This is the first full book in the series, however there was a novella in an anthology earlier in 2003. I have never read that story and did not have a problem with jumping straight into this book.
Rachael flees her home in America to seek the safety of the rain forest. There is an attempt on her life while on the river and she escapes, hiding in what she thinks is an abandoned hut. Rio reasons that she is an assassin to kill him and his snow leopard severely hurts her. Rio and Rachael work together to keep her alive from those who hunt her as they discover that despite both of their secret pasts they are destined to be together.
My first experience with Feehan came from her Dark Series, and there are hints there of how Ms. Feehan came-up with the idea for this series. For example, in Dark Symphony, the heroine is part Jaguar, which has similar characteristics to the Leopards, just not as fully fleshed out. My guess is that this series came out of that idea.
The Leopard people live in the wilds of the world, keeping as far away from the human world as possible. They are a mixture of both human and leopard DNA, making a cunning and powerful species. What I like about this series is that while they are powerful, they are not invulnerable and they have faults as well as strengths.
“Our laws are fairly strict; they have to be. Our temperaments are not suited to everything and we have to keep that in mind always. Control is everything to our species. We have intellect and cunning, but not always the control needed to govern those things.”
I think that is one of the sexiest things about any Alpha character. These males have all of this strength, and the control needed to wield that power. This control does not come immediately; it is mastered slowly, painfully sometimes. Whether purposefully written or not, Feehan foreshadows this need for control in future books themes.
I enjoy female leads that are spunky; I love humor in romance books because humor can be found in everyday life. So I tend to like characters that are funny even in time of stress. Some of my favorite quotes from books will be gallows or black humor. Rachael’s spunky nature is demonstrated here, even in one of her times of great pain:
“That awful leech is going to just stay there, getting high on your blood. Maybe it’s a girl leech and she’s going to have babies and they’ll all live on your back, sucking your blood. A little leech community. How perfectly lovely.”
Rachael is running away from her (bad thing I will not mention) and she is afraid that loving Rio puts him in danger. This story is her acceptance of their bond, their love, and finally making a stand for who she is and what she wants.
Rio, on the other hand hides that he is a Leopard from her, as well as a “huge secret”. He is my favorite type of Alpha, the one who is afraid of emotion, who is scarred (not just physically, but internally) afraid to show emotion and love:
“Do not make the mistake of bringing my emotions to life.” He whispered the warning, barely audible in the pounding of the rain on the roof and the howling of the wind at the windows.
He to me is the character that shows the most personal growth by the end of the book.
This is a story of love, but it’s also about acceptance of who you are and past actions. Both characters must learn to let the past go and not let it dictate their current life.
Feehan’s forte in writing is her ability to draw the reader into the environment. Her descriptions of the characters (in human and leopard form) are so vivid, that it feels like a movie. How she paints emotions into action is what makes a Feehan book so great. When the animal feels exhilarated by running through the wild, we feel exhilarated.
What could be better?
Feehan books are all about action, no matter what the series. We get to see the hero and heroine kick butt and the Alpha male gets to be all, alpha like. Her descriptions are vivid in the encounters and you move through the book quickly. But in all of that action, sometimes relationship development or individual character development can be short sighted. In paranormal romances, the authors can get away with saying “it’s fated, our DNA makes it ok that we instantly jump into bed”. And to some degree, this book falls for that trope. We come away understanding that yes, they had past lives and that’s why the karma is so instant, but I found it hard to believe that they instantly fell for each other. It did not hamper my enjoyment of the book, I just had to just nod and go, “paranormal love, ok”.
I like this series. To me, this is the best shape shifter series set in modern times. I love how Ms. Feehan incorporates both the positive as well as the negative aspects of the leopard into the human actions. It’s not just your typical “I’m a powerful alpha male, GRRRRRRRR look how perfectly manly I am!” Yes, our Alpha is hot and studly, but it is not his only remarkable characteristic. It makes the story more “believable”, if you will that there are faults in both the main characters as well as the Leopard people as a whole. Later books will only add to the complexity of the Alpha Leopard male.
This is not my favorite book of the series, but it is a good start. I get the feeling based on release dates that this started off as a side series and it’s only been the past few years that she has rolled out a book a year. I give this book a 4-Star, mostly because how much better paced and plotted the later books are, but this is well worth the read.