Title: Savage Sanctuary
Author: Jacqueline Barbary
Publisher: Carina Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M paranormal romance
Length: 85 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
A promising paranormal shifter story with some good and interesting ideas, but which failed to capitalise on that promise.
Sexy bad boy shapeshifter Michael O’Dare grew up on the streets. When government soldiers finally captured and imprisoned him, he became a lab rat and a collared slave, never again allowed to be human. His escape allowed him to return to human form and head for freedom in the Western Territories.
Robert Hamilton-Scott had lived by the code “You’re careful, or you’re caught” for too long to take chances now. The one risk he takes in his carefully controlled life is offering temporary shelter to shifters on the run like Michael.
Robert knows it’s definitely not safe to want the sexy renegade he’s giving sanctuary to—passion is dangerous for a shapeshifter. As the soldiers close in he must choose between the careful life he’s built or life on the run with the man who has captured his heart.
Savage Sanctuary begins with a tense opening. A band of rebels arrives at the door of Robert Hamilton-Scott’s Virginian farmhouse. They bring with them a shifter, Michael, who has recently escaped from a year long captivity in government labs where he was tested to see how long he could hold his shifted state whilst under a cocktail of drugs. Robert takes Michael in and offers him shelter, knowing that Michael is possibly dangerous. In the end, Michael is more of a danger to Robert’s heart and his own self-control as a shifter.
As I said in my short summary, this story contained a lot of promise. It has several great individual ideas incorporated within its world building. The shifters in the story were originally created in a government lab, but many escaped and now they have mingled with the general population, interbreeding with humans and are almost accepted as part of life in many places – except Virginia and some others states. However, the government fears them and wants to control them. Added to this is the government’s desire to utilise the powers of the shifters which is why many of them are captured and forced into labs. I found this a refreshing change from the usual shifter stories which mostly use the idea that shifters have always been amongst humans, just cleverly hidden. The way the shifters change was also a bit different from the usual. Instead of ‘morphing’ their bodies, they seem to be able to call on an animal to appear, and their body dematerialises to be replaced by that of an animal. This led to some interesting, and in some ways quite frightening, scenes later in the book as to what can happen should a shifter be unable to recall their human form. I do wish more detail could have been given both about how and why the shifters were created and also the logistics of how the shifters ‘call’ on the animals they shift to, as this was perhaps the most unique aspect of the novel and I would have liked more than the small amount of explanation that we are given. Perhaps this is the sci-fi geek in me who wanted just that bit more of the science stuff to counterbalance what turned out to be a bit of a sudden and over-sweet romance.
As you may have gathered from that above statement, my main problem with the book lay in the romance between Robert and Michael. When Michael arrives at the start of the book it is hinted that he could be dangerous, having been locked up in a lab and denied his humanity for so long. I liked the idea of this and looked forward to what I thought would be a ‘taming’ of Michael and possibly an angst filled book as Michael recovers from his ordeal. Unfortunately for me, when Michael awoke he was hardly affected at all and if it wasn’t for a couple of flashbacks which showed how badly he was treated in the lab, and his terrible capture, then I would have thought his captivity quite pleasant. There’s no mental or emotional trauma, and only one scene of physical trauma when Michael has difficulty during a shift. Instead the focus is on Michael and Robert’s immediate physical attraction, followed quickly with emotional attachment. Yes, it seems that Michael was cured by the power of sex with very little ill effects from his experience. This is not what I would have expected from a man who had been in the conditions described at the beginning of the book:
They all knew what it meant for a shape-shifter to be in scientists’ hands for so long.
The scientists had less respect for shape-shifters than they had for lab rats, and the experiments they implemented put captured shifters in a living hell.
Another aspect which could have worked well, is the ‘opposites attract’ theme. Robert is a “centred shifter”, a type of shifter religion where the shifters seek always to exercise restraint in their lives. Michael was born into a shifter gang and has known nothing but excess in his relationships and shifting. This could have been a great tension between them, and I felt much more could have been made of this aspect of their personalities. However, instead of tension, the couple gloss over their differences in background, with only Robert showing any character growth in this area as he moves from the overly-cautious life that he has led, to a freer less restrained life under Michael’s influence. One part where the opposite personalities did work well is in the sex scenes where virginal Robert is seduced by Michael, leading to a number of tender sex scenes.
One final area which I found a little distracting was the overuse of the one sentence paragraph for no reason. Often this is used for effect, to highlight a point or emotion. However, in this book is was used so often I found it an annoyance. For example on one page alone there were 13 paragraphs, 8 of those were one sentence, none of which were dialogue. Having said that, this was a minor niggle in the written style which on the whole was engaging, with a good use of descriptive vocabulary.
Overall, if you are looking for an unusual shifter book with some interesting ideas, pleasant characters and a story which moves at a good pace, then you might like this book. I found the romance too sweet for my taste, and I also dislike the theme of sex having the power to heal all emotional wounds, so I’m unable to wholeheartedly recommend Savage Sanctuary.