Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review: Winter Howl by Aurelia T. Evans

Winter Howl by Aurelia T. Evans
Totally Bound Publishing, 2012

We live in a world obsessed with labels. Liberal. Conservative. Erotica. Romance. Gay. Straight. Kinky. Vanilla. The passion to pigeonhole affects (or perhaps I should say “afflicts”) both individuals and organizations.

In some ways, this trend to slice and dice everything into appropriate categories is a necessary adaptation to increasing complexity and information overload. However, it has many negative consequences. People – or let's get specific here, readers – seek out categories they've liked in the past (just as individuals consult media outlets that reinforce their already-established opinions). They resist exposing themselves to different types of literature, sticking with familiar genres, and thus lose the opportunity for new, possibly wondrous experiences.

Then there is the problem that some books simply don't fit neatly into any of the genre boxes, but have to be assigned a label anyway. Such works tend to be overlooked or even maligned, because they violate the expectations of readers who chose them based on the admittedly inaccurate categorization. Such books are rarely judged on their own merits, even though they may be more original and creative than average.

Winter Howl by Aurelia T. Evans is an example. The book is labeled as erotic romance, but it breaks the traditional rules of the genre at every turn. The heroine, Renee Chambers, has sexual and emotional connections with several different characters, rather than focusing on a single relationship. The book sets these relationships against one another – indeed, that's one source of the fundamental conflicts in the story. It is not clear which of her lovers, if anyone, is Renee's “soulmate”. One of her partners is another woman, her long time friend and companion Britt, even though F/F interactions tend to be unpopular in stories that also include heterosexual sex. And the ending, unlike most romance, is hard to predict as well as emotionally ambiguous. In fact, I can't quite imagine an unadulterated happy ending for Winter Howl. Every one of Renee's possible choices involves some gain and some loss.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book. But then, I'm a bit of a genre buster myself. Renee is a rich, surprising, three-dimensional character. Afflicted with severe agoraphobia and subject to panic attacks, she can barely deal with human society. She manages Sanctuary, an isolated rural compound that shelters abandoned dogs and canine shape-shifters seeking protection from harassment. The inhabitants of Sanctuary are her family, her support, her lifeline. She believes herself to be powerless, weak and fragile without them – especially Britt, her loving friend who doubles as a service dog on the occasions when Renee can't avoid dealing with the outside world.

Then the werewolf Grant arrives – a wolf shifter, made not born like the rest of Sanctuary's inhabitants. Renee is inexplicably drawn to him, despite his crude, violent nature. He brings out a totally different side of her – questing, hungry, willing to take risks. The connection between them feels alien, but is just as powerful as her bond with Britt and the other shifters.

So which Renee is real? The tentative, tender woman Britt lovingly initiates into Sapphic sexuality, or the raw, animalistic siren who bites her lover and marks him with her fingernails? Both, of course, and Renee must face the problem of arbitrating between these two disparate aspects of her personality.

The tensions between familiarity and growth, safety and danger, tenderness and passion, drive the plot of Winter Howl. Meanwhile, the book chronicles in delicious detail the carnal interactions between Renee and those competing for her lust and love. Ms. Evans' sex scenes are glorious, full of subtle detail, without any of the hackneyed prose that sometimes characterizes erotic romance. The early interactions between Renee and Britt are especially wonderful. Their relationship is not fully consummated from a physical perspective until well into the book. The author succeeds in making even the early fully-clothed session of exploration spectacularly erotic.

Renee's sexual collisions with Grant have an entirely different tone. They more or less attack one another. These wild, raw scenes may even turn off readers with more delicate sensibilities. As for me, I was impressed by the range of the author's imagination and her ability to bring both types of sexual encounter to vivid life.

Winter Howl is the first volume in Ms. Evans' Sanctuary trilogy. I am looking forward to reading Cry Wolf, the second book (already available), which puts the spotlight on Kelly, an intriguing minor character in Book One. This series may not fit within the standard constraints of erotic romance, but it's got me hooked.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for such a lovely review! You nailed a whole lot of things that I was thinking of while writing it, and I'm thrilled to pieces that you liked it. There may have been squealing involved after reading.

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