Wild Cat
by Jennifer Ashley, fantasy (2012)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-24578-1


Wild Cat takes me back to the Shifters Unbound setting for the third time, to that place where shape-shifters are forced to live in separate suburbs and wear collars in order to curb their bestial impulses. I'm not sure how much this story can stand alone, however, as the main plot here spills over from that in the previous book and the author busily introduces many characters here. Hey, she needs to find a way to advertise past and future books in this series, after all.

First, the story. Human cop Diego Escobar is at the wrong place at the wrong time, as he quickly becomes involved at the start of the story in heroine Cassidy Warden's personal drama. It is the first anniversary of her mate's death, but somehow, she doesn't have much difficulty feeling hot and randy for Diego. Cassidy wants to solve the mystery of her mate's death, however, and Diego finds himself drawn into the loves and angst of the furry creatures of Shiftertown.

The plot is a bit more complicated than what I have described, but I've decided to leave out the bits and pieces that are carried over from previous books in the series. Personally, I'm surprised that it takes three books for the author to display the common bad habit that plagues other authors determined to sell every book in a series: she introduces what seems like a zillion sequel baits here and, even worse, she uses a big chunk of this book to set up the foundation for the next book. Reading this book is like tuning into a mid-season episode of an ongoing soap opera.

This story has some potential in that, for once, we have a heroine who is the woo-woo kind while the hero is human. Unfortunately, Ms Ashley doesn't seem to know what to do with the reversed dynamics of this couple. Eric is human, so he can't immediately go, "Whoo! I smell my mate... MATE! MATE! MATE!" Cassidy is a female Feline, so she can't pull that alpha horny sex maniac stunt either. Instead of doing anything interesting with this couple, Ms Ashley tries to force Eric into the alpha male role. That works a bit better than Cassidy being forced to play the silly damsel in distress. Cassidy is a disappointment here because she is weak. The author has Cassidy talk the talk about being able to take care of herself, but Cassidy's actions often demonstrate that she is a reckless twit who often gets into trouble because she doesn't think before she acts. Cassidy's so-called independence and toughness is also severely compromised by the fact that the male Shifters in this story treat her like a helpless doll, to the point of setting spies to keep track of her movement whenever she is out of their sight. The author has a couple who could have been a nice change from the usual alpha male-China doll coupling, but she tries hard to instead force them to fit into that mold.

More disappointingly, the author simply gives up on this couple about midway into the story and starts focusing instead on setting up sequels, especially that of sequel baits Eric and Iona. Eric and Iona are a more familiar couple, and perhaps buoyed by the fact that she is on familiar ground again, Ms Ashley displays far more zest in tackling the story of that couple. Of course, I will have to buy their book if I want any closure on that story.

Wild Cat, therefore, isn't what I'd call a solid book that stands on its own merits. It is a lukewarm story that serves as an advertisement for previous books as well as future books in this series. Perhaps the author should just stick to the same old formula of stories featuring alpha male and their mates dancing the same old "see you, smell you, mate you" routine the next time around?

Rating: 65


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