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Wild Rain by Christine Feehan
(Jove, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-515-13682-4
I’ve read a lot of Christine Feehan’s books – loved some, didn’t love some. This is not quite like anything else she’s written. It is, however, a fun, eminently readable book that will deservedly bring Ms. Feehan a new group of enthusiastic fans. It will probably also spawn a raft of cheap imitations, but let’s talk about that later.

Someone is trying to kill Rachael Lospostos and she’s very much afraid that she knows who. Using false identification, she flees to Southeast Asia, but it’s clear she’s been followed. Her only choice is to fake her own death, so when the boat that’s carrying her medical aid group is attacked by bandits she goes over the side and hopes she’ll be believed dead.

Making her way into the depths of the rainforest, Rachael finds a cabin she believes is for the convenience of native travelers and falls asleep.

Rachael discovers her mistake when the cabin’s owner returns. Rio Santana, fresh from a raid to free a kidnap victim from a group of local bandits, assumes Rachael is waiting to ambush him. Startled, Rachael comes awake fighting and, before Rio realizes she isn’t a threat, one of his two clouded leopards savages her leg.

Rio treats Rachael’s wounds as well as he can, but can’t say if she’ll be able to keep the leg. As if this weren’t enough, along with the pain and the fear that her past will catch up with her, the feverish Rachael has disturbing dreams in which Rio becomes a leopard.

I’m delighted to say that this book captured my interest immediately and never let go. The characters are engaging, the story is compelling and the writing flows cleanly, free of the, um, linguistic excesses of some of Ms. Feehan’s previous books.

Rio is a strong alpha male, which is not unusual for a Feehan book, but Rachael is his match. She may not be as physically powerful (although he doesn’t escape unscathed from their initial struggle), but she’s intelligent, determined, proud and resourceful. Rachael has known darkness, as well, but it rules her life in a different way. Rio’s past has made him a little sinister and brooding. Rachael just wants to escape from hers.

I thought Wild Rain was very satisfying both as an adventure and as a romance. It also has a fantastic, lush quality thanks to the vivid descriptions of the rainforest.

Having said that, however, I think this is Ms. Feehan’s most conventional book. By ‘conventional’ I mean that it’s more (for want of a better phrase) politically correct than, for example, her Carpathian books. While some readers find the domineering Carpathian male behavior a very sexy fantasy, others find it manipulative if not downright abusive. Whichever you believe, it gives the Carpathian books an edgy, dangerous sensuality that is missing from this book. Whether or not you think this is an improvement will be purely a matter of personal taste.

In fact, I had only one quarrel with Wild Rain. The past life stuff was unbelievably intrusive. I bought everything else hook, line and sinker – the shape shifting, the leopard people, the fates that brought Rio and Rachael together, everything. But it was as if the author didn’t trust someone (me? herself?) to believe in the power of the feelings between Rio and Rachael, so there had to be this destiny thing pasted on top of it. It was a little insulting, if you want to know the truth.

I have another issue, but it can’t fairly be laid at Christine Feehan’s door. If past experience is anything to go by, we can expect a whole bunch of imitators to jump on the animal-people bandwagon now that Ms. Feehan has shown there’s life beyond werewolves. Some writers will just produce unashamed leopard-people rip-offs. Some will write about tiger-people and think they’re being original. Some will write about kangaroo-people and think they’re being funny. Most of them will be vastly inferior, as imitations usually are, and TRR will have to review them. I, for one, am not looking forward to it.

When it gets bad, though, I’ll just remember how good the book was that started the ball-people rolling.

-- Judi McKee

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