I’ll say one thing about Jennifer Ashley – she is versatile with a capital V. She has written historical romances, contemporary romances, paranormal romances, and erotica. Pride Mates is one of her paranormals and it begins the series Shifters Unbound.
Shifters look human, but they can transform into various animals. In this book, we meet Felines, who shift into wild cats, Lupines who are wolf shifters and a few Ursines who can shift into bears. The heroine is Kim Fraser, a human attorney who is defending Brian, a Shifter accused of killing the human woman he was dating. Kim feels very strongly that her client is innocent, but she knows little about Shifters and their ways. So as the book begins, she walks into a Shifter bar in search of information. While there, she meets the hero, Liam Morrissey, a charming and charismatic Feline Shifter who gives her (and us) some background on his people.
Shifters are humans who, centuries ago were given the ability by the Fae to shift into animal form. They were feared and hated by humans in the past, and in the present are barely tolerated. Humans have made the Shifters wear a collar that allows them to shift, but if they become angry, the collar inflicts pain whether they are in human or animal form. While they don’t like them, the Shifters have agreed to wear the collars in order to keep what few rights they have. Shifters have to live in designated areas, they are confined to low-paying jobs and have to endure other humiliating restrictions in their lives. However, their forced confinement in Shifter towns has all but eliminated cross-species hostility among them. Instead of fighting, Feline and Lupine Shifters only mildly insult each other, and cross species marriages are accepted. Some brave humans have married Shifters, but they face hostility from most humans who still consider the Shifters animals.
It doesn’t take too long for Kim to face danger and for Liam to rescue her. In the process, he marks her with his mate scent and she is drawn deep into Shifter politics. Liam’s father is high in the Shifter hierarchy, his brother Sean is the Protector, and Liam himself has hidden depths to him that come out in the end.
Pride Mates spends a lot of time in the beginning laying the groundwork for the world where the Shifters live. While this is very interesting, there are times the plot gets a bit lost in the thickets. Brian, the Shifter whom Kim is defending, fades out for a long spell until his dilemma comes back to the forefront of the plot and by that time, I had all but lost interest in him, since I was so caught up in the Shifter worldbuilding. However, when Brian does come back into the picture he drags the real villain of the piece in with him, and a nasty piece of work he is.
Though strong and intelligent, Kim seemed at times to be either deaf or disconnected. Liam, very early on, marks her and makes his intentions very clear that they are life mates. Kim’s attitude seems to be – life mates, yeah cool, great sex – and even when she goes through two Shifter ceremonies, and Liam informs her that the Fae will give her the gift of long life to match his own, she still has an air of disconnectedness about her. When the villain shows his hand though, she finally gets it, realizes that she loves Liam and always will, and becomes more proactive.
Liam was an excellent mix of human and cat characteristics. I’ve read some shapeshifting romances where the animal part of the hero was more like a costume or a role he played, not a part of his character. Liam, his father, his brothers and the other Shifters we meet really seemed like a mix of animal and human in their actions and attitudes. They are very tactile, for example – anyone who has had a cat knows exactly what I mean.
Jennifer Ashley has created a most interesting world for her characters and she really left me wanting more. I will most definitely follow this series and can’t wait to read more about the rest of the Shifter characters she has created. Jennifer Ashley has long been on my auto-buy list and this book only confirms her place there.