Title and Link: Change of Heart
Author: Mary Calmes
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Change of Heart
Genre: M/M Paranormal, Shapeshifter
Length: Novel (260 pdf pages)
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Cole
**This review contains what could be considered spoilers**
Review Summary: An engrossing world, which has at its center, one man who has no reason to trust, but every hope that he could.
As a young gay man—and a werepanther—all Jin Rayne yearns for is a normal life. Having fled his past, he wants nothing more than to start over, but Jin’s old life doesn’t want to let him go. When his travels bring him to a new city, he crosses paths with the leader of the local were-tribe. Logan Church is a shock and an enigma, and Jin fears that Logan is both the mate he fears and the love of his life. Jin doesn’t want to go back to the old ways, and mating would irrevocably tie him to them.
But Jin is the mate Logan needs at his side to help him lead his tribe, and he won’t give Jin up so easily. It will take time and trust for Jin to discover the joy in belonging to Logan and how to love without restraint.
Change of Heart takes off immediately from the very first page, with our narrator Jin and his friend Crane watching as a young girl is being followed by a group of men into a dark alleyway in the middle of the night. Cursing her for her stupidity at being alone so late and resolving themselves to intervene, they set about to scare the men away by doing what they do best, becoming panthers. However, they’re the ones trapped when neither the prey or the young girl is surprised by their change. Only then, with their backs against the wall, do we start to realize that Jin is no ordinary panther and that he will have to rely on his mysterious hold over the others to navigate the minefield of were-panther politics in which he and Crane have landed.
Jin has been running for eight years after coming out to his tribe, not only as gay, but as a reah — the most rare of all were-panthers and the mate all semel (the all-male tribe leader) search for in order for their tribes to reach maat, the state of perfect equilibrium within a tribe. A semel who has found his mate in a reah is seen by all to be blessed above and beyond any other. The only problem is that as far as Jin knows, he is the first male to have been born a reah in the history of their race. Now, with his loyal friend Crane beside him, Jin has found himself in the middle of three rival tribes on the eve of a new treaty. But, if the three semel of these tribes find out what he is, Jin knows there will be an amazing play for power, with all eyes trained on him as their prize. Can he allow himself the possibility that one of these men is his mate? And if he can, will the tribe stand behind a different kind of mating, one that flies in the face of tradition?
Enter Logan Church, semel of tribe Mafdet, about to take a mate from a rival tribe in a political move to secure a peace treaty and sire an heir. He is a conscientious leader, kind but resolute, and a ferocious fighter with a will of stone and a stubborn streak a mile wide. Before Jin can grab Crane and run to another town, the political machinations sweep them up and deposit them at his feet, and damn Jin if he thinks he can get away now. Logan has found his mate and he is going to do everything in his power to get Jin to admit he feels it too.
The world built by Mary Calmes in this novel is amazing and refreshing. She has put together a social system that we usually only see with werewolves in shapeshifter stories, but which is totally fitted to the behaviors of big cats. There is a feral quality to the politics of their society, so that at any moment I felt like the instability of the structure could be influenced one way or another by any of the characters. Big cats are such proud creatures, that were-panther social norms were extremely rigid. Everyone has a role. Everyone has a place. To go outside of your role was unthinkable and could prove disastrous. Such strict structure gave the story an antiquated feel while at the same time the setting was extremely modern, almost gritty at times. It almost seemed like some strange juxtaposition between the Eighteenth Century British Monarchy and West Side Story.
We learn early on that Jin was exiled from his tribe after a horrendous betrayal. Suffering the loss of not only his tribe but his whole family as well, the only reason he really made it was by the loyalty of his best friend Crane, who seemed to know Jin better than Jin knew himself. In fact, I think that most of the characters Jin becomes close to as the story progresses understand him better than himself, even if they don’t know of the pain in his past. He holds everything close to the vest. He knows what can happen if you let yourself hope. He has been able to retain his steely core by denying he is special, that he has anything to offer. Besides being born in a submissive role, biologically created to support a semel, his experiences have forced him to become an alpha male or crumble. I really admired Jin, as he kept being beaten back further and further, one minute after the next, he became more determined to remain self-sufficient, even to his detriment.
There were a few things here and there that bothered me a bit, though most didn’t take away from the story. At times I felt like the dialogue was rushed. If Jin and Logan had only talked a little more before making rash decisions, they might have actually gotten to know each other before the climax, but of course, when one started to talk about something important, they ultimately fell straight into bed before anything was revealed. This meant that by the time their relationship was seriously threatened, they really only had their mating bond to keep the two of them connected. I didn’t hold this against the author because this is the first book of a series, so it is possible this really is the beginning of them getting to know each other, with their relationship continuing to grow later. All of the characters were well rounded with maybe the exception of Jin’s father. We never learn exactly why he hates his son, other that the fact that he seems to hate gays. Otherwise, the sex is extremely primal and animalistic. A couple of times its even a bit bloody.
The further into the story we go, Jin starts to capitulate to Logan and sometimes it bothered me that he did so, no matter if it is his biological makeup or not. He really can take care of himself. Logan doesn’t think he should have to, but I wanted him to let him try. I think this goes for all couples, and though there was a bit of a rebalance of power in the relationship at the end, I didn’t feel like it was enough. Maybe that will continue in the sequel, Trusted Bond. I hope so. I’m very much looking forward to where Jin and Logan go in their relationship. One thing I’m sure of is that they’ll continue to butt heads. Definitely Recommended.
I will be reviewing the sequel to this novel, Trusted Bond, on Saturday, December 18.