Book Review: Shifters #6 – Alpha

Title: Shift
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2010
Series: 6
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.33
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

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Plot Description: After the death of a couple of family members and the loss of their father’s position as Chair of the Werecat Council (or whatever it is they’re calling themselves these days), Faythe Sanders’ Pride finds themselves about to be turned out of their own home – all because the current Werecat Council refuses to recognize the new Alpha.

SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SHIFTERS SERIES: BEWARE

Faythe is Alpha now. At least, her father named her Alpha before he passed away in Shift. The new Council mandates, however, that every new Alpha is to be recognized by them, and they’re not about to recognize the first female Alpha in North America.

This means war. Right?

Nope. This actually means Faythe once again forgets to learn that leadership is not defined by your literal physical strength as she accepts a challenge by a contender for her Alpha-dom. As Alpha, it’s her right to have a minion fight on her behalf. She does not choose this option either. And she has her a** handed to her on a golden platter as a result, the idiot.

Once we’re past that really embarrassing bit, the book really picks up. Say what you will about her pseudo-macho delusions about having to prove herself, but the woman sure knows how to plan for a battle. And her adventures over the past five books has assured her an assorted band of allies, from Bruins and Thunderbirds to the much neglected Stray cats in territories outside the Prides. And towards the end, the book also illustrates what we already knew all along – that while any tomcat can defeat Faythe while in fully human or cat form, she’s the undisputed master of the Partial Shift. In fact, that’s also where her true strength lies.

Alpha is without a doubt the best of this series. It’s an enjoyable read, and combines the empowering elements found here and there in the previous books with the non-stop action found in most of the previous books. It has vengeance and satisfaction of a job well done.

My biggest disappointment was one that ought to come as no surprise to anyone who’s read my reviews of the previous books. The love triangle came to its inevitable end, and Faythe picked the underdog. That is to say, she had no real choice but to pick Marc (from a plot perspective) because picking the healthy option would have meant that Marc would lose all werecat credibility and would end up an outcast. In true Adrian Ivashkov form, Jace gets his own novel (and his own romance) in Rachel Vincent’s Wildcats series.

I don’t regret reading Shifters despite my frustration with the series because it achieved at least some portion of its potential. It has the makings of a really good story, and I can always just let my imagination do the rest of the work.

Next: Cloud 9 Minus One by Sangeeta Mall

Book Review: Shifters #5 – Shift

Title: Shift
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2010
Series: 5
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.23
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

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Plot Description: Whilst dealing with the aftermath of an attack by rival Alpha (and current head of the Council) Calvin Malone, the Sanders Pride finds itself attacked by a flock of Thunderbirds – supernatural creatures who are half human, half bird. Faythe finds herself taking a road trip with Kaci, Marc and Jace on a diplomatic mission to see if they can get the thunderbirds to stop trying to massacre their Pride.

In fact, the Thunderbirds are the only things Shift has going in its favour. It’s not, of course, the first time a new species has been introduced into the Shifters universe. Once the we, the readers, got over the shock of reading about werecats, the werewolves were mentioned. Briefly. Apparently they’re all extinct, but even a blessed mention is more than sufficient for the exhausted fantasy reader’s mind, which keeps trying to insist that we’re actually supposed to be reading about werewolves out of sheer habit.

The bruins – or rather, one Bruin (singular) – made their first appearance in Pride. Half bear, half human, solitary and rather given to hibernation, and yet the bruins are portrayed as far more human than the werecats who greatly outnumber them and are far more sociable to boot (in as far as ‘sociable’ refers to not attempting to kill everything that moves on impulse).

The Thunderbirds fall on the end of the spectrum directly opposite to that which is occupied by the bruins. They’re more fluid in their morphing abilities, not requiring time to shift from one form to another, and fully capable of going from human to bird (or vice versa) at an altitude of approximately Top-of-a-huge-freakin-mountain meters.

This means they’re far more removed from human civilization than are the other shifter species, possibly because there’s no way you can integrate when your young spend most of their time navigating that peculiar niche of life reserved for those sporting a wing and an arm each at any given point of time. That is to say, young thunderbirds spend all their time in a constant state of flux which they haven’t learned to control yet. Bit of a dead giveaway, that.

