Shawntelle Madison
December 2012, Paranormal Romance
Ballantine Books, $7.99, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345529170
Part of a series

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Warm

With the dearth of paranormals right now, it is almost impossible to find something fresh and interesting in the genre. When I learned Kept was about a road trip with a werewolf, a magician, a Muse and a mermaid, I knew I had found something that met my definition of “fresh.”

Natalya Stravinsky was once an outcast from her pack, but she is enjoying the warmth of friends and family again. She earned a peripheral position among them by being a heroine during the Long Island Wolf battle (described in book one of the series) and is thrilled to not be spending her Friday nights eating S’mores alone. She can only pray it lasts but of course it doesn’t. In order to be an official member of the family once more, Nat must face – and pass – the trials, a grueling ritual that tests the merits of any wolf wishing to join the South Toms River pack. Nat knows her odds aren’t great; she’s not a fighter, she’s not very strong, and then there’s her OCD, which compels her to both stock Christmas ornaments like there’s no tomorrow and has her obsessing over the dirt she can’t see, much less the stuff she can. Thank God for sanitary wipes and antibacterial lotion or she’d never make it through the average day, much less the tests.

Alex, Nat’s recently married brother, vows to help Nat train, but before the training can begin in earnest tragedy strikes. Their father goes missing, the only clue a note from an Atlantic City mobster for whom he used to work as an enforcer. Nat, Alex and pack leader (and Nat’s former lover) Thorn head to Atlantic City to see if they can figure out what happened to her dad. The news isn’t good once they meet up with the people holding him. It turns out Mr. Stavinsky owes a Moon Debt and unless it is cleared he will die and the family honor will go straight down the toilet.

After Nat negotiates with the mobster in charge, Dad gets off with a severe beating while Nat agrees to perform two errands. Just as things look like they might be easy- three wolves performing tasks assigned to one - Alex has to leave. His wife is giving birth and he is wanted at home. The first assignment, to retrieve a family heirloom stolen from the mobster, will be harder with just two wolves. Fortunately, Thorn is there to rescue Nat when her attempt to liberate the stolen property results in an altercation with a goblin. The two are able to head back to the gangster with what he asked for. Unfortunately, the second assignment, to drive some merchandise to a wolf pack that lives on the other side of fairy territory, Nat must do without werewolf help. Thorn reluctantly heads back home and Nat sets out in a nasty truck for parts unknown carrying who knows what in the cargo hold.

Her road trip gets a terrifying interruption in the form of an imp attack. Barely able to keep the rig on the road, Nat calls for help of the non-werewolf variety. Her buddies from therapy – a mermaid, a Muse and hottie white magic wielder Nick – show up just in time to save the day. The trip goes much faster and smoother from that point on – until they discover just what is in the cargo hold.

The first half of this novel, covering the rescue and road trip, was a ton of fun. Nat’s neurotic friends from therapy group may have issues but they can sure kick butt when needed and their loyalty and devotion is second to none. Nick especially steps up to the plate, rescuing and healing Nat repeatedly as they head out on their little joyride. Normally I don’t like my heroines quite this needy but it works with Nat because she shows herself to be a “pack” personality. When she is in a group, she is a productive and vital member of that group. Her problem is she can’t play Lone Ranger and be a hero on her own. The author managed to make this a bonus during the first part of the tale, making the team work and bonding a really enjoyable part of the story.

The world building here is also superb. I liked the way the author has the supernatural world interacting with the real world. I thoroughly enjoyed who she peopled her supernatural world with and I loved how she had her communities interacting. She gave some interesting descriptions of magic wielding and where power comes from and put some creative twists on familiar archetypes.

This portion of the book also showed Nat at her best. When she is with her friends she shrugs off the whiny, worried person she is around her family and the other werewolves and becomes a fun, resilient, mildly snarky young lady. When she is one on one with Nick she is a sweet, sensitive, caring woman. She shines in this element. Unfortunately, all adventures must come to an end and too soon we are headed back to the South Toms River pack.

Here the story begins a deep downward spiral. Nat mopes and whines as she longs for precious Thorn, the man who had disappeared from her life without a word five years ago. Thorn, of course, had a noble excuse which any thinking woman could have picked apart in twenty seconds. Now that he is back – and engaged to another – he spends all his time rescuing Nat or gazing at her longingly. The two made me nauseous. Thorn is the type of hero I hate: a waffler who hurts tons of people as he whines about duty and stumbles close to doing the right thing. The person Nat is when she is around him is someone no woman should be happy to be. I wouldn’t call their relationship a romance – instead it shows how libido can make fools of us all.

The storyline back at home isn’t quite as interesting either. Nat, a wolf low on the totem pole, suffers at the hands of those around her. She takes it. Her neurosis comes back, although a touch milder. The villain is plain as the nose on your face but of course the hero never picks up on it. The plotting here allowed for too much thinking time and the big finale didn’t really satisfy. Nat also shows a certain lack of skill in the friendship area as she consistently puts the wolves who have abused her before her friends.

It’s hard to rate a book which starts out so strong and then tumbles into ho-hum, but I gave it a C+ because the beginning portion is just so fun. Readers looking for an interesting paranormal might want to read the first half of the story and then come up with their own endin

-- Maggie Boyd

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