Title: Awakenings 2: Instinct
Author: Jessica Freely
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M Paranormal Romance.
Length: 82 pages
Rating: 2.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Joam is a varnal, a shape-shifter endowed with otherworldly sexual powers. Until recently a virgin, all Joam wants to do is drive his new lover Blake, a former hustler, wild. But the hotter things get between them, the more out of control Joam’s varnal powers become.
The next thing he knows, he’s shifting without warning and drawing dangerous quantities of sexual energy from Blake, leaving his soulmate in a blissful, comatose state for days. Terrified that he will kill Blake, Joam withdraws, but Blake misunderstands the reason for this sudden distance, and fears that Joam is rejecting him for his past.
Meanwhile, all is not as it seems at the quiet farmhouse retreat where the two have found refuge after a traumatic experience in Joam’s hometown. If Joam and Blake don’t break out of their intoxicating cycle of denial and excess in time, it may be too late for both of them.
Instinct is the second book in the Awakenings series which began with Virgin (reviewed here). I said in my review of Virgin that I had enjoyed the author’s written skills and the burgeoning relationship between Blake, a young prostitute and equally young mechanic and shifter, Joam. Whilst there had been some problems in the world building in the previous book, I was interested enough in Blake and Joam to want to find out what had happened to them and want to continue reading their story. I’m sorry to say that, apart from the relationship between the heroes this book didn’t really work for me due to several factors.
One of the main reasons why this book didn’t work for me was in the use of shifted sex and menage in the sex scenes. I’m not particularly fond of shifted sex and I would have perhaps avoided this book had I read the publisher warnings properly which did indicate that the book contains shifted sex scenes. Having said that, there had been a minor case of shifted sex in the first book which, although I hadn’t enjoyed particularly, wasn’t too offensive so I may still have read the book anyway thinking that the shifted sex would be something similar to that in the first book. It wasn’t. In this book there are three or four scenes of shifted sex. The first scene is quite short and whilst graphically described in terms of the changes in Joam’s body as he changes during sex, it wasn’t too badly done. My main annoyance was in a later scene where Joam, in his shifted state, observes three fully shifted varnals engaging in a group menage. This group contains both male and female varnals. I had a couple of objections to this. Firstly, I’m not really interested in reading what was essentially a description of sex between three dog-like creatures, secondly, I’m not interested in m/f/f menage in my m/m books and was pretty annoyed to have it forced upon me at this point. The publisher warnings do indicate that there is a menage and m/m and f/f in the book but nowhere does it state that a m/f/f menage takes place. Later on too, Joam engages in a menage with the other three varnals, but I’d given up being offended at that point and resigned myself to the inevitable by skipping that scene. Those readers who don’t mind shifted sex or even menage, will probably really enjoy those scenes, but I didn’t like it and those scenes contributed greatly to the low grade I’ve given this book.
It wasn’t just the sex scenes which didn’t work, like Virgin, there were a few problems with the world building. When I read books with paranormal themes I like to know that the author has really thought carefully about the world and the paranormal creatures that he or she has created. Whilst this book had improved on the world building from the previous book, for example, I liked the way that Joam begins to learn more about himself as a varnal, there were still occasions when I was ‘surprised’ by a fact which came out of the blue. An example of this is at the end of the book when Blake and Joam are trapped in a room. During that scene we are suddenly told several different ‘facts’ about varnals and paranormal things happen for which there had been no foreshadowing during the book, as a result it seemed like I was being given these facts/occurrences just so that Joam and Blake could get out of their tricky situation. I don’t particularly like it when characters in a paranormal story have as yet undisclosed powers until they just so happen to be in a seemingly impossible situation. It’s too convenient.
What did work well, was the way that Joam and Blake began to cement their relationship. They haven’t known each other long, and the ‘bonded mates’ trope isn’t particularly one of my favourites, but their youth and inexperience when it comes to love and relationships (especially in the case of Blake who is experienced sexually, but not emotionally) was quite touching at times. They behaved like the teenagers they are, with extremes of emotion, fallings out, trying to do their best for the other person and sometimes failing but overwhelmingly desperate to be with one another regardless of their difficulties. It was this relationship which made me keep reading, even though the other factors annoyed me.
Overall though there were too many things which rankled with Instinct for me to be able to recommend it but I’m sure that there are many readers who will still really enjoy reading this book, especially if you don’t mind reading about the things I found objectionable. Instinct is part of a series and I’m hoping that Jessica Freely writes another book about these two sweet young men but this time without the menage and shifted sex.