I found the careful construction of Thunderbirds as a species and a society far more interesting and far less annoying than I did the werecats. It’s not every day that you encounter a group that retains its status as The Other so perfectly, even after all the shades of grey have been pencilled in.

Faythe demonstrates some qualities in Shift that are supposed to be diplomatic in nature, and she doesn’t do too badly. This step forward in the character development department is, however, largely obscured by the dynamics of her botched relationships with both Marc and Jace and by the ugly rearing head of patriarchal oppression that isn’t bothering to conceal its views behind an insincere smile anymore.

The ugliness of the truths upon which werecat Prides have been built are hammered into the mind of the reader in Shift with about as much subtlety as is demonstrated by a blunt axe. This trend carries forward into Alpha and makes you want to keep quoting Faythe all the time:

“Don’t you bad guys ever get tired of the same old routine? You threaten rape, I kick your ass, and evil is defeated again. Couldn’t we shake things up? How ’bout you try to smother me with my fluffy pink pillow instead?”
– 
Faythe Sanders, Alpha, Shifters #6

As this self aware quote illustrates, the heavy handed, black and white misogyny – a total contrast from the benevolent misogyny depicted in Books 1 and 2, and to a certain extent Book 3 as well – turns the Sanders Pride’s enemies into cartoonish rapist villains. This has the simultaneous effect of also white washing Faythe’s Pride. The Pride under Greg Sanders’ leadership, it is suggested, has always been a place where women are respected and revered. Examples put forward in favour of this argument include Greg grooming his daughter for the post of Alpha and the fact that Faythe’s mother used to sit on the council next to her husband.

Good points, both. Except it’s hard to see how exactly Greg groomed his daughter for command, apart from giving her a job as an enforcer (a job she landed after much negotiation and by threatening to run away from home multiple times) and allowing her to take over the planning of a couple of attacks in the previous books. Nowhere does Greg consider it important that he teach his daughter how to be a female Alpha. Unlike, say, Marc Ramos, who is his second choice for Alpha, Faythe cannot beat every challenger by dint of sheer physical strength. It was important for Greg to show her that being Alpha isn’t – contrary to popular belief – about your abilities to pound everyone else into the ground, but to be the master of every situation.

As for her mother’s seat on the council, Karen Sanders did take a seat at the head of the Council – by her husband’s side. That is to say, after her marriage and motherhood had deemed her respectable enough to be tolerated on the council. And then she stopped doing that once she had Faythe, who was a handful and needed all her time and attention.

On the other hand, a notable example against this argument is the fact that Greg and Karen tried everything in their power to get their daughter married by the time she’d barely hit eighteen, including locking her up in a cage. Another notable example is the rampant slut shaming that goes on amongst Sanders’ enforcers (such as Faythe’s brothers) and the fact that Marc’s abusive behaviour is accepted by everybody (including Faythe) as fairly normal.

Speaking of Marc and abusive behaviour brings me to what I was talking about in my review of Prey – namely Jace Hammond and his approach to relationships and prospective Alpha material. Unlike Marc, Jace doesn’t go around trying to mark his territory. When he wants to make out with Faythe, it’s not to prove a point, but because he genuinely wants to be with her. And when he’s aggressive towards Marc, it’s not because he thinks Marc needs to get off his porch, so to speak, but because he’s concerned that Marc’s short temper might result in him hurting Faythe.

In short, Jace is the only one who seems to even register the fact that Marc is an abusive piece of s**t. Sadly enough, he only realized this after he got together with Faythe.

“This isn’t about you….” “Well, it should be!” he shouted, and I flinched. “Everything I do is about you, and I want the reverse to be true, too.”
I wiped more tears, my throat aching with words that would only make this worse. “What, you need a reminder? That’s what he was doing, right? And now you smell like him. You probably taste like him. You should taste like me.…”
He was on me before I could even catch my breath, his mouth bruising mine, and after that, breathing didn’t seem so important. 

