[TW: Mentions of rape]
When her aunt, uncle, and cousin come knocking on her door one day, Ness is forced to go live with them in Boulder, Colorado. While she managed to live on her own for a bit after the death of her parents and is just shy of 18, her uncle lets her know that her mom made him Ness’s legal guardian. Six years since she left Colorado, Ness must return back to her wolf pack roots. Being the only woman in their pack, she is faced with discrimination. But she hopes to change all of that by competing to be the next Alpha. The only thing standing in her way is Liam Kolane, who father Heath was the cruel, despicable former Alpha.
I’m sorry to say that this book fell flat for me in nearly every way. I thought the premise sounded pretty intriguing, so I was excited to get to it. Unfortunately, the negative aspects far outweighed the positive ones in my eyes.
Ness, presumably, is supposed to be a strong, independent young woman. Instead, she merely comes across as whiny, untrusting, and condescending. If we weren’t supposed to like her, then it worked out great. Unlikable characters are fine, but the problem I had with Ness is that I found her to be unlikable and not well written. She had this annoying, “I’m better than everyone here,” attitude about her that wasn’t at all justified.
It didn’t help that the majority of the minor characters were even worse. They fell into two categories: They were mean to Ness, so they were bad; they were nice to Ness, so they were good. Then there’s Liam. His father was a foul person who raped multiple women. Therefore, despite not having seen him for six years, Ness assumes Liam is a carbon copy of his father. But there’s a twist: Liam is incredibly handsome. Which, to me, is pretty shallow and doesn’t give me confidence in Ness.
There were some parts that were mediocre to good, though. The writing isn’t anything to write home about, but it did the job well enough. There were some similes and metaphors that felt pretty forced, though. Another aspect of the writing is that some of the reveals felt very forced — almost like you could imagine it being written. They took me right out of the story. However, the writing was fast-paced and made reading the book a relatively quick experience.
Another thing I thought was good was that LGBT characters were represented. While we only saw one F/F couple for one scene, it was explicit representation and not something that was hinted at. I also liked the little bits we got about how different packs function. It was interesting to see that not all packs are the same or even like each other.
Then there are some, in my opinion, problematic elements. There are multiple scenes where Ness does something on her own — for example, goes on an escort date to make some extra money; or goes to a club with her coworkers. And every single time, Liam is there and tries to get her out. He blatantly tells her he’s following her. One positive thing is that this behavior is not treated as romantic. But aside from her basically saying, “Stop it,” neither is the behavior condemned.
During one scene, she goes to an engagement party at a rival pack to talk to their Alpha about some information. Liam shows up (of course) and tries to drag her out. Later that night, Ness shows up at his house to confront him. Liam (while only wearing a towel) demands proof that she didn’t sleep with the Alpha. Trigger warning. He drops the towel, pins her against the wall, and sniffs her privates to smell if she had sex. The whole scene is written as though he himself is going to rape her. And while it is treated as a completely reprehensible act at the time, Liam gets a redemption arc soon enough. Ness goes to confront the man who possibly killed her father. Liam and his friends show up just as the man pulls a gun on her. Liam is shot. While in recovery, he confesses that he’s always wanted to kiss her and that he’s really sorry about accusing her of sleeping with the rival pack’s Alpha. And then he’s forgiven.
I wanted to like this, but it just wasn’t for me. It felt like a rip-off of Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury, just without the graphic sex scenes. But if you’ve read ACOMAF, you can guess how APOBAL will go down. Unfortunately, while there were some fairly interesting parts to this book, I just can’t recommend it.
[I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.]