Rare Breed is a book I really wanted to like. It’s an adventure tale set in Africa with a heroine who’s a park ranger fighting to save the animals from poachers. Needless to say, this isn’t exactly the kind of story you come across everyday. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I’m not enthusiastic enough about the book to truly recommend it. It’s an unusual and interesting read, but seldom an involving one.
Wynne Sperling left behind a privileged upbringing in Washington D.C. to become a park ranger at the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia. With her friend Eieb, her mentor Aja, and her white leopard Snow at her side, she fights an unending battle against the poachers constantly targeting the park’s animals. One night the rangers manage to stop a group of poachers from completing the sale of bush meat from three freshly killed elephants. When Wynne questions the men, she learns that the poaching ring goes far beyond them, all the way back to the Lower Zambian Conservation Group, an organization dedicated to saving wildlife. The idea that someone within the LZCG is working with the poachers seems impossible – and frightening.
Her suspicions quickly fall on Noah Hellstrom, owner of a local safari company and the LZCG’s recently elected president. As she works to uncover the truth and potentially stop him, she meets Jack MacKay, an American who appears to be conducting business with Hellstrom. His connection to her prime suspect means she can’t afford to trust him. At the same time, she can’t help feeling an unexpected attraction toward him. But if he’s involved with the poachers, she won’t hesitate to take him down too.
The best part of the book is its setting. I’ve always wanted to see more romances set in Africa, and while this, like most Bombshells, isn’t technically a romance, it was close enough. It hit the spot in that respect. Hall (a.k.a. historical author Constance Hall) fills her story with interesting details that lend it authenticity, allowing readers to experience this very different world as though we were there. All of the information about the park, the animals, and the local way of life was fascinating. The story touches on some relevant issues about the poverty in the country and what people are willing to do to survive, as well as the exploitation of local wildlife by the greedy. The plight of the animals is a real problem and it feels all too believable here. Hall lets the reader feel the heroine’s grief at the loss of some of the animals, leaving no doubt to what a tragedy it is. It’s nicely conveyed without becoming melodramatic, making it that much more effective.
This is a slower, less exciting read than many Bombshells. When I first picked up the book, I couldn’t wait to dive in and intended to zip right through it. Instead, I set it aside after a few chapters, and read it in chunks over the course of several days. The story takes a while to pick up energy, and it’s not until the final third or so that it really takes off with plenty of action. The early parts of the plot focus on Wynne’s investigation of Hellstrom. It felt too easy, which kept me from becoming all that invested in it. As soon as the poachers mention the LZCG, Wynne almost instantly jumps to the conclusion that Hellstrom is the one responsible. She races to his house, and has no trouble discovering evidence to his guilt. So much for that mystery. Within the first chapters, she’s already figured out who’s responsible, which left a lot of time for the plot to spin its wheels before she manages to stop him. Luckily that last stretch finally delivers on the Bombshell promise, with ample excitement as the story races toward its climax.
Wynne is admirable and reasonably strong, but she also came across as somewhat wooden (though I did like the Simpsons dolls she had affixed to her dashboard, a nicely quirky touch). Her background is interesting (her mother is a high-priced D.C. lawyer; her father works at the National Zoo), but I couldn’t have cared less about the issues between her and her mother, which made the resolution of this subplot particularly cloying. It seemed tacked on to give her a hint of depth (which didn’t really work). I was much more interested in the relationship between Wynne and Snow, as Wynne is forced to deal with the knowledge that the wild is calling to the animal and soon she’ll have to say goodbye forever. This aspect of the story was nicely done. On the other hand, Hellstrom is too over-the-top evil, and the relationship between Wynne and McKay also seemed forced.
Rare Breed is the kind of book where I admired its intentions more than I liked the actual result. It was intriguing, but I never managed to connect to the story enough for it to be more than that. Still, it is a unique story and the different setting alone makes it an above-average read. Readers with a taste for the unusual may find it worth a look.