This quote (and the ensuing sex scene) [from Alpha, Book #6] was put up as the sexiest scene in literary history by someone. Personally, I don’t know how the words ‘flinched’ and ‘sexiest’ can even exist in the same plane.

Shift could have represented a great leap in character development for the young female protagonist of this series, but unfortunately, all one ends up seeing is a heroine who is severely disadvantaged both by patriarchal forces and notions, as well as by her own bad taste in men. The weak facade of an Alpha growing in strength and wisdom falls away almost as soon as a discerning eye is turned on it.

Next: Shifters #6 – Alpha

Book Review: Shifters #4 – Prey

Title: Prey
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2009
Series: 4
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.21
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

prey

Plot Description: Faythe, Marc and a couple of other characters are attacked by a group of strays while on neutral territory, and Marc goes missing soon after that. Prey chronicles the ensuing manhunt and the list of never-ending problems that rival Alpha Calvin Malone manages to lay at their door, both directly and indirectly.

Prey provides a very good set up for the next two books, complete with a high stakes finale. It also proves a turning point for Jace Hammond, who is the Adrian Ivashkov of the Shifters universe.

We need to talk about Jace. My reviews of the first three books in this series were too taken up with Faythe’s complex personality, and how it fits into this incredibly contradictory and patriarchal universe, and with Marc Rants. But now it’s time.

Jace Hammond is introduced in Stray via some mild sexual harassment. Well, it’s not technically harassment because Faythe didn’t really mind that this guy had suddenly turned up and put his arms around her, but I object to the fact that he expects she won’t mind. Standard of enthusiastic consent and all that.

Jace is promptly pulled away by two of Faythe’s brothers – Ethan (everybody’s favourite brother) and someone else. Jace protests that had it been Marc, they wouldn’t have done that, and they counter it by saying that Faythe would have taken care of Marc herself. It’s notable that Faythe’s agency only comes into play when there’s a dude they don’t approve of in the picture.

Jace, it soon turns out, is the anti-Marc. In fact, his persistence is the only thing he has in common with Marc in the romance department. Jace is respectful. Jace gives the fact that Faythe is someone with real opinions a lot of importance. Jace doesn’t walk around beating people up just because they’re encroaching on what he sees as his territory. This is because Jace recognizes the fact that Faythe is a woman and not actually territory, and that she has the right to take her own decisions.

Jace also has every bone in his body broken (more than once) simply because he dared speak to Faythe. Thanks a lot, Marc. You’re clearly ideal Literary Boyfriend material, right up there with Christian freaking Grey.

When Faythe and Marc resumed their abusive relationship, Jace was understandably bummed, but didn’t really do anything that would make him stand out in the ranks of ‘Good’ Literary Boyfriends – like inflict grievous body harm on Marc because he thinks she ought to belong to her. The points in his favour just seem to keep piling up, but that’s actually because the standard’s pretty freakin’ low.

In Prey, with Marc exiled and therefore not around to protect his territory, Faythe and Jace end up getting drunk and hooking up. I’m honestly not a fan of the ‘Guy gets his s**t together for a girl’ trope, but that’s basically what happened here, (and with Adrian Ivashkov) and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, Jace-wise. Suddenly, Jace is exploring a possible future he’d never imagined before – one that involves being Alpha-like enough to be able to marry Faythe. He changes. He’s suddenly more mature and responsible. Sadly, this also means he’s slightly more territorial – as is purported to befit an Alpha werecat. The difference is that Jace, unlike Marc, never lets his territorial instincts get in the way of Faythe’s agency.

This plot also allows Vincent to explore a subject close to my heart, albeit on a superficial level. With Faythe’s realization that she’s in love with both Marc and Jace comes the radical notion that it’s perfectly normal to love more than one person, and that that’s okay. In a society obsessed with monoamory, poly-amorous relationships rarely get the credit they deserve. And books 5 and 6 in this series take a look at some of the dynamics that would presumably be involved in a romance involving more than two people. While said study is admittedly more of a guide on what not to do, it still takes their relationship one step beyond the classic love triangle, and that’s something.

