf trilogy - much more than the thought of rereading this book.

Now, I'm going to talk about Cass and Braden. It's going to be a Spoiler moment. Don't read further if you don't want to be, er, spoiled!

Cass, you poor girl. I really don't know why she insists on loving Braden. Braden never display any affection without balancing it with cruelty tenthfold. She takes all verbal and mental abuse from this man, until finally she reaches her breaking point at the last few chapters of the book. She practically turns the tables on him and flees, nose high in air and gloriously defiant. Never mind that this is supposed to be a romance - I'm cheering her on. Go girl! Leave that basket! Go find a better man! No. She has to meet - conveniently - a man who then tells her that It's All The Lying Cheatin' First Wife's Fault. Cass then starts picking apart everything Braden does to justify his behavior to her, and then returns to him. I'm crushed, I'm so disappointed, and I feel like strangling her. Cass, are you batty? That man is kind to his footman - a man whom he hypnotizes to keep him obedient (Braden does that to all the staff - I'm not making this up), a man whom he hypnotizes to treat his sister badly so that Rowena wouldn't escape - kind? Hello! Anyone home in that cranium? Cass, three years down the road and you need someone to cry to about how lousy Braden is as a husband, you know what to do. Dial 1800-JERRYSPRINGER.

This book is wonderfully written, and it sure makes me all worked up. Too bad it's my blood pressure that hits the stratosphere instead of my thrill quota. But then again, I never liked alpha heroes, so I guess the audience this book is meant for isn't me.

Rating: 56

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