Wow. The beginning of this book was super dark. Trigger warnings abound: There is rape, there is physical abuse, there is mental abuse. If you can handle it, read on!
The thing that sets this book apart from other shifter books is the fact that Sandra Neeley doesn’t hold back. It really seems like nothing scares this woman. It seems that it’s pretty straight-forward. Girl gets taken to dragon, is told she’s destined to be a dragon’s mate, dragon rapes her until she gets pregnant. Wait. What?! Yeah. I started reading this and thought, “Is this really a romance?” The whole time, there’s a bear shifter trapped in a cage. The two story lines seem somewhat disparate, and we spend a lot of time with Avaleigh (for which the series is named) and little time with Kaid (the bear). Neeley’s attention to the mental impact and responses of Avaleigh to the abuse is intense. She does a fantastic job of showing how it takes actual TIME to get over things, as well as proving that the thing she fears is not a universal thing to fear.
My weakness in PNR is when the characters legitimately fight the fated bond. Avaleigh has a lot of trauma to work through, so having her legit fight the bond because of a valid reason actually made sense. I would have been disappointed if she just fell for her mate because he was her mate and forgot everything she went through.
The bond between Kaid and Avaleigh is also awesome and realistic. She saved him, then he saved her and it created a tangible bond between them. His instincts as a bear pushing him to complete the claim and fully mate Avaleigh are a fairly common psychological response to what they went through and how they escaped. They went through something terrible together and escaped together, so it would feel natural to develop romantic feelings for each other. In fact, the way it’s written, with the exception of the constant reiteration of Avaleigh being a Dragon’s Mate, I would assume that Kaid and Avaleigh were the romantic partners in this story.
Mostly, this book is well-written and explores real and natural human emotions in a way that few PNR books do. It is fairly dark at the beginning, but does have a HEA. There’s a whole series of books about the guys in Avaleigh’s pack finding their mates and love, so check them out by clicking the image below!