The pros of Prey are that it provides an action filled mystery and a thickening of the political plot, the better to explain the alliances formed in future books. The cons of this book are that the action is often slowed down by what can only be described as sheer stupidity on the part of the protagonists forming the hunting party for Marc. Oh, and that it features what can only be termed child abuse.

Kaci, the young werecat found in the previous book, is now living under the protection of the Sanders Pride. She’s extremely attached to Faythe, and follows her around all the time, hanging onto her every word and being extremely perceptive as to the dynamics of Faythe’s love triangle. But the one thing Kaci will not do is shift into cat form, and it has been repeatedly impressed on the reader that it’s important for the cats to shift regularly, lest they sicken and eventually die.

Traumatized by the fact that she had ended up killing several people while in cat form for the first time, Kaci refuses to shift. This does not, to put it delicately, have a good impact on her health.

As her de facto mentor, it’s Faythe’s job to talk Kaci into shifting. There’s also the option of medically inducing a shift, but Faythe refuses to allow this, citing a potential loss of Kaci’s trust. One would expect then, under the circumstances, that Faythe would put every effort into giving Kaci the therapy she needs and thereby getting her to shift.

This is precisely what Faythe does not do because she’s busy with enforcer work, and with missing Marc. And this is the point at which I stop making excuses for Faythe and call her an irresponsible idiot.

The mounting tension in this sub plot is meant to eventually pay off when Faythe talks Kaci into finally shifting, but this is honestly not the kind of plot that absorbs such a plot device. Being careless about the health and well being of minors under your care is not something to be taken lightly. Nor is it an easily forgivable offence.

As far as the plot is concerned, Prey provides a good set up for the final act of the story, but by itself, it’s bogged down by slow moving action sequences and slow thinking protagonists. Like with all the books in this series, it’s just interesting enough to make you wonder what happens next.

Next: Shifters #5 – Shift

Book Review: Shifters #3 – Pride

Title: Pride
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2009
Series: Shifters
#: 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.16
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

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Warning: Spoilers for Books 1 and 2

Plot Description: Faythe is now on trial by the Pride for intentionally infecting her ex boyfriend Andrew, and then for killing him to cover up the crime. The trial quickly devolves into a sham front for Pride political machinations, Faythe and her family make a LOT of new enemies, and a new young tabby, Kaci, is introduced.

After discovering that she had accidentally infected her ex with a bite while she had been Partially Shifted during sex, Faythe has a showdown with Andrew at the end of Rogue. The easy going and amiable guy she used to know is gone, leaving a stray cat turned crazy by scratch fever. Andrew tries to kill her, and she ends up killing him in self defense. Now she needs to defend her actions in such a way that she escapes being executed for her crimes – or even just permanently declawed.

At this point in my reviewing career, I’m honestly cursing all authors everywhere who think it’s a good idea to write six books into their series. I mean, when you’re a fabulous author and your books are really good – well, that’s amazing. But we can’t all be a Joanne Rowling or a Richelle Mead. Sometimes we’re a Cassandra Clare. Or, God forbid, a Rachel Vincent.  At least Clare had the decency to keep her books short.

I suppose I’m being a bit harsh, because Pride was in fact an improvement on its predecessors. But when you have to keep point the same old sh*t out, and when you have to read the same kinds of reviews on Goodreads – well, it gets tiring.

Once again, it’s easier to survive Vincent’s book if one were to focus on what we in the legal industry call ‘the spirit of’ (the law book), rather than ‘the letter of the book’. That is to say, if one were to look past the book’s faults to the story struggling to be told, and if one were to try and divine the intention behind the story – as opposed to what’s actually expressed…

Faythe proves herself a good fighter in the course of this book, and in the process shows up a couple of enforcers from their rival Calvin Malone’s pack. Pride politics are shown for the first time in the series, and this actually feels a little disconcerting, especially since I was comparing the depiction of werecat politics to the depiction of vampire politics in Vampire Academy. In the latter series, the gradually increasing role of vampire politics didn’t feel forced upon the reader due to expert seeding right from the first book in the series onwards.

