Susan Krinard delivers another multifaceted and utterly believable story about werewolves. This installment features two characters who are not part of a werewolf community – who are not even aware that such a community exists – but are outsiders in a world that cannot understand them.
In 1875 Colorado, Morgan Holt is released from prison after serving nine years for murder. His mother, from whom he got his werewolf blood, is dead. His sister, Cassidy, has no doubt made a new life for herself elsewhere and is better off without him. Angry and embittered, Morgan resolves to find a wolf pack in the mountains and forget he’d ever been a man.
He succeeds for about five years, until humans hunt down and kill his adopted pack. Seriously wounded, Morgan stumbles into the camp of French’s Fantastic Family Circus and astonishes everyone around the campfire by collapsing, then Changing into human form before their eyes. When he awakens, he discovers that the misfits and outsiders who make up this little down-at-heel circus believe he is exactly what they need to save them from a recent run of bad luck.
No matter how hard he tries, Morgan cannot escape the obligation he feels, so he sticks around to become the circus’s premiere attraction – astonishing audiences as half man, half wolf. Their tour takes them near Denver, where Niall Monroe engages the troupe to perform for an orphanage run by his sister, Athena.
Confined to a wheelchair following an accident in her youth, Athena transformed herself from a wild hoyden into a pillar of Denver society. Her tireless charity work has, she believes, earned her the respect, even deference, of the social peers who would otherwise pity and patronize her. If her brother is over-protective, well, who can blame him?
When Morgan and Athena meet, neither welcomes the immediate charge of recognition and awareness. Each poses a threat to the other’s carefully constructed life, and it’s a risk neither wishes to contemplate for a variety of reasons.
As you might have gathered from my very brief synopsis, it takes a little while for these characters to get together, but the author had my undivided attention to for every word. The build-up to Athena and Morgan’s first meeting is subtle and compelling, and they and the lives they’d chosen for themselves intrigued me. They are walking slowly towards each other, but it only builds the tension – clearly, these two will have a huge impact on each other when they meet.
Usually my review would talk about the hero and heroine separately before discussing their relationship, but that’s more difficult to do with this book – Morgan and Athena are so clearly two sides of the same coin. Morgan has isolated himself from human society but finds, as the story progresses, that ‘belonging’ can be a source of enormous strength and comfort. Athena, who has virtually sacrificed herself to human society, discovers that by denying half her nature she has created an illusion that offers only false comfort and robs her of strength.
These two wounded characters are very attached to their carefully constructed armor and deeply in denial. Then, gradually, as they try to explain and justify their choices, the chinks in the armor are exposed. Thanks to Ms. Krinard’s storytelling gift, the reader starts to see how their interaction changes Morgan and Athena long before the characters are aware of it.
Several secondary characters, each with an agenda, further complicate the story. Some are clearly nasty from the start. Some fool the reader, at first, into thinking their intentions are benign. All of the secondary characters, good and bad, are vividly rendered in their own right, although the book did seem to be slightly over-supplied with villains.
My only other quibble is that the driving pace loses its way toward the end. Resolving the various complications seemed to involve a great deal of dashing back and forth between Denver and Niall’s ranch, thirty miles away. This was unrealistic for the time and season (winter) and it diffused the focus.
In the final analysis, however, this is an excellent book, told by one of romance’s most accomplished storytellers.
-- Judi McKee