A guest review by Kassa
Days after discovering his husband was sleeping with his twin brother, museum curator Brian Van Zant’s faced with another shocking loss. Both men are killed in a car accident, leaving him no answers, no closure. No chance to say, “I hate you,” or “I love you,” and not sure which he’d have said if given the chance. Now, Brian’s running away from home. Just running, without a plan or a destination.
Tobias Red Hawk is a Park Ranger in Montana, where being out of the closet still seems like a dream. After saving the life of blatantly gay and thoroughly attractive Brian, he begins to question his conviction of staying secretly gay. But before he can face his own identity crisis, there is a mystery to be solved at the top of the Bitterroot mountain range and the answers may lie in the myths of his childhood. And when Hawk’s past returns to kill him, both men discover there’s nothing like facing death up close to make a man find his survival instinct.
Survival Instinct plays off basic concepts, throws in a lot of convenient coincidences, and ends up with a kind of boring, somewhat odd book. It’s not that the story is badly written or contains plot holes per se; it’s just that it uses the easy way out of problems by having everything happen conveniently exactly when the story needs it to happen. I’ll go into more detail in the review but the bottom line is that it’s not a horrible book and may appeal to those fans that like classic romance elements but for those looking for some fresh and unique, you’ll be as bored as I was.
Brian Van Zant has been living with his parents in the three months since his twin brother and husband were killed in a car accident – after he discovered them having an affair. Somewhat unmotivated to pick up his life, Brian is finally pushed to do so when his parents ask him to move out. Supposedly meant to jump start Brian into living again, he goes tearing off on a cross country drive only to end up stranded in a sudden snow storm in Montana. Rescued by sexy ranger Toby Hawk, the two feel immediate sparks and act on them. Now if only those pesky mountain lights didn’t signal trouble, the two could live happily ever after.
The plot moves along lightening fast. In fact, the short novella doesn’t spend any significant time on any element. It creates the tension, finds a fast solution, and moves on to the next issue. There are several independent issues brought up and addressed in the story such as Toby’s rescue of Brian, the two men getting together, Brian being very out while Toby is in the closet, the mystery of the action on the mountain, several near death moments, major discoveries, Brian’s new life and career, meeting Brian’s parents, random kinky sex, and a happy ending. I think there are few more I didn’t mention but the story just throws issue after issue at the characters with quick resolutions.
While this keeps the story moving swiftly it also negates the impact and importance of these various elements. From one moment to the next, you don’t get too invested since the issue is easily resolved. Brian almost dies but he’s pretty quickly over that and moving onto sex with Toby. There’s a mystery on the mountain but call the police and that’s over. This leads into the trope of convenience. Here whatever the story needs to be quick and easy, it gets. Sort of those “oh look” moments. Brian needs a place to stay, oh look only one place available. Toby wants to meet Brian’s parents, they just happen to show up. There is a major discovery and Brian happens to be an expert. Brian just happens to be able to save the day out of the blue, several times. These aren’t book throwing moments, they instead left me tired and disinterested with the frequency.
Additionally, there is the fact that Brian’s twin brother and husband have been dead for only three months and their betrayal, yet Brian comes across apathetic at best. He doesn’t appear depressed or grief stricken, but instead merely unmotivated to really do anything. He mentions feeling grief or having cried a lot or moving on, but all of these statements felt hollow without any real emotional impetus. They felt like lines Brian should say without the feeling behind them to make the emotions real. The story attempts to fully flesh out these characters but they never really came alive for me and always felt manipulated by the story.
Part of this is that the story had several really weird moments for me. Brian’s passionate relationship with Toby felt awkward from the beginning. Brian has a Native American fetish, which I found odd because there’s no real mention of it except he likes the movie “Last of the Mohicans,” and their sex scenes became increasingly weird. They get kinky with some domination and pain thrown in about halfway through the book but from out of nowhere. Where did this kink come in and why it is only included towards the end? Additionally some of the prose and terms felt forced such as when Toby says he’s never “fluid bonded” with anyone before. Or how for the first half of the book Toby calls Brian “Just Brian” even during sex, “Oh God… Just Brian.. Oh God.” The “Just” part is added or dropped kind of indiscriminately until it’s dropped entirely in the later half of the book. These are just a few of the examples of some moments that jerked me out of the reading experience.
Overall I wouldn’t recommend this title except for those fans that love the classically scripted romance. If you’re not the type to be bothered by obvious easy outs then this likely will be much more enjoyable and interesting. It’s a harmless, easy read that is likely fun fluff for the right reader. Unfortunately that wasn’t me.