Primal
by Nathalie Gray, futuristic (2007)
Ellora's Cave, $5.95, ISBN 978-1-41991-030-2


Nathalie Gray has guts, I've give her that, to call her hero Cupcake in this story. Yes, folks, the hero of Primal is called Cupcake. He's a towering genetically-modified soldier or Lycan with huge muscles and an ability to shift into a wolf-like humanoid form, by the way, so don't be fooled by that name into thinking that he's some adorable male nanny who has come flying down from the sky with a magic umbrella to take care of the kids. Okay, his real name is Richard Moriaty, but everyone calls him Cupcake in this story. How cute.

The heroine is called Liberty Silke. She's also a Lycan. Her real name is Amanda but like Cupcake, she has a fancy codename as if she's a member of GI Joe. She's another exercise in contradictions in the sense that she comes from a very wealthy family (her father is like Rupert Murdoch, only he controls the media of the whole Earth rather than just America) but she ends up being part of a band mercenaries kicking behinds with the rest of them. This story takes place after Feral, with Liberty's eyesight being fried in that story so this story begins with her taking a forced vacation, so to speak, in the Antioch Space Station until her family manage to get a new set of vision implants commissioned for her. With her are Cupcake and another colleague, Dragana.

Trying to remain platonic buddies with Liberty isn't the only matter of concern to Cupcake though. He grew up on Antioch and therefore he has some ties to this place due to his less-than-savory past. He doesn't want Liberty to know of his past because his inferiority complex is already bad enough every time he tells himself that she is from a world different from his and therefore he is not good enough for her. They only have to stay here for three days at most before Liberty's family send her her new "eyes". He just has to be careful to avoid anyone that may recognize him and things will be back to normal when they leave Antioch. But what do you know, his past does catch up with him, and that's when the fun starts. Oh, and he will also discover that Liberty isn't above indulging in some naughty slap-and-tickle fun with him.

While the love scenes can get pretty hot, I wonder how a woman can "fist" a man with her vagina. Is that possible? Because that's what Liberty's vagina does to Cupcake. Maybe I am missing out on some latest street slangs but I keep imagining something shaped like a fist coming out from Liberty's you-know to shove itself into Cupcake's rear end. I really don't think that is what Ms Gray is trying to convey in her story.

Primal is a very well-paced romantic action fantasy and I find myself riveted enough by the story that I don't feel bored even once, even if I'm not bored by the fisting scene for reasons that Ms Gray may not appreciate. However, because she's handicapped by her fried vision implants, Liberty isn't the most exciting heroine. She's not a damsel-in-distress any under circumstances, given that she's a 37-year old Lycan who can kick butt, but in this story she can't do anything much other than to be the object of Cupcake's protective instincts. I also wish Ms Gray fleshes out Liberty's past. She's a Lycan and yet her father is a powerful figure on Earth and her family apparently care for her. So how do they reconcile the fact that Liberty is a Lycan, a pariah of sorts among humans, and also the member of one of the most powerful families on Earth?

Cupcake is a protective fellow who will move mountains for Liberty. He's a pretty appealing hero that way. I'm not too sure though of his self-pity and "I'm not good enough for her" woes which can get too much at times for me.

Nonetheless, this story takes no prisoners in the sense that the pacing is fluid and fast, sweeping the characters - and me - straight into an adventure with the good guys trying to flee the bad guys from the first page and rarely letting me pause to catch my breath. Under any circumstances, I won't care too much for character development in this story since the characters are fine action hero types and heaven knows I don't need to know the sad stories of the main characters in The Terminator to root for them. But I feel that Liberty's character could have been so much more than a mere lead female character in an action space story. She could play a bigger role in the main story arc of the Lycans fighting for their rights, given her lineage. In the same manner, Primal could have been more than a mere fun space adventure romp.

Do I like Primal? Oh, you bet. Ms Gray really knows how to sweep me into a story. I also like that she doesn't try too hard to make her heroine extra-tough to the point of parody ("I am a super secret Mary Sue agent - woo!") or give the heroine some forced overly-visceral side to "compensate" for her being who she is ("Hi, watch me shoot someone and then cry for ten subsequent chapters because I'm not really bad, honest!"). In other words, Liberty comes off like a character with weaknesses as well as strengths in a pretty realistic manner. This one isn't as good as Feral in my opinion but it is still a jolly good blast of a read to me. When is the next book coming out?

Rating: 87


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