This is the third in the werecat series. The ongoing characters and situation aren't too well explained. It ends fairly well for an episode, but the story arc is definitely ongoing.
The world remains internally consistent and pretty believable except for the initial assumption of people who can change shape into black panthers. The main plot is driven by politics almost sickening enough to be from the real world. There's a bunch of gore, violence done by people genuinely out of their minds, and cannibalism, but the real monster is the guy who will pervert justice to achieve his own ends. It's a bit contrived, but it hangs together pretty well. There's plenty of tension and excitement. The romantic tension is actually better in this one than in the last one, since it's not just driven by the heroine's refusal to talk to her boyfriend about her issues. The characters continue to engage me and hold my attention in the story; even though I suspect I wouldn't have been interested in them in the first place if they weren't werecats, I'm hooked now, and this book definitely kept me engaged. It's maybe a hair better than Rogue, but on the whole, if you like the series you'll enjoy this episode, but if it wasn't doing anything, it probably still won't.
8 out of 10.
**** PLOT SUMMARY -- MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
When we left off, Faythe was about to go on trial for her life for infecting Andrew and then killing him in self-defense. This book is about the trial, which takes place on neutral ground in a nice isolated resort in Montana. The tribunal consists of three Alphas: Uncle Mike, who seems to be on Faythe's side, Blackwell, an old prude, and Malone, a manipulative bastard who appears to have it in for Faythe personally. It doesn't go too well for Faythe, in part because she is constitutionally incapable of adopting a proper submissive ladylike attitude. But things start to become a little bit interesting when Keller, the local werebear, drops by to complain about all the werecats making trouble on the property, and the news starts buzzing about a couple of missing hikers. The enforcers run into a stray, Zeke, and tell him to leave Keller alone, but since it's supposed to be free territory and he doesn't seem to have done anything, they let him go. Faythe becomes pissed off enough about the way the trial is headed -- they refuse to accept her story, and if they don't believe her they'll kill her for it -- that she manages to partial Shift in front of them. Then Brett, one of the enforcers guarding Faythe, gets attacked by a stray. Faythe tells Colin, the other enforcer, to go save him, but he doesn't have enough balls to try to take on a stray in cat form without taking the time to Shift. Faythe knows there isn't time, so she grabs a handy meat mallet, punches Colin, runs after the cat, kills it with the mallet, and saves Brett. Who is Malone's son, but is the slimy cockroach grateful? Not a bit. He uses the incident as more evidence that Faythe is unstable and dangerous. Then Keller walks in carrying an unconscious tabby, in cat form, who was raiding his garbage. He'd subdued her with a love tap with a piece of firewood. Since it's accepted werecat wisdom that there are no stray females, they are convinced that this must be a Pride tabby, and hence a very valuable person, but she's in cat form and won't Shift. She attacks Dr. Carver. The alphas issue orders that no one is to go into the room with the tabby alone; it's too dangerous. But Faythe recognizes that there's a scared girl in there, and does it anyway. She convinces the girl to take some food and talks to her, learning enough that she becomes convinced that the girl has no idea what she is. She manages to talk her into Shifting into human form and learns that her name is Kasi. But unfortunately, Malone uses the pretext of her disobedience as an excuse to charge her, Marc, Dr. Carver, and the other enforcer who was there with insubordination. It's bullshit, but he wants an excuse -- any excuse -- to take Marc down because he's never gotten over Marc being a stray. And he has one. And Marc and Greg both go along with the bullshit, because there's an implied deal here -- if Marc goes into exile, Malone will drop his vendetta against Faythe. If Greg sticks to his guns and keeps Marc, Malone will insist on the death penalty. Things heat up as they find the body of one of the hikers, who had been made a stray, and he has Kasi's scent. Faythe convinces Kasi to lead them to the body of the other hiker, and when they find it, half eaten, up in a tree, they realize what Kasi had done. The results on the blood test on Kasi come back, and she's not a stray after all. The genetics is a little shaky here, but it seems that there is a recessive gene that one has to carry to become infected when clawed or bitten by a cat. It's supposed to be pretty rare, though just how rare isn't quantified. (This is actually a noticeable plot hole. It seems like quite a coincidence that Andrew just happened to have the gene, but maybe the potential to become a werecat is why he was attractive to Faythe in the first place. But it's REALLY a stretch that the hiker would have had it.) Anyway, though, both of Kasi's parents had it, and she got two copies. So she's a natural werecat, but she didn't have anyone to explain it to her. We realize that her sister and mother weren't killed by a passing stray -- Kasi killed them in the pain and panic of her first Shift. And then she ran away, and has stayed in cat form the whole time because she had no idea what she was or how to Shift. Then there's a big climatic battle with the local strays. It seems that Zeke was trying to set himself up as Alpha of a band of strays in this free territory. And a tabby is just what he needed to have a real pride, so he was trying to claim her. But he's a psycho himself and he's managed to make the strays he has around him worse. The enforcers all head out to knock off the bunch of them, and of course they come back to the cabin where Faythe and Kasi are being guarded. Faythe and Ethan are about to die when Marc -- who was supposed to have been on a plane, but stayed around to make sure that Malone held up his end of the deal -- comes into the house and turns the fight around. Kasi runs, and Zeke catches her, and the bad guys are all over, and it looks bad, when Keller wades into the battle and breaks a few heads.
So, in the end, the bad guys are dead, Faythe is a hero for rescuing Kasi and killing Zeke, and she is officially found innocent of murder and for the crime of accidentally creating a stray is sentenced to "community service" in the form of teaching others how to do the partial Shift. But Marc is going into exile, which he can't fight, because Malone has openly moved to have the council vote Greg out, and Greg can't use up his small store of political capital to save Marc; he'll need everything he can to save his own position. Just how things will turn out for Kasi is unclear, but it seems that the Council is willing to accept that she wasn't responsible for her crimes. And Faythe and Marc have admitted that they are desperately in love with each other. Faythe hasn't quite accepted Marc's marriage proposal, but the two of them and Greg have vowed that they will sort this out.
I have rarely found myself as disgusted with a character in a book as I am with Malone. The way he's using his position of power and personal influence to pervert justice and achieve his own political ambitions bothers me more than if he engaged in simple physical violence, and the fact that he has such power and is able to continue to wield it as he shows his true colors horrifies me a lot more than the insane stray who's eating his dead fellow's guts.