Dark Wolf Rising, by Rhyannon Byrd, was published in April of this year. It’s a Harlequin Nocturne, stories that “delve into dark, sensuous and often dangerous territory, where the normal and paranormal collide.” The story opens with an explanation of the difference between a werewolf and a werewolf half-breed, the pack obligations of half-breeds, and an explanation of what constitutes a dark wolf, and I’m already lost. If the story is about a dark wolf, the purest and most dangerous of the werewolves, why do I care about half-breeds and pack obligations? But it turns out they are important to the plot, along with council meetings, political rivalries, property rights, leadership squabbles, making money, and so on. These werewolves aren’t metaphors for anything, they are just like us. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Eric is a dark wolf werewolf. He avoids humans, and likes to have sex. He’s busy with a female werewolf when he is called to help remove a human female from the tribe’s property. Thanks to an acute sense of smell, he can read her mood, and he can also tell that despite her immediate appeal, she’s not his mate (these werewolves have only one true love, and they identify it by smell).
Chelsea is prowling the back roads to find her sister. She’s a strong and independent no nonsense woman, and teaches Woman’s Studies at a college. She’s not about to be frightened off by a “fascinating tower of maleness,” but apparently she can be attracted to one.
The characters have just met, and I’m annoyed already. First there was the back story on political maneuvering, then one true love, and now a smitten woman’s studies professor.
The notion of one true love is romantic, but the cynic in me rejects it for a couple of reasons. From a biological perspective, it does not make much sense that there is only one mate for each of us – we’d spend so much time looking for our match we might not reproduce. Second, as they say, instead of looking for the perfect lover, one should be the perfect lover. Believing only one person can make you happy is a path that leads to obsessive and dangerous relationships. I can accept it in fantasy stories under some circumstances, such as in a limited or special population. For example, between two werewolves it could help them find each other. Between a human and werewolf? Hmm.
As for our woman’s studies professor, I’m not expecting her to be the offensive stereotype of a man-hating lesbian, but I am expecting someone a little less naive about attraction, relationships, and sex.
Eric escorts Chelsea off the tribe’s property and orders her to leave town. The next day, he learns she’s been taken prisoner by a rival pack, and he’s off to the rescue. That’ll teach her to be independent. But she’s been drugged…with a powerful aphrodisiac…and the only solution is to keep her comfortable and help her have multiple orgasms. This was the first of several “you’ve got to be kidding” moments.
There is a happily ever after ending, and the story is competently assembled, but I can’t get past the offensive plot elements. Sure, this is a paranormal, so a killing spree as proof of love is acceptable. Moping because the only woman you can ever love has rejected you is not that creepy if it is literally true. Still, did she have to be a woman’s studies professor who had previously avoided masculine men, but now sees the light? Did she have to be a virgin that needed stretching to accommodate a real man? Does a woman have to go back to her husband after he beat her, because another man beat him to teach him a lesson? The territory may be dark and dangerous, but surely we can do better than submit to “real men.”