Bella Wilder is a red werewolf who as a child, was rescued from the wildfire that killed her family by gray werewolf Devlyn. She was adopted into his pack, but almost from the beginning, the pack leader, Volan, became obsessed with having her as his mate. Bella loved Devlyn from the start and wanted nothing to do with Volan, but Volan tried to force a mating by attempting to rape her several times. Fearing that Devlyn would challenge Volan if he knew, she never told him what happened, and instead ran away. For the last century and a half, she has lived the life of a lone wolf until she is accidentally captured in her wolf form and placed in a zoo. The appearance of a red wolf in Oregon is such an unusual occurrence that Bella ends up on the news, leading Devlyn and Volan straight to her doorstep.
Devlyn fell for Bella all those years ago and has never stopped loving her. When she shows up on the news, Volan sends him to break her out of the zoo and return her to their pack in Colorado. He doesn't really want to return Bella to Volan, but as a beta male, he must do as his leader says. Unfortunately, Bella isn't cooperating. Not only does she not want to be Volan's mate, she's also determined to find the red werewolf she believes is responsible for a string of serial murders of women in the area. She thinks the rogue wolf is trying to turn human females to make them his mate, but when things go south, he ends up killing them. Using herself as bait, she and Devlyn try to flush out the killer, but after they figure out who it is, Devlyn will have to go up against the red wolf pack who want Bella almost as badly as Volan does. In the meantime, Volan is still hot on their heels too, but once Bella finally accepts Devlyn as her fated mate, he's not about to let her go again without a fight, even if if means going up against his alpha.
Heart of the Wolf was my first read by Terry Spear and the first in her werewolf series of the same name. I'd been looking forward to reading this book for a while but in the end, was rather disappointed by it. The characters were lacking in depth, and the heroine tended to frustrate me at times. While there was some decent action and mystery to the plot, I felt that the denouements to both aspects were too brief and easy. The sexual tension is high throughout, but the love scenes fell flat, and there was little actual romance to speak of. The author's writing style could also have used a lot more polish as well. Overall this was just an OK read for me.
Devlyn and Bella's backstories are minimal at best. Both were adopted into the same wolf pack at a fairly young age, Devlyn first, and then he later saved Bella's life and brought her to the pack when her family was killed in a wildfire. Bella is a red wolf while the rest of the pack are grays, and both she and Devlyn are alone in the world except for their adoptive family. Pack alpha, Volan, became obsessed with having Bella as his mate, but she was in love with Devlyn from the time they were children and had no interest in Volan at all. Bella ran from the pack to become a lone wolf after Volan attempted to rape her several times. She never told Devlyn, because she knew he would want to challenge Volan and she didn't think he was strong enough to defeat the villainous wolf at the time. Then we fast-forward 150+ years to find Bella living among humans, but we learn little of what happened to any of the characters during that long period of time. In fact, I was left wondering for several chapters how Bella was able to pay for her living expenses as a human. To be honest, I'm also not sure why the author chose to begin the story so far in the past, because the long time frame didn't seem to have much bearing on the overall plot except that in her version of werewolf mythology, the wolves age at a rate of one year for every thirty human years. Because of this, it took that long for Devlyn and Bella to mature to the point that Devlyn supposedly had a chance of challenging for the position of pack alpha.
During all that time Devlyn never stopped loving Bella. He supposedly searched for her but was never able to find her. To some extent, I understood Devlyn's pack mentality, but I couldn't help thinking that if he loved Bella so much, he should have wanted to leave with her and maybe start their own pack, which seemed like something they could have done. If Bella had told him about Volan's attempted rapes all those years ago, it might have convinced Devlyn to go away with her. I know she thought he would try to challenge Volan instead, but if he had, he'd have been stupid, given that he had little chance of defeating the other much bigger wolf male. I didn't, however, see any major obstacle to them going rogue together. Instead, they ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time apart, simply because they were both too obstinate to do what seemed to me to be the sensible thing.
When Devlyn and Bella finally reunite, their stubborn misunderstandings continue for quite a while, and I have to admit that it was beginning to get on my nerves. Devlyn thought Bella was still determined to have a human mate, when in reality, she only wanted a human because she believed she couldn't have Devlyn without risking his life and refused to mate Volan. Bella thought Devlyn was only acting as Volan's lackey, intending to return her to the alpha leader, apparently not realizing he's crazy about her himself. Both of them think the other is only attracted because of her being in the mating heat, and both of them think that Volan would kill Devlyn if he touched Bella. While all these things were true to some extent, they could certainly have cleared up a lot of it with a good heart to heart, but instead, they kept assuming things about the other rather than talking or admitting they've had feelings for each other since he first rescued her so many years ago and still do. Eventually, Devlyn finally realized that Bella cares for him more than she was letting on because of all the pictures of him she kept around her house, but he still had an uphill battle getting the hard-headed female to admit it and accept him as her mate.