The Alphas of the other Prides are introduced, and I feel the atmosphere of Stray gently settle on my shoulders again… and begin to suffocate me. Once again, graphic imagery – of brutal and unforgiving imposition of a patriarchal system upon female members of the system – assaults the reader’s senses. Among the various things debated at the trial is the question of whether Faythe ever plans to get married and have children – if she does not, she’s completely expendable and can be executed for her crimes. If she does, then the usual punishment does not apply to her, and she’d be merely declawed – thus rendering her completely defenseless and dependent on the male members of her Pride for protection.

This brand of sexism is engaged with within the book itself by Faythe, and the fact that she is constantly required to be polite and keep her anger under control only emphasizes the ‘angry feminist’ trope. That is to say, when defending yourself against attacks against your physical and mental integrity, you’re going to have to do so in the most teeth clenchingly civil manner. And they’re just going to ignore everything you have to say anyway.

Things get tenser when they find a very young tabby cat called Kaci, who promptly attaches herself to Faythe. When considered in addition to Manx, the tabby serial killer from Rogue who had been taken into protective custody by Faythe’s Pride, this gave her Pride three tabbies of child bearing age – completely unprecedented. What follows the events of Pride, therefore, is the natural consequence of treating human beings like endangered natural resources. That is to say, war follows – war for the literal possession of women. Talk about feminist dystopia, huh?

The only thing I’m eternally grateful to Pride for – aside from the introduction of Kaci – is the fact that the tribunal exiles Marc from Pride territories, thus opening up the plot for an opportunity for Jace Hammond to take center-stage – romantic plot-wise. Jace is the best, really. I look forward to getting to talk about him for a change.

Pride is an improvement on the first two books in the series – plot-wise, Faythe-wise, and due to the introduction of Werecat Pride politics and open engagement with sexism. In comparison to other books everywhere, however, it still ranks very low.

Next in this Series: Shifters #4 – Prey

Next: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Book Review: Shifters #2 – Rogue

Title: Rogue
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2008
Series: Shifters
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.10
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

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I’m so glad to be able to get back to reviewing, but I’m less excited that I’m going to be reviewing the rest of the Shifters series by Rachel Vincent. As I stated in my review of Stray, the first book in this series, I’m very conflicted about Shifters. And as far as the general plot goes, my thoughts on Rogue haven’t changed much from my thoughts on Stray. So in this review, I’ll focus on the differences, and will try and avoid spoilers as much as possible. Spoilers for Stray may, however, be unavoidable at times.

Mild Spoiler Warning

Plot Description: Following the events of Stray, Faythe has taken up working for her father as an enforcer – the first female enforcer in Pride memory – and she’s doing a so-so job. In the meantime, it falls to her Pride to solve a series of very strange murders. A string of stray tom cats are turning up dead on Faythe’s Pride’s territory. Also disappearing are a string of strippers who bear an uncanny resemblance to Faythe. And Faythe is also getting very strange calls from her ex boyfriend from college, who keeps promising her that she will see him very soon – and not in a fluffy, affectionate kind of way.

This is a step along her dad’s plans for her to succeed him as Alpha, which is something I respect. It gets a little annoying, however, when Faythe finds herself unable to toss around large, stray toms who are ‘half again her size’, as Vincent tends to put it. I mean, sure. Faythe holds herself up to impossible standards. But she seems ignorant of something that actually needs to be emphasized more in every context, not just in the context of this book. Consider this a Public Service Announcement:

Women aren’t always as physically strong as men are. That does not – and I repeat, DOES NOT – make them second rate in any sense. If you’re a Pride enforcer who needs to take down an unruly dude, you do not need to rely on brute strength to get the job done.

Physical strength is literally seen as a sign of excellence in Faythe’s twisted world. Now, this isn’t surprising by itself within a world populated by highly competitive males (all of whose strength seems inversely proportional to their actual intelligence levels). The truly annoying part, however, is the extent to which Faythe has internalized this belief. She truly believes that to prove herself as being as good as ‘one of the boys’, she needs to be as strong as they are, and do things exactly the same way they do.

That is not a sign of excellence. That’s sheer stupidity, because the bottom line is that you actually aren’t as strong. So you can either end up far behind all the runts of the litter simply because you’re female and they’re male, or you can use the skills you actually have to prove your real worth.

