Instinct (Awakenings #2)

Title: Awakenings 2: Instinct
Author: Jessica Freely
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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.

Awakenings Series


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.


  • I haven’t had a problem with shifted sex in a book I’ve read yet (and I just finished the Soul Mates series)… but I could see how sex between a human and shifted creature could read as bestiality in the wrong author’s hand (I don‘t even like my cat looking at me when I have sex! 🙂

    As Sharvie pointed out… sex between two (or more) fully shifted beings would depend greatly on how much of their human thought process they maintain… otherwise it would read like a nature doc on The Discovery Channel.

    The unexpected M/M/F sex is probably what would keep me from picking up this book… though it is hard to say no to a self-lubricating penis!

    • Hi Diane
      The first ménage shifted scene where Joam was just watching the other varnals read a little too like bestiality to me because he wasn’t participating, just watching.
      The second ménage shifted scene was a little better in term of it being shifted sex because Joam was involved so the book was describing what was being done to him.
      I hope this makes sense!

  • Jen
    Is Rust Belt part of this series?


    I can understand your distaste for shifted sex – I don’t mind one or two scenes in a book, if done well. For example in one series which I love, Soul Mates, there are all kinds of creatures who are part human and some fo them definitely can’t change to anything but what they are. However it seems that here, in addition to shifted sex, there is a menage with women which would have made me throw the book out the window.


    Re your other point that the author was doing more “telling” than showing, that seems to be an info dump. Based on your review I think you were more than generous with the rating.

    • Hi Wave
      No, Rust Belt isn’t connected to this series. It’s in my tbr pile and I’m hoping that the strengths in this book – ie. the relationship between the heroes will come across stronger in that book which is a m/m contemporary.
      It wasn’t just the telling which I found annoying, it was situations like “we need to have sex, but there’s no lube, but never mind cos Joam in his half shifted form has a self-lubing penis” yet that hadn’t been introduced until that point. It made me roll my eyes a little at how convenient it all was. And that wasn’t the only occasion it happened.

      • “we need to have sex, but there’s no lube, but never mind cos Joam in his half shifted form has a self-lubing penis”
        Best line in a review EVER! *lol* I hate when authors do that but it definitly fulfils a fantasy as I’d love to be able to play with a self-lubing penis. 😛
        I have a question about the shifted sex…are they completely transformed into an animal but still able to have human thinky thoughts? I’m wondering cause I do like half shifted scenes but I’m not familar with this world…you make it sound as if they shift fully into animals as opposed to a werecreature that has partial human features and a human mind. Can you go into more details? Thanks.

        • Hi Sharvie
          Joam can shift into two different forms. He can be fully varnal, which is a creature which looks like a greyhound or be in a half-shifted form where he is more upright, rather than on all fours.
          When shifted into either form they retain their human thoughts, but can’t speak to one another.

  • I definitely think this series is not for me. I haven’t read a lot of shifted sex but yeah, there’s a squick factor there.
    Now on to the cover, I know there are tons of covers out there with the same guy on them due to the lack of options but sometimes I don’t notice (or care much) and sometimes I guess I take a liking to the cover guy and this is one of those times (the background guy). I can’t help but think “What on earth is he doing in this book? He got his HEA.” LOL


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