Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
This book had tremendous potential, and I’m sorry I could not give it a higher rating, but as I’ve seen with some of this author’s other works, I felt that there was a lack of editing that could have made it a truly great read.
The setting of the book is an alternate reality where the lijun – beings who have an animal and human spirits and are thus shape shifters – coexist with humans, but secretly. Although it is not entirely clear, it seems the societal origin of the lijun is Japanese, although the American lijun have native roots. The world building was a bit incomplete in my opinion, and though there was a fairly extensive glossary at the beginning of the book, I found the necessity of its existence detracted from the book – I would have preferred either fewer Japanese (or perhaps they were made up specifically for this story?) words, or that they would have been introduced in an organic way where the glossary was not necessary. I am also assuming that a lot of the societal norms of the lijun were Japanese, but again, it is not clear if that was Japanese or specific to this world. It felt to me that the authors were assuming a greater understanding of Japanese culture than the average reader would necessarily have, and I found myself either a little confused, or just glossing over those sections.
Haru Tanaka was a satislit – a “bride-son”, raised to be bartered in marriage to a different clan for financial and social prestige. They (Haru is agender) were from Japan, whose lijun community was very traditional and sanctioned outdated ideas like arranged marriage. Haru was absolutely opposed to what they felt was essentially a family intent to sell them into slavery, and their rebellion broke out in various mischievous ways, culminating in drunkenly leading a group of children and teenagers to completely trash the buffet and hotel pool during an important international conference of lijun. What should have been complete humiliation to their clan was averted when a wealthy American lijun, Tally Bastille, saw and spoke to Haru and fell in love. He recognized Haru as his em’halafi, his soul-mate, the destined love of his life, and he approached Haru’s family to arrange a match.
A huge complicating factor is that Haru is an otter lijun, known for being playful and social, and Tally is a serpent lijun, frightening to just about every other clan. The fact that Tally is wealthy, and is the leader of the Wisconsin lijun (all animal types) is also intimidating to Haru, even though they were raised to be the co-leader of a clan – there were a terms for these positions but I think those would be superfluous for a review. Haru willfully saw only the negative aspects of Tally, despite all evidence to the contrary. It wasn’t until after the marriage was legally consummated that Haru told Tally how they really felt – financially and legally obligated to do everything Tally wanted, including sex, and that Haru would never feel equal to Tally, nor would they reciprocate the feelings of em’halafi. Tally was devastated.
Despite all my frustrations with the world building, the lack of explanation of some of the attitudes of the Japanese lijun (and also the occasional inconsistencies with Haru’s gender – “he” and “him” still snuck in there despite his agender status, another thing that careful editing would have corrected), I still found myself drawn into the building relationship between Haru and Tally. Tally’s unfailing patience and selflessness eventually convinced Haru of his sincerity, but it was certainly hard won, and the outside challenges – especially the mystery of the murder during the engagement party – were actually very well done and pushed the story as well as their relationship forward. The book started slowly, as I was bogged down in an unfamiliar culture without adequate explanation, but once I caught up, I really enjoyed it. Despite the drawbacks, I would still recommend the book, and I am looking forward to reading the next in the series.
Cover art by Emmy@studioenp is a really lovely representation of the human forms of the two protagonists, but I think it would have been nice to have a hint of their animal forms as well.
ebook, 1st edition, 246 pages
Published June 26th 2018 by Pride Publishing