This is why Faythe kneeing a rogue stray in the groin is actually a sign of great thinking on her part. However, she promptly ruins this step forward in her character development by feeling guilty that she’d stooped to such lows. Marc’s commentary in this scene is also incredibly unhelpful. This is because he takes that all too familiar, “Ooh, my, an emotional female out to cripple us in the groin, take cover!” tone while labouring under the impression that he’s teasing her.

Faythe’s Pride – and the book in general – continues to fail to elicit sympathy from me as far as their track record in human rights are concerned. Her brother Ryan, who had been responsible for helping the villains from the first book do some pretty despicable things, has now been Caged for the foreseeable future. And while Ryan’s conduct – which included crimes like kidnapping/ abduction and abetment to rape and murder – does deserve imprisonment, this fact only serves to remind me of the time Faythe’s loving Daddy Caged her for not wanting to be a teen bride.

Faythe’s relationship with Marc is another eyesore, because it’s like watching that phase in an abusive relationship where they’re all googly eyes and sweet nothings. The abuse isn’t gone – it exists in their past and their future – but for the time being, it’s nothing but an inconvenient memory. For the couple, that is. For onlookers, friends and family, it’s freaking awful to watch.

In fact, it doesn’t take very long for the abuse to resurface – this time disguised as ‘angry sex’. This is hardly the last time this will happen in this series, and that’s no consolation. Angry sex in itself wouldn’t ever have been much of a problem – say, if both partners were angry and this was their way of working things out. But in this scene, Marc is angry, and he’s taking revenge on her in the only way he knows how, because of his whole I-never-hit-a-woman chivalry code. Marc only seems to know how to fix his problems through violence in form or another, and for Faythe, it’s not angry sex. She’s hoping to placate him, hoping to get rid of his anger in this way. Not. Healthy.

When her ex, Andrew – who she never really bothered to break up with – starts calling Faythe and sending her vaguely threatening messages, she doesn’t say anything about it to her father, or to anyone else. Faythe’s reasons for this are numerous – she doesn’t want to remind her family of the extents of her rebellion, she doesn’t want to be seen as incapable of dealing with her ex on her own, and she doesn’t want to risk making Marc jealous. It’s not healthy, but the part about Marc aside, it’s a common mistake made by young people, and serves as a plot device to help Faythe mature.

When Faythe finally figures out what Andrew is calling her about, she goes to the rest of the Pride with that information. And this is where, once again, the plot gets uncomfortable for me. Her eldest brother, Michael, who is a lawyer and gatherer of intelligence for the Pride, has just lost a close friend to one of the rogue killings. He chooses to vent his grief and rage in Faythe’s direction – by slut shaming her the minute she tells them her information about Andrew. And while her father does point out to Michael that the killings of the toms, at least, aren’t really Faythe’s fault, no one – I repeat, no one in that room, including her over protective father and boyfriend says ONE WORD to Michael about not slut shaming. Marc holds her back when she tries to attack Michael in retaliation, but not one other word.

In other news, Faythe continues to make really odd mistakes that could potentially cost lives. In the final act of the book, for instance, she realizes that the escaped stray from the first book was coming after them, and proceeds to lock all the doors and windows in the house. In this process, she somehow manages to lock the killer in the house with her. I’m honestly unsure of the point behind portraying Faythe as sometimes being so blatantly incompetent.

Rogue was only slightly less painful a read than its predecessor, and incorporated most of the bad characteristics of Stray. There is a basic amount of character development involved, but large parts of the prose continue to be unnecessary. Despite this, I went on to read to the next book in the series, Pride. 

Next Review: Shifters #3 – Pride

Book Review: Shifters #1 – Stray

Title: Stray
Author: Rachel Vincent
Year of Publication: 2007
Series: Shifters
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.81
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2

stray
I find this cover disturbing rather than alluring. If you have a strong female protagonist, the least you can do is show her face.

SPOILERS

Plot Description: Faythe Sanders is a female werecat and a rebel. Her happy go lucky days at college come to an end when it becomes known that there’s a rogue werecat out there kidnapping tabbies – female werecats. Faythe’s family bring her home to keep her safe, but she ends up running into the kidnappers anyway, leaving it up to her to save herself and her cousin.

