Review: Pride Mates by Jennifer Ashley

I just finished this novel, and I have to admit: I still don't know how I feel about it. The writing is  fine--not distinctive enough to rave about but compelling enough to keep the reader moving along.My problems with this book are entirely theme related. Ashley touches on some very sensitive themes here. Some that cause an almost instinctive revulsion in me. Spectres of injustices past reared their collective heads throughout this book so often and so clearly that I had to pause and regroup in order to keep reading.

Ashley's Shifter population evokes the complexities of Japanese internment camps, Jim Crowe discrimination, Jewish persecution by the Nazis, slavery. 

I still find myself struggling to come to terms with the realities expressed in this book. Wondering just what Ashley was trying to convey by putting such hot button themes so obviously out there. And whether the ability to stir such strong and conflicting emotions is a sign of a good writer or just a ballsy one.

Lawyer Kim Fraser is defending a Shifter in a murder charge--the first Shifter ever brought to trial for a capital crime. After running into a cultural wall of silence, she asks Shifter Liam Morrissey for help in clearing her client. But once she meets Liam, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about Shifters was wrong. And struggles to come to terms with her altered world view and her attraction to Liam.

Shifters in Ashley's world are treated with contempt. They are collared to identify themselves to the human population. The collars are also designed to curb a Shifter's natural aggression and prevent violence by inflicting debilitating pain on the offender. Shifters are treated as animals. As subhuman. They are relegated to low paying jobs, denied access to the best of technology. They are grouped into Shiftertowns, surrounded by abandoned sections of the cities. They are not allowed in most restaurants. Humans who date Shifters are referred to as Shifter-Whores. They are shunned by their friends, families, co-workers.

Yeah. The parallels to racial, religious, and ethnic injustices are obvious.

What bothers me, though, is not the civil rights oppression--because it is obvious that such discrimination is wrong. What bothers me is Liam's reaction and acceptance of it.

Liam views the collars as a needed necessity because they allowed the Shifter population to settle somewhere--a necessary development if the Shifters were to see their population thrive instead of die out. He sees the collar as a way to allow Shifters of different species to co-exist. And is apathetic to the discrimination shown his kind in the human world because the things he is denied do not matter to him. That complacency bothered me. A lot.

The romance between Kim and Liam progresses at a faster-than-light-speed. But it's a paranormal, after all, and that lightning quick hook up is so often part of the genre. I liked the descriptions of the pride. The interactions between the Morrissey family members was well done and complex. As was the larger social dynamic of Shiftertown.

Towards the end of the book, Liam shifts his beliefs about the collars. But never really reaches the point of outrage. Or even discontent. I guess it's arrogance on my part to assume that a fictional hero would rail against injustice in all its forms. But that's my expectation. The quiet, systematic way Liam chooses to acclimate the humans to the realities of Shifters seems a little subdued when contrasted with the huge injustices Ashley is evoking.

So I'm left still mulling my reaction here. How do I grade a book that was compelling enough for me to read but gave me a stomach ache at the same time? Answer? I won't. I can't.

Bottom line: Should you read it? I don't have any expectations about shifter romances, so many of the objections others have had about this book don't apply to me. And, as you can see from the review, the social themes overwhelmed the romance for me. Badly. I found it compelling. But it is definitely not a book for everyone.

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