Saturday, October 31, 2020

Cari Z. - Off the Beaten Path

When Ward Johannsen’s little girl Ava shifted into a werewolf, she was taken into custody by the feds
and shipped off to the nearest pack, all ties between father and daughter severed. Ward burned every bridge he had discovering her location, and then almost froze to death in the Colorado mountains tracking her new pack down. And that’s just the beginning of his struggle.
Henry Dormer is an alpha werewolf and an elite black ops soldier who failed his last mission. He returns home, hoping for some time to recuperate and help settle the pack’s newest member, a little pup named Ava who can’t shift back to her human form. Instead he meets Ward, who refuses to leave his daughter without a fight. The two men are as different as night and day, but their respect for each other strikes a spark of mutual interest that quickly grows into a flame. They might find something special together—love, passion, and even a family—if they can survive trigger-happy pack guardians, violent werewolf politics, and meddling government agencies that are just as likely to get their alpha soldiers killed as bring them home safely.

Comment: I had this book in the pile to read for two years, at least. I finally managed to remember it and add it to my reading list of this month but I must say I thought it would be a much more vibrant read.

This story begins when Ward Johannsen is found cold and desperate near a property in Colorado where his werewolf child was taken, as part of a legislation made for werewolves born outside a pack. Now his young daughter Ava is part of a pack, as regulated, but Ward can't accept she is gone from him so he found a way to track her to where the pack lives. He knows he is breaking the rules but he hopes the pack alpha will allow him to see Ava and, perhaps, to live there too... the alpha is Henry Dormer and his position is tricky as it is, both because of the pack's difficulties and his own job in the military which demands so much from him and he feels he isn't giving his pack the best he can. He could do without another problem, but Ward turns out to be quite an asset...

I think I often let my expectations get a bit out of my control after reading certain blurbs and I keep imagining scenarios or plot developments which I think would be great. When those ideas don't happen, it's really hard not to feel a little down... with this book, I felt the idea of this story would be so amazing... a human father looking for his werewolf daughter and in finding her he would also find someone to love, a pack/family to be part of... I think the potential to create an amazing world building and an interesting romance would be fantastic, especially when Henry and Ward's first meet wasn't as smooth as Ward would want so I immediately imagined the opposites attract possibilities...

I'm not even certain how to put into words what I want to say but I think the biggest let down was actually how packs work in this world. Coming from the experience of reading plenty of PNR with werewolves and even other genres, I feel the pack dynamics in this book were so... out of sync, too fragile. I can understand the circumstances, after all werewolves were not liked or accepted by the majority and they have to live in specific locations not by their choice, but... I can't tell if I'm more bothered because this put the author into a corner in how the could advance the story or because it makes me frustrated the pack doesn't feel united and happy as in so many other series.

Alpha Henry has an ungrateful job, he and other alpha wolves are used by the military for special ops and if they don't follow the rules they can be killed and their pack out in danger or an impossible situation. It felt this constricted the possibilities too much, closed off the plot too much. Added to the fact Henry doesn't seem to have layers beyond the basics, I felt he wasn't a character as complex as he could. In fact, I'd say this about all the characters, they feel too thin, they say the right things, they face likely situations (if one were to think of how they live) but I think the author could have written things differently, with another type of focus.

The romance could be better too, I think. Both Henry and Ward feel some animosity in the beginning because they don't know what the other truly represents but as Ward is accepted in the pack and they start spending time together, their feelings increase and they start sharing thoughts, feelings, doubts... I mean, it was good to see them becoming closer and although the words were on the page I just couldn't see how it mattered, how their connection was that vital or that deep.

All the character interactions, in a way, felt weak. They go through the motions, they say what they have to, but I think the author could have surely written things in a way that would portray those things better or with more emotion.Even the issues with two other secondary characters, which was given quite the attention towards the end of the story, were treated very superficially, without much layers to them or to the whole situation. I feel the story as a whole wasn't given enough complexity (in the sense of specific details to the werewolves dynamics, structure...) and there's this sort of negative tone throughout the book, even when good scenes/things happen.

I don't think this book is bad and the fact isn't too big means one can read it easily. However, since the take on werewolves is different from the norm, I feel the author missed the opportunity to make it special, to make it so great that everything else would follow and, sadly for me, that wasn't so. As a whole, the book works but when I think of putting each detail apart, most of them weren't as amazingly done as it could. So, all in all, this was a good effort but not that great to me.

Grade: 6/10

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