Despite my Goodreads rating of 2/5, this will not be a Negative Review. There will, however, be a lot of ranting. Brace yourselves, please.

Stray had me extremely conflicted. I think it had something to do with the combination of an extremely repressive and patriarchal environment, a spirited, rebellious and irrepressible female protagonist, and the fact that I tend to react very violently even towards depictions of paternalism. This last is due to my personal experiences, which have acted as a trigger for me more than once in the course of reading and reviewing novels in the Young Adult fiction category.

So it should come as no surprise that I spent the first half of this novel swearing loudly at it.

At first I thought Stray was one of those novels that you reject out of hand and warn other readers away from. But then I couldn’t stop reading until I’d finished Alpha, book six in this series. Stray – and the Shifters series – is a mixed bag. It has its good points. And it has bad points as well. And not in a salvageable, let’s close our eyes and we can forget all about it kind of way. It’s actually so bad that the bad aspects of it tend to thoroughly negate any good the book might have done.

But let’s start at the beginning. Faythe Sanders is the coolest kind of rebel – she fought her family for her right to attend college, instead of staying home like a good little tabby and fulfilling her life’s objective – marry a competent Alpha-in-training and start makin’ babies.

This hard won right, sadly enough, is taken away right at the beginning of Stray, when Faythe is ordered to come home because there seems to be a kidnapper who’s targeting tabbies on the loose. Now, girl-nappers would be a problem in any scenario you could imagine, but the reason they’re such a problem is that there are only eight – EIGHT! – tabbies of baby making age in all of North America at the moment. This fact is drilled into our heads time and time again, until you’re just about ready to smash a screwdriver into the head of the next person to mention the 4:1 tom to tabby ratio. The low frequency of female werecats being born gives the werecat population the perfect reason to turn their society into an ultra patriarchal hellhole. The women are over-protected and severely sheltered because the Prides are matrilineal yet patriarchal. That is to say, control of a Pride can only pass through the Pride’s (sole) daughter, but that actual control goes to the guy who marries her to become the Alpha. Losing your daughter – or not having one – means losing control of your territory and seeing it pass to another Alpha or Alphas after your death (or deposition). This is turn means the women only marry Alphas, and that they keep having babies until they produce a female heir. The whole thing is so f#$%d up that I’d be shocked, except for the fact that I have seen similar (patriarchal and patrilineal) systems up close.

Here marks the start of the paternalism rant. Faythe’s dad is the Alpha of her Pride, and she’s the heir. Her father’s concern for her is doubly the function of his role as a dad, as well as his role as the Alpha of his Pride. Now, even if someone’s daughter was in actual danger, I wouldn’t be very comfortable with her parents using actual force to bring her home. And yet that’s exactly what happens right in the second chapter.

Faythe is attacked by one of the kidnappers before she even realizes there’s a kidnapping plot afoot. She breaks the guy’s nose and sends him on his way. It is just as she’s done with the rogue werecat that Marc appears on the scene. Marc Ramos is Faythe’s father’s second in command – and her ex. Seriously, she left him at the altar – and this was BEFORE she went to college. Now you know I haven’t been exaggerating the stay home, get married, have kids rigmarole.

Faythe’s college education was something she fought tooth and nail for, and it doesn’t come without strings attached. Her father has always ensured that there’s at least one of his enforcers – mostly one of her many brothers or their friends – skulking around her college campus, ensuring her safety. Which makes sense, I guess, in light of the kidnappings. But he’s always been careful to keep Marc out of the way, knowing how she feels about Marc.

How does she feel about Marc?

Faythe – and eventually the reader – has a love-hate relationship with Marc. He was her high school boyfriend and prom date. He was her fiance, once upon a time. Clearly, she must have had strong feelings for him. And she does. I cannot, however, for the world of me, fathom why.

Marc Ramos is hypermasculine and uber-aggressive. He has a jealous streak five miles wide, and is extremely possessive of her. Since their break up, Marc hasn’t dated anyone else. He hasn’t even tried to move on. He’s, in my opinion, WEIRD.

