Dark Haven (Wild) series by Sarah McCarty
This series consists of six short erotic romance novellas—varying in length from 100 to 140 pages—originally published by Berkley in two trade-format, one-author anthologies: Running Wild (2008) and Wild Instincts (2009).
Warning: this is very, very, very long. Also, erotic romance, which means graphic sex, graphic language.
Since these stories are so short, I’m going to review both volumes in one post. I’m posting the mini blurbs for each story, taken from the back of each volume, followed by a mini summary/review, with some general comments at the end.
This, however, must be said up front: the world building is pretty perfunctory. Mostly, we are told that there are werewolves around, who live in a number of Packs around (presumably?) the world. We are also told that Packs have very rigid hierarchies and a number of equally rigid traditions and rules, to wit:
- no mixing with humans, both in the “remain hidden from human society” and the “no interspecies nookie” senses.
- male weres are dominant to all female were, female weres are submissive to all male weres, regardless of individual position within the hierarchy of his/her own gender.
- wolves—at least male wolves, that is—are born knowing they’ll find one mate and one mate only during their—potentially centuries long—lives. As they grow older, their craving for said mate can eat at their sanity, until they go rogue (though what being rogue means is not precisely explained).
- male sexual dominance and anal sex are apparently a requirement, not a choice. We are told–with a straight face–that this “is the were way.”
In fact, a fair number of things about werewolf society are never explored, just thrown in, careless-like. It feels as if the reader should fill in the blanks somehow, and while some things seemed pretty self explanatory to me, others made me scratch my head and wonder whether I had managed to miss the first volume or three of the series.
Some sketchy additions to the world building in the second volume make me think that perhaps more stories were planned, but I can’t find evidence of this in Ms McCarty’s site (which is not up to date by any means, by the way).
The first book, Running Wild contains the stories of three full-blooded werewolves, all of ancient, pure lines, who happen to find their mates in three very human sisters. As one novella ends, the next one begins, with a total time elapse of perhaps two weeks from first page to last.
When passion flares, nothing–whether werewolf or human–will ever be the same.
He is a Protector—and his directive is to bring the pack Alpha home and nothing more. But when Donovan catches the sexy human scent of Lisa Delaney, he’s hers, body and soul—and ready to risk both on an erotic desire that will shatter all boundaries.
Donovan McGowan has been sent to fetch his cousin, Wyatt Carmichael, from a small town somewhere in the mountains in—where else?—Montana, back to the Carmichael’s Pack compound. We don’t know why exactly Wyatt happens to be the sheriff in small town Haven, how long he’s been there, etc. All we get is that (Big) Al Carmichael, current Alpha, is dying and now Wyatt is Alpha rising, and must defend his place in the hierarchy by fighting—to the death, of course—all weres who challenge him.
In theory, Donovan collects Wyatt and heads back home so he can make help ensure the challenges run smoothly (i.e., no cheating by the challengers). Of course, he gets a whiff of Lisa, recognizes his mate, and pretty quickly realizes that pack loyalty runs a very distant second to having a mate.
Turns out, Lisa has managed to get herself into a fairly dangerous situation by publicly humiliating the town’s bully. Mind you, she had plenty of provocation: right before Donovan hits town, the asshole goes on a date with Lisa’s terminally ill younger sister, Robin, and tries to rape her.
The fact that Robin gets away with only bruises does not negate the fact that asshat thoroughly deserves a beat down. Unfortunately, the only one around to do it happens to be Lisa herself. Until, that is, Donovan appoints himself as their protector.
I think it’s two, perhaps three days from meeting to the revelation that he’s a werewolf, and oh, by the way, we are bonded mates. Choice? What’s that choice of which you speak,
So now they are mated, which means that they would be shunned by werewolf society–tradition, the old ways, blah blah–so Donovan decides that they’ll stay put in Haven, as soon as they take care of that asshole who almost raped Robin, and his friends, who almost killed Lisa.
And so, stage left:
Kelon likes his life as the biggest, baddest Protector of his pack. He fully intends to go back to his pack after he helps Donovan out, but he never counted on the voluptuous distraction of Robin Delaney. Soft, sweet, and sexy, Robin is the one woman who can make him forget duty and contemplate a choice no werewolf should ever have to make.
This story was a bit sweeter, I felt.
Kelon shows up, sent by Wyatt, to help his twin clean town and avenge the harm done to Donovan’s mate and her sister. He also hopes to persuade Donovan to come back to the Pack’s compound and remain Protector there.
All his plans go up in a puff of smoke upon seeing and scenting Robin–after a lifetime alone, he’s finally found his mate.
Who is dying.
Robin has always been ill, and therefore has not experienced any of the things a young girl and woman would–sleepovers with friends, stolen kisses at the movies, middle or high school sweethearts, etc. Her one try to go out on a date as an adult ended with the town asshole beating her.
So it’s normal that she would feel leery of big, strong strangers that seem to ooze testosterone. Kelon, however, aware of how fragile (both emotionally and physically) she is, tones down the aggression and possessiveness…at least for a little while.
