The Beast Within
The Beast Within is a paranormal romantic suspense where the relationship is the most dominant element, followed by the suspense plot, with the paranormal aspect bringing up the rear. Readers who enjoy stories about married couples who reunite and work through their emotional conflicts may enjoy this one. Readers who want to read a paranormal featuring a shapeshifter hero may be less impressed.
Two years ago Paige Holt’s husband Kieran disappeared under a cloud of suspicion. She and Kieran were both agents for the PAX League, an organization believed by most of the world to be a charitable fund. In reality, it stands for Paranormal Allied eXperts, a top-secret agency conducting experiments in the supernatural in order to use those powers in defense missions. Kieran was working to develop superhuman vision, hearing and strength by combining wolf and human ectoplasm. Then his lab was destroyed in an explosion. Kieran vanished, and evidence was discovered that he and his lab partner had been planning to sell their research to terrorists. PAX has been searching for him ever since, determined to see him pay for his crimes. Paige hasn’t heard from him for two long years. At first she wanted answers. Now she simply wants a divorce so she can move on with her life.
Even though she could divorce him without his agreement, Paige determines to face Kieran one last time. She finally tracks him to remote Callula Island and learns his terrible secret. The explosion caused the wolf/human ectoplasm combination to activate in him. Now he has the ability to transform into a wolf. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the containment serum that could prevent the transformation from becoming permanent. He’s been working on developing a new one for the last two years, but Paige reveals there should be an existing sample that wasn’t destroyed in the explosion back at PAX headquarters. After the pilot Paige hired to bring her to the island tries to kill them, the two escape back to the mainland and begin a journey to Washington, D.C. in search of the serum. Along the way, they naturally discover the feelings they once shared are still there.
This is a better than average series romance, and one of the more pleasant ones I’ve read recently. That may not be saying all that much, but it’s still true. It features an unusual premise and some intriguing ideas. It’s smoothly written and flows well. The author has an enjoyable style, making for a fairly brisk read that goes down easily. I breezed through it in a couple hours with no trouble. At the very least, it’s never boring.
At the same time, it has a number of weaknesses that kept it from being as good as I’d hoped. As is usually the case with today’s series books, it’s underdeveloped. This is the first in a new series about PAX, but the organization is only vaguely defined. This isn’t the most effective introduction, because I can’t really say I know anything about it or am all that invested to learn more. The suspense plot consists of the characters trying to figure out who framed Kieran. This amounts to them throwing around a bunch of names of people we haven’t met and know little about. It’s hard to care about who the guilty party is when all we’re given are faceless entities who are barely developed. The book opens with the explosion in Kieran’s lab. It would have been more effective had the author actually introduced us to the people at PAX before the explosion happened, laying the groundwork for the suspense plot that follows.
Much of the story focuses on Kieran and Paige working through their issues as they make their way to Washington and avoid attempts on their lives. Both had the usual horrible childhoods. Kieran’s father was a drug addict who committed a multitude of sins against him, leaving him with an inability to trust others and a deep sense of guilt over the death of his sister. Paige was an orphan who nobody wanted to adopt, so she always felt unloved. The romance consists of them bickering endlessly about their issues in conversations that occasionally border on melodramatic. The characters are sympathetic and Paige has some valid points about Kieran’s trust issues, but at times I grew impatient with the arguing and her relentless harping at him. Considering they were being chased by killers and Kieran’s life was at risk, it felt like they had more pressing matters on which to focus.
I would have rather have had less angsting over issues and more development of the paranormal aspect, which is too often shoved into the background. Other than the beginning chapters and the climax, the author doesn’t do much with Kieran’s wolf side and it’s all too easy to forget about it for long stretches of the book. At one point, I started to wonder if this story would be any different if the paranormal aspect wasn’t here. What if Kieran was just a regular old secret agent who had to go into hiding for some reason, his wife tracked him down, and they ran around rehashing their issues and avoiding capture?
The author really doesn’t exploit the potential of the premise as much as she could have. I couldn’t help thinking of Anne Stuart’s Cinderman, another series romance (and one that received DIK status here at AAR) about a man who developed supernatural abilities following a lab accident. That’s not one of my favorite Stuarts, but at least she took full advantage of the premise, making good use of the hero’s powers and showing us all he could do. Kieran’s wolf side often seems like little more than a plot device to set the story in motion.
Werewolf romances have been so overdone lately that I started avoiding them, but this one sounded intriguing enough that I decided to give it a try. I’m not sure whether it was the best choice or not, because it’s not really much of a werewolf book or a paranormal at all. As for what it is, The Beast Within is an interesting story and an easy read.