AND CREEPY.

Seriously, I get that your ex boyfriend being able to smell the fact that you had sex with your current boyfriend just from being around your bed is one of the occupational hazards of a story about werecats. But if your ex is going to get so angry that you’re borderline afraid of what would happen if he were to sniff your secrets out…

Run, girl. Run.

Because that’s not one of the occupational hazards of a story about werecats, although the author does try to present it that way. Faythe believes that Marc’s ugly possessiveness and jealousy stem from his feline nature. Cats are territorial, after all. Male cats would fight each other for control over the females. In fact, male cats in the wild have been known to starve females in their territory in an effort to get the females to mate with them. One documentary I once watched showed a starving female cat (I think it was a leopard) unwilling to mate with the aggressor males because she already had a litter – cubs who would be killed by those males in order to ensure their own progeny a fighting chance.

So yes, cats are wild. But a werecat isn’t just feline – he’s also human. He has a brain, doesn’t he? Use it, Marc. USE YOUR F****G BRAIN! She’s not your f****g property.

Despite the frequency with which I shouted this message at Marc Ramos throughout the series, he refused to get it. And this is the big failure in the Shifters series. This guy – Marc Ramos.

The books are never completely able to explain Faythe’s love for Marc. I mean, sure, he’s a stand up guy as long as he’s secure in his relationship with Faythe. He doesn’t suffer from Christian Grey Syndrome (aside from the emotional abuse) – he doesn’t see her as weak or pathetic or responsible for the bad things that happen to her. He respects her abilities as a fighter and a leader. He respects her as alpha. Good. Good for him. But he’s an obnoxious ass, and nothing can change that.

It’s weird and f-d up, because Marc is crazy chivalrous. He’d never hit a woman. However, he has no issues whatsoever with breaking every bone in the body of any tomcat that dares touch her.  If something bad happens to her, he finds someone to blame, and punishes them in brutal fashion.

So here’s the deal with good boyfriends. If they’re sweet and loving and caring and affectionate AS LONG AS they’re getting what they want, but they’re COMPLETE assholes the minute they’re denied their ‘rightful possession’ – i.e. you – then they’re not the one, honey. THEY’RE SO NOT THE ONE.

So why does Faythe love him? Is it because her father and her brothers and her mother and MARC narrowed her horizons for her? Because they convinced her that the Pride was her whole life and Marc was her only plausible future?

Faythe herself isn’t perfect. A lot of GR reviewers have pointed out her penchant for ill timed ‘tantrums’. When people around you – and you yourself – are in danger, that is not the time to affirm your independence, they say. Survive first, then be independent. The same people also point out that despite her repeated demands for freedom, she’s had no problem living on her dad’s money for five years.
[There was also that one reviewer who was appalled that Faythe was rebelling against “Family and Responsibility” and called Faythe a ‘cheating whore’, but I’ll discount her.]

Here’s the thing about those reviewers: I don’t think any of them have ever experienced actual loss of freedom. I doubt they know what it means to be emotionally brainwashed from birth, to be financially hobbled, and actually, physically restrained from leaving your house. I don’t think they know how that feels.

It feels like dying. It feels like being smothered to death or buried alive. For those people calling Faythe ‘daddy’s spoilt little princess’, please allow me to remind you that her Daddy locked her in A CAGE. For wanting to go to college. For not wanting to be a teen bride.

A CAGE.

She’s not a brat, she’s a survivor of abuse. She’s not throwing a ‘tantrum’, she’s desperately and instinctively reacting to remembered – and potential – trauma. To someone like that, independence is paramount. Yes, even above her life.

Stray is definitely a conflicting read. I get the feeling that the wildcats are super patriarchal because maybe Rachel Vincent wanted to stage her own version of a feminist revolution. I get that tabbies are rare and thus all those idiotic toms tend to treat them like an endangered resource – locking them up. I get that Faythe has to fight the system and prove herself the best – which she actually (eventually) does. But having her date someone like Marc ruins all of that, which I deeply regret.

Next: Shifters #2 – Rogue