There is yet another, quite farfetched thread of suspense inserted here so that Kelon and Robin can go off by themselves for a few days, but of course they end up back in Haven, mated as well, and with Robin not even knowing what the means for Kelon (hint: if she dies, he’ll die directly after).
As the four of them are discussing going off to the Pack’s compound to see how Wyatt is managing the challenges, the third Delaney sister shows up.
And now we have…
In a pack where only the strong can lead and any weakness is exploited, Wyatt can’t afford to be attracted to the ever practical, completely human Heather Delaney. But with her trim body, fiery temper, and lush mouth, Heather isn’t a woman a man ignores—no matter what the cost.
At this point we know that Heather considers herself the head of the Delaney family–never mind that both her sisters are over twenty–and therefore determined to protect them from themselves. Me, I can’t abide that in real life, and don’t much like it in my fiction, but whatever, it’s a novella, so I kept reading.
Donova, Kelon and the three Delaney sisters drive to the Carmichael Pack compound–which apparently is pretty close to Haven–in time to help keep order as Wyatt continues taking on, and so far winning, challenges. Traditionally, he’s supposed to kill every were he defeats, as this will cement his authority as alpha.
Of course, we are told, Wyatt is different. Born of the previous alpha with a compatible ‘breeder,’ Wyatt is not as sold on the old ways as his father. He wants to change a number of things that simply do not make sense–from the ban on were-human matings and onward, he wants to drag his pack into the present so they may survive into the future.
Of course, one sniff of Heather and things change again. She’s his mate, which means her very presence helps him heal faster from the wounds he had when she got there. It also means that her presence during the next fight distracts him enough to almost get him killed.
Heather, who to this point has denied that the guys are even werewolves, let alone things such as mates, intervenes (with the help of a rifle and the fact that both Donovan and Kelon are present) and saves Wyatt’s ass, at least for the moment.
Interestingly, at this point the tangent about Robin’s terminal illness is addressed, right before another bomb is dropped, and the whole premise of werewolf society changes again: now, it so happens there’s a Council who can make decisions about who becomes alpha.
Long story short, there’s Deus Ex Machina and the set up for the second book.
The three stories in Wild Instinct are tied to the first book by a note mentioned at the end of Wyatt. The main twist here is that one heroine is fully human, one is fully were and one is a half blood. Oh, and hints of magic and a larger world building are randomly dropped in, but without any payoff.
Plus, and the meaning of ‘rogue’ as it pertains to werewolves? It’s different in this volume–see the blurbs.
Three desperate women–hunted and on the run–bring out animal instincts in the irresistible males who promise them more than just rescue…
Rejected from werewolf society because of his human blood, he is one of the most infamous rogue weres. Now, he’s been promised pack status in return for saving three women from certain doom. He never expects to find his mate in the midst of his mission, but he does. And as the heat rises between them, so do the risks.
It is never explained how Garrett and Curran met, but they have been friends forever–literally, living on the fringes of both human and werewolf society. The newly formed Haven pack offers them an opportunity to earn legitimacy and be by pack law the Protectors they were born to be. (No, this is not explained, just go with it.)
At any rate, their acceptance into the pack hinges on their helping rescue some female were outcasts who have asked Wyatt for sanctuary. Garrett, Curran, Donovan, Kelon and a wild card named Daire, head down to rescue Sarah Anne Stone, her two children and her two friends.
Here’s a sticky point: Sarah Anne is a full were who was kicked out of her pack for not agreeing to become the breeding bitch for the male the pack leader chose for her. But were breeders are rare so she’s in danger and on the run–after eight years and two half human children.
At any rate, Garrett immediately know she’s his mate, so of course he’ll take her. Then it comes out she can’t shift, so she’s not a full were either–but her parents did live within a pack, even though mating with humans is forbidden and half breeds shunned.
But, hey, let’s roll with it.
The big problem between Garrett and Sarah Anne turns out that she’s afraid Garrett will kill her children (or allow the pack to kill them) because they are not his and they are just a quarter wolf. Plus her daughter is talented. Which is apparently really bad in werewolf society, even though it’s never mentioned in the first book.
So Garrett does take Sarah Anne for a mate, but he holds off to actually bond their life force until both her children are safe.
In the meantime…
A powerful rogue who rejected the strict rules of werewolf society, he has resigned himself to never finding a mate. Then he joins forces on an unusual rescue mission. In Teri, he discovers the one woman who can make him burn, but claiming her won’t be easy, for Teri is a woman who’s been taught to fear the beast within him.
We’ve been told that Protectors first instinct is to protect their pack, but apparently Daire is very special, because he’s an ancient (yes, this is also new) and has managed to live isolated for however many centuries.
Until he scents Teri, who is dying from being basically gutted. When mates bond, they bind their lives. If one dies, so does the other–but if one lives…
So Daire bonds with Teri in an effort to offer her an alternative to death–and is willing to follow her if she decides against living. Of course, if she decides to live, now she has no choice about who she does that living with.
I’m torn on this one, because I find it poignant that Daire was willing to die with her, his loneliness after so long so overwhelming. On the other hand, once again Teri has no voice, let alone actual choice.
