Christal’s Review – 4 Skulls – B+
Kept is the follow-up to Shawntelle Madison’s debut novel, Coveted. It was a strong entry into the series and featured an interesting plot filled with double-crosses, insecurities, challenges, failures, and triumphs. Natalya continues to be a strong voice in the over-crowded UF genre, but the supporting characters are what makes this novel unique and gives the world a depth I think would be missing if the series focused solely on the werewolves. I really enjoyed this novel, but I did have two issues with it that had me waffling between 3 and 4 stars. I finally settled on 4 stars because the many positives outweighed my gripes.
The characters in this series are fabulous. I love that Natalya’s OCD isn’t magically cured overnight and that it is a constant struggle for her. We can see that she has made progress in this novel, but the urges are still there. Nat’s internal battles help to ground her as a character and make her flawed and believable. Even though Nat refers to herself as a submissive wolf, I think she has an inner dominant streak. If she can just believe in herself more consistently, I think we will be seeing a much more “alpha” Natalya Stravinsky. Nat’s family is back in this novel and I like them much better here. They have finally accepted her and treat her the way she should be treated. I still love her grandmother and am eager to see if the Old Magic comes into the story more in the next book. Of course Nat’s therapy group makes an appearance! I love them all; they are quirky and funny, but truly supportive and Nat connects to them in a way she doesn’t seem to connect with anyone else.
The first 60% of this novel deals with Natalya and her father’s moon debt. He has gotten himself into some trouble and it is up to Nat to get him out. She showed a lot of backbone and self-confidence here. I was really proud of her for standing up for her family and doing the right thing. The “road trip” with Nat, Abby the Muse, Holly the mermaid, and Nick the white wizard was hilarious and thrilling all at once. I love the way these characters interact and the support that they give one another. I hope that we see more of Abby and Holly in the next book, as they are off on their own adventures by the end of this one. The moon debt is wrapped up around the 200 page mark, with Natalya returning to her family and finally getting the recognition from them that she deserves.
The last 100 or so pages of this novel focus on Nat’s challenge to rejoin the pack. She must complete a ten-mile run, make it through an obstacle course, and win a fight against another initiate. She is determined to rejoin the pack and regain her honor, but of course stinky Erica has a plan to deteriorate Nat’s chances of completing the challenges. Nat has infinite amounts of intestinal fortitude, but she’s not the most physically powerful werewolf around. The way the challenge day finished was a shock to me; I didn’t see that coming at all. It’s a game changer for this series and I’m eager to see how it affects Nat (and Thorn) going forward. I still really dislike the pack and its dynamics. I’m hoping that the events of this book will have an effect on the pack leadership and change the way the pack members are treated.
This is where my first gripe comes into play… I didn’t feel like the two stories were connected enough. It was almost like we had two books in one because each wrapped up separately and didn’t really intertwine. They were like vignettes of Nat’s life that didn’t come together to form a cohesive story. They each had a conflict, separate characters involved, and a resolution. It seemed as if they could have been separated into two different books. Good thing I enjoyed both of the stories though. Anyways…
During her time back with her family, Nat also begins to examine her feelings for ex-boyfriend Thorn and possible new flame Nick. Thorn is still engaged to Erica but both he and Nat cannot deny their continued attraction to one another. Nick and Nat share so many things in common and are definitely starting to spark, but an action Nick takes to save Nat’s life during the moon debt story sets their relationship back and has Nat questioning the extent of Nick’s magic. I appreciated that Ms. Madison didn’t keep dragging this triangle out; Nat makes her decision between the two men by the end of the book. I’m not going to tell you who she chooses, but my second gripe was that I didn’t buy Thorn’s feelings for Nat. I truly feel her longing for him and I am completely invested in Nick’s feelings towards Nat, but Thorn always came off kind of flat to me. I’m not sure why, but I never connected to him and his love for Nat. We’ll see how the feelings both men have for Nat are dealt with in the coming novels; even though Nat made her choice, you can be sure that there are still complicated feelings running throughout the trio.
All in all, this was a solid read and I recommend this series to anyone looking for a new take on the werewolf story. While Natalya isn’t as physically kick butt as some UF heroines, she is smart and feisty and can hold her own in a confrontation. The world itself is unique and the characters are very enjoyable. I am looking forward to the next novel in Ms. Madison’s world.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Ballantine Books for providing an ARC copy of this book!
Series Reading Order:
.5 Collected (e-novella)
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