When a Wolf Howls by Fiona McGier
eXtasy Books Inc., 2020
Saoirse McColl has a mind of her own – and that gets her into trouble. A research biologist, she has been fired by several labs because she refused to fudge her data to match the desired results. Unemployed and disillusioned, she’s temporarily staying with her best friend Freddie in his Boston apartment, while she tries to find work that won’t require her to surrender her principles. The listing for a science teacher at a private school in Maine seems like a long shot, but she figures she has nothing to lose by applying for the job.
Somewhat to her surprise, she discovers she loves the beautiful and remote Northwest Maine Academy, perhaps because most of her students and colleagues don’t fit in to so-called “normal” society any better than she does. She’s especially drawn to the school principle Diego Vargas, and to her delight the attraction seems to be mutual. When she discovers the secret the Academy exists to hide, however, she wonders whether her intense connection with the handsome, virile Latino could possibly have a future.
Fiona McGier writes contemporary erotic romance, a genre I find all too often is sadly predictable. Fortunately, Ms. McGier brings an original twist to most of her stories. In When a Wolf Howls, she has created a surprisingly rational and believable world in which werewolves exist but are biological flukes rather than paranormal monsters. Lupines have a double identity, wolf and human, and must constantly compromise between the two. The syndrome is heritable but unpredictable. Until puberty, when an individual undergoes his or her first shift, there’s no way to tell whether someone is a were or not.
The sprawling, luxurious Academy shelters the were-pack along with their non-were mates and associates, in an environment close to nature where their wolves can run free. Once Saoirse recovers from the shock of meeting Diego in wolf form, she’s forced to recognize the powerful emotional and carnal bond between them. Their fairy-tale romance takes a darker turn, however, as she comes to understand what is expected of her as the mate of the new pack leader.
I really enjoyed When A Wolf Howls. It has the luscious erotic heat I’ve come to expect from Fiona McGier, but touches on more substantive topics as well: female agency, child-bearing and motherhood, mismatched expectations between men and women, the clash between moral principles and love. The book is rather loosely plotted, with several crises rather than a single narrative arc, but the conflicts do become more fundamental as the novel progresses, until they seriously threaten Diego’s and Saoirse’s happily ever after.
Most of the novel is presented from Saoirse’s point of view, with occasional shifts to Diego as well as secondary characters. I think I would have preferred to stay in Saoirse’s head the entire time, as the shifts (no pun intended) are somewhat disorienting.
I had one complaint about the writing. The author uses long internal monologues, where Saoirse is effectively talking silently to herself, for exposition of past action and back story. I found this device a bit annoying.
Overall, though, When a Wolf Howls is warm-hearted, genuine, creative and arousing. Saoirse’s a fantastic heroine, a strong woman who’s ready to fight for justice, her own safety, and that of the people she loves. She’s definitely well suited to be Diego’s mate.