Fire Bears by T.S. Joyce
Overall Series Rating: (3) (sXe)
Each of the three books that make up this series are short. At around 130 pages, each book focuses on one of the Keller brothers. The brothers are bear shifters who have been firefighters for generations. They are also controlled by a government agency that uses them as their own personal mercenaries, except these men do not get paid, they only get threatened with exposure and death. The series rating is higher than the individual book ratings because, in this particular case, the sum total is greater than its individual parts. Each of the books has the same problem–pacing and character development is sketchy and off putting. The central problem for the couples is superficial in most cases and is quickly eclipsed by the bigger problem of government control. But, like most shifter books, the allegory of shifter discrimination and hatred is a relevant one for racism and extremism today. It is this larger story of shifter integration into larger society that saves this series from banality and smut. Without that larger storyline connecting the books together, these short stories would seem like thinly veiled porn.
I am not going to review the individual books because my likes and dislikes are basically the same for all three novels. The primary characters have very little development. Instead of revealing characteristics through action, the author depends heavily on dialogue. Love is instantaneously, which is explained as ordinary due to shifter nature, but is unconvincing. The obstacles in each novel is glossed over in a way that makes them all unevenly paced. Action-action-action is followed by sappy dialogue and sex scenes. Despite all of this, Joyce does a great job of teasing out some of the issues with shifter-human integration. It’s sort of the X-Men argument, except a Magneto hasn’t appeared. Instead it is a test of humanity as to how the public deals with shifters and strongly echoes the central issues of slavery, racism, and homophobia. Tackling these big issues isn’t something most romance authors attempt and I admire Joyce for that. She really takes the possibilities of the genre to its fullest potential.
This series is a good example of why I don’t trust amazon reviews. The first book enjoys a 4.5 star rating from 146 reviewers. I’m not sure how that is possible, but it is. I don’t think I am that harsh of a critic, but my ratings are consistently lower than the Amazon reviews. And I have been stuck with many a terrible book because I trusted the Amazon reviews, which is why I am so glad I don’t pay for these books anymore. Although, I have to say, this series is very reasonably priced at $0.99 a book which isn’t too bad for fun, easy reads. That being said, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the books. There are too many negatives and not enough positives for me to encourage anyone to read them.
Bear My Soul (2)
Rory has kept her son Aaron a secret from Aaron’s father, Cody Keller, for five years. But as her son grows older and bigger it becomes harder and harder for Rory to keep Aaron’s shifter nature a secret. In desperation Rory seeks Cody out to see if he can help her son through his painful transformation from boy to bear. Cody is shocked and hurt that he was kept from his son, bitter that he cannot see Aaron grow up from an infant. However, when government forces threaten Aaron’s safety, Cody and Rory quickly realize they will do anything to keep their son safe.
Bear the Burn (2)
Quinn is searching for a new start as a veterinarian’s technician after a heartbreaking loss. When she meets Dade Keller she is embarrassed being caught in a private display of emotion. Dade wants to stay away from Quinn to keep her safe but cannot deny that his bear has picked Quinn as his mate. Despite Dade’s efforts to be distant, Quinn is a target and in order to save her he must turn her into a bear shifter. In doing so he challenges the hold the government has on the Keller pack and his own hold on his emotional walls. Quinn will need to reveal her inner strength in order to protect the pack that has accepted her as their own.
Bear the Heat (3)
Boone has nightmares about losing his entire family to the secret government agency that is trying to control the bear shifter population. Cora is a reporter who broke the bear shifter story, trying to walk the line of reporting while also tempering the public’s knee-jerk hateful response to shifters. As Cora and Boone work together to help people see shifters as people, not animals, they realize their deep connection. This makes Cora a target and Boone struggles not to allow his fears to dictate his decisions. This was my favorite of the series probably because the underlying theme of acceptance was emphasized.