Book Review: Stray by Rachel Vincent

(Shifters, book 1)

Immediately after finishing this novel, I found myself complaining plaintively about the book to my reading buddy, Kat Zantow. It was just like Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, I said. Our (super-rare) female were-something heroine builds a normal life for herself and gets a human boyfriend to escape her smothering were-family. Then shit starts going down, which, I took great pains to point out, usually take the form of serial kidnappings and murders of female were’s, and she’s forced back into her old world and into the arms of her superhawt ex.

“Wait, wait,” said my long-suffering friend. “Isn’t this like the plot of every werewolf paranormal/urban fantasy ever?”

“Uhm, maybe.”

“And didn’t it say something of the sort on the back blurb?”

I looked at the book blurb:

“There are only eight breeding female werecats left . . .

And I’m one of them.

I look like an all-American grad student. But I am a werecat, a shape-shifter, and I live in two worlds.

Despite reservations from my family and my Pride, I escaped the pressure to continue my species and carved out a normal life for myself. Until the night a Stray attacked.

I’d been warned about Strays — werecats without a Pride, constantly on the lookout for someone like me: attractive, female, and fertile. I fought him off, but then learned two of my fellow tabbies had disappeared.

This brush with danger was all my Pride needed to summon me back . . . for my own protection. Yeah, right. But I’m no meek kitty. I’ll take on whatever — and whoever — I have to in order to find my friends. Watch out, Strays — ’cause I got claws, and I’m not afraid to use them . . .”

(Amazon & Goodreads description)

“Uhm…Yeah, I maybe remember reading something of the sort when I got the book,” I finally admitted.

“Uh-huh. Now what was that reading resolution again?”

I sighed. “Ye shall not judge a book for being exactly what it claims to be.”

And for what it promises to be, Stay delivers. There is a spunky heroine who fights tooth and claw for her independence and discovers that she is unique, even among were-cats. There is betrayal and romantic triangles and family conflict. The interactions between Faythe and her brothers are fun, and when things finally go down near the end of the book, Faythe shows that she has iron in her spine when facing imminent rape and/or death. (To that end, it is an adult book that deals heavily with rape and may contain triggers.)

At the same time and even within the paranormal fantasy genre, I couldn’t take the story seriously. Vincent’s attempt to create an ultra-independent female character is undermined by Faythe’s own actions. The character is petty and mean to the people who love  her, demands her right to go to college (on her family’s money, of course), and gets it on with two men while still involved with her boyfriend from college. The need for drama and romance in the story forces Faythe into the mold of an irresponsible and unlikable brat.

The world itself is under-explained (why are there so few female shapeshifters, again?) and the were-cats have the mannerisms and social hierarchy of a pack of wolves. I was left underwhelmed by the story, both in terms of the main character and the never-quite-explained plot trajectory. In the end, the secondary characters–namely Faythe’s ex, boyfriend, and family–were the most redeeming features of the story and it was for them that I finished the book.

There are more books in the series, so there is definitely the potential for character growth that I hope Vincent will capitalize on. I would cautiously recommend this novel to fans of Patricia Briggs Mercedes Thompson series and Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld books.


If you like werewolves…

Chirp! What do you think?

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