On the other other hand, Teri’s back story (she was gang raped and impregnated by the werewolves hunting Sarah Anne) makes me angry, because it’s never truly explained–nothing about the how or they why, or how she gets away with her life and Sarah Anne’s daughter. If they wanted Megan, Sarah Anne’s daughter, she was in the crib in the same room, why didn’t they take her? If they wanted Sarah Anne, why didn’t they wait until she came back? Given that Teri is fully human, how could they tell she was a “breeder”? And if they could, why didn’t they take her with them?
None of these questions are even asked by any character, which makes me think the rape and pregnancy are just shorthand to give Teri a tragic backstory, and that pisses me off.
Rogue, Protector, hunter. His job is simple: find the fugitive were-woman and bring her in. Trapping his bounty has never been a problem, yet this time his prey is the haunting Rachel, a woman of secrets. Claiming her will put both their lives in jeopardy, but once he finds her, he’s never letting her go.
Because reasons, during the initial rescue, Sarah Anne takes her friend Rachel to run away with her son Josiah–who is five years old, quarter were, yet can shift–and agree to meet at dawn the following day somewhere close by. No, it makes no sense, just roll with it.
However, surprise, Rachel never shows to the meeting point, so Curran–conveniently the only one of the initial group who has no mate–is dispatched to hunt her down and bring her, and the boy, back. So while Garrett and Daire are getting their shit together, he’s following Rachel and thwarting any and all attempts by the other rogue weres to catch her and the boy.
Until he catches up with her, and of course they are mates. But guess what? Rachel is full were, but she’s also a witch! And–how did you guess?–this is not kosher with traditional packs, which explains why Rachel ended up with Sarah Anne and Teri. Her gift is precognition, which is what told her to run from Curran to begin with.
Long story short, after some massacring of bad guys and some running, we are back in Haven. There’s some discussion of Rachel’s gift and tradition and talents. She gets miffed, she and Curran have sex, and…
A big issue I had with all the stories is that there is unresolved conflict until literally the last page. Hell, the last line. All of a sudden, all and any obstacles between the characters are no more. Most problematic is that there is no major event or revelation that forces this resolution either, it’s just that suddenly the female protagonist decides that now things are alright between them, and that’s that.
Sorry, what the hell?
And lets not even mention the half-ass overarching plot thread, which is supposed to be the reason this or that happens, but which a) doesn’t hold together at all, b) doesn’t actually answer any questions, and c) goes no-freaking-where.
Were there other stories planned which, for one reason or another were never published? Who knows?
What I do know is that world building matters, and there’s very little effort on that front here. Also, character development matters, and ditto.
Another major problem for me was just how deeply misogynistic the werewolf society is as written. Granted, it’s internalized misogyny, but still:
His brother’s mate was more fire than water and clearly had yet to be educated in proper pack behaviour, the number one rule being females did not challenge males. There were sound reasons for the rule. Male wolves were aggressive and dominant. While law demanded they keep that side of their personality under control while around their females, there was always the danger that they wouldn’t. Since penalty for hurting a female was death, a female’s compliance was necessary for harmony to be maintained within the pack.
Let’s parse that, shall we? Men are supposed to keep their aggression in check with women, because if they don’t, they’ll be sentenced to death–but we really don’t want to be killing men, so let’s make sure the women don’t do anything–like say, voicing an opinion or, dog forbid, disagreeing with men–that may test the men’s vaunted ‘control.’
Sounds a hell of a lot like victim blaming to me. “If she hadn’t dressed like that, he wouldn’t have raped her.”
Now, of course,we are supposed to buy that these six werewolf males–who have lived, in some cases for centuries–with this worldview, are suddenly tolerant of their own mates breaking this particular rule (to a point, of course).
Not that they actually do, as far as I can see.
The heroines all start supposedly independent and strong, or at least, we are told they are strong and independent. Because pretty much from the moment they set eyes on the heroes, all six of them are quite ready and willing to relinquish self determination.
Mind you, I don’t mind that the heroes are sexually dominant—though some variety there would have been welcome—but the women’s much vaunted strength comes down to speaking their minds. Honestly? I thought that was being a person, not necessarily strong.
This is one of the cases in which the fated mate trope could have been done better *hat tip to Super Librarian Wendy, who hates this trope with all her might*
I do mind–quite a bit as it turns out–that in all six cases the males see, want, take, end of story. There is never any real doubt for any of them that they have a right to their heroine. It’s a given they’ll have–take–her. And gee, the narrative validates this in every case, without making a convincing case why the women are okay with it.
With all that said…
There are not horrible, terrible, no good books.
For what they are–a very specific erotic romance fantasy–they are easy to read. The sex scenes are well written and an effort is made to sell the idea that these six heroines are very happy knowing that they are valued by their men–more valued that the men’s own cultural expectations of who and what mates should be, and how females should behave.
They simply don’t hold up to any critical thinking, or even to re-reading.
Both Running Wild and Wild Instinct get 6.00 out of 10.