Oscar Travis has always been the odd cat out in his Snow Leopard shifter family. He is physically smaller and his coloring is different. And he is the youngest of four brothers in a family that had been isolated by their shifter nature and geography from those around them. But if those differences weren’t enough, the childhood shock and disfigurement caused by getting caught in a steel trap ensured him of a sheltered position within his close knit family, while leaving him vulnerable to schoolyard bullies.
When Levi, his brother, takes a cougar as mate, everything changed. They now know there are other shifters out in the world. Lyndon, his new brother in law, is being threatened by his cougar shifter father and hunted by his siblings. During one such attack, Oscar had to kill one of Lyndon’s brothers in order to protect his family and that has left him traumatized to the extent that he is not eating or sleeping. When his father takes him to San Antonio to track down Lyndon’s father, Oscar decides a trip to a gay bar will alleviate the stress he has been under. Instead he ends up being targeted once again because of his size and looks by a group of men intent on the pretty boy in front of them. Only the intervention of Josiah Baker, alpha wolf and future mate, keeps the event from ending in disaster. But Oscar can’t handle either the situation or Josiah, and flees, leaving his mate to track him down.
As the situation with Lyndon’s family worsens and there are more attempts on Lyndon’s life, Oscar and Josiah must come to some reconciliation of their status as mates if they are to help save the family and find the happiness they seek.
Oscar is the second in the Leopard’s Spots series and should be read in sequence to get the full backstory of the Snow Leopard, Cougar, and Wolf families involved (see review for Levi here). The character, Oscar, is introduced in the first book, and to me he was immediately the most interesting character. While Oscar may be small in stature, he is large in attitude and deeply troubled by events that happened in his childhood. Because Oscar is small, pretty, and has a disfigured hand, he was an easy target for bullies in school, something he never told his parents. Then he figured out that he liked boys instead of girls, and the school bullies daily harassment threatened to turn lethal. Oscar dealt with these threats by not telling anyone, a common problem. Instead, as he aged he became aggressive at almost every instance. And this is the state Josiah, a large and imposing figure, finds him in. He realizes that Oscar is hurting emotionally and tries to find out the source of his pain. Then just as the relationship dynamics are getting interesting, the familiar story of large mate/small mate starts to play out as the duo accept their mated status, help protect the family from the cougar shifters, and my interest is lost.
Being bullied at school and its effect on Oscar was a key component of his character’s development. An added facet of this story is that as a shifter, Oscar had the physical tools to take down the kids threatening him, but couldn’t use them without outing his family’s secret. This added more stress to an already stressed out child who was already used to internalizing his problems and made Oscar a very relevant character in these times. All this combined to make Oscar a character multidimensional and worth remembering had the story gone in a different direction. What a story it would have made to see a shifter deal effectively with this situation that now grabs headlines daily.
I think that this book represents a missed chance on the author’s part to speak about the problem of bullying and its long term effects on its victims. Bradford clearly started to address this as it is brought up again and again throughout the story that Oscar has been damaged emotionally by his past. But then Lyndon’s family drama takes center stage with an abduction, Oscar and Josiah resolves their differences and mate, then its back to solving the problem of the cougar shifters. Been there, done that.
Without giving anything away, I will say the ending seemed too quick and unsatisfactory given the buildup it received. And this is a shame because Bradford can write convincing, realistic characters and put them into situations that we can recognize and empathize with even as their shifter nature removes them from our reality. This is the way Oscar started out. I just wish this is how Oscar had ended.
I will continue with the series as Oscar’s cousin heads to the Himalayas’ and the secret of the Snow Leopards. The promise of a better story and Oscar’s family history pulls me forward.
First posted on Joyfully Jay where I am a guest reviewer.