At least Devlyn's thoughts and actions made sense some of the time, but Bella simply frustrated me for the majority of the book. First, she ran away without ever telling Devlyn why and left him in the dark for a century and half. Even after they reunite and Devlyn expresses his feelings for her, she still adamantly refuses to become his mate for some time. It was made abundantly clear that she feared for his life if he went up against Volan, but to me, it felt like she had no faith in his abilities whatsoever, which made me question her love for him and their rightness for one another. I fully understood how it hurt Devlyn when Bella repeatedly intimated that he couldn't take Volan, but she always seemed to dismiss his concern as mere male (or wolf) ego. I especially felt her attitude was hypocritical when she decided to rush headlong into life-threatening danger herself to find the red-wolf serial killer. To be honest, I didn't fully understand her determination to catch this wolf either. Maybe if she'd had some kind of background in law enforcement or a connection to one of the victims, her seeming obsession might have made sense, but she only took it upon herself to do it because the rogue wolf was threatening to reveal the existence of all lupus garous by his actions. She also didn't like that he appeared to be attempting to change human females into wolves to mate and then killing them when it went south. Again, this seemed a bit hypocritical since Bella had been obstinately planning to mate a human herself although admittedly, she hadn't gone through with it. That was yet another thing that didn't make sense to me. Bella seemed to think it preferable to mate a human in order to keep Devlyn alive instead of making a stand with him. I don't see how pining after the man she truly loved for the rest of her life which could be many more centuries and being mated to someone she'd never love was better than trying to take down the bad guy. There were two things that really soured me on Bella though. First was when she shot Volan and then lied to Devlyn about it. The second was when she was still thinking about running away from Devlyn again even after she'd already mated him. It's not that Bella was a bad person. I think her heart was mostly in the right place, but she certainly left me rolling my eyes and shaking my head in bewilderment most of the time due to her illogical, reactionary behavior.
Normally, I enjoy when an author can keep the sexual tension high throughout the novel, but during the early parts of this book, the sheer number of false-starts and interruptions to love-making that Devlyn and Bella experience is bordering on the ridiculous. I was also having a hard time believing that both of them could resist as long as they did, given that she was in the mating heat. Usually, I'm not a big fan of the sex coming at the beginning of the story, but since Devlyn and Bella had a history together and an obvious strong attraction, I'd almost have preferred they do it the first time they were alone together and then have to figure out how to get around Volan later. Instead, it takes until nearly halfway into the book. After waiting for 150 years and having so many starts and stops, I was expecting the first love scene to be spectacular, but they end up doing it in the back seat of their SUV in her garage. This was very disappointing to say the least and not romantic at all in my opinion, especially given that Bella was still a virgin after all that time. I couldn't help thinking that after holding out that long, they should have been able to make it to the bedroom or at least into the house. I also kept thinking how cramped and uncomfortable that would have been, not to mention, the whole act was tainted by Bella keeping the huge secret of having just shot Volan from Devlyn. After that, they practically mate like bunnies, but despite their sheer number, the love scenes were relatively short, uninspired, and lacking in descriptive details, romance, and emotion. Their earlier playful, seductive interactions were better than the actual sex.
I'm not sure if it's because Heart of the Wolf was one of Terry Spear's earliest published novels or what, but her writing style lacked the polish and flow of many other authors I've read. Sometimes I felt like little details were missing from her narrative, things that wouldn't require more than a few words to clarify but would have helped immensely in picturing what was happening. Other times, she includes unnecessary details that bog things down. There were a few times where it felt like she found some tidbit of information during her research that she thought was interesting and decided to include it by throwing it into a passage of dialog, but it didn't really add anything to the story. Details like this should be woven seamlessly into the narrative or dialog, rather than standing out like a sore thumb. I also found several continuity errors and small plot holes, little things that just didn't quite add up. For example, Devlyn and Bella took what should have been a late night drive to her cabin during a storm, but then were able to search the surrounding woods without flashlights nor moonlight. Another one was when Bella's friend, Chrissie, made up a cover story about Volan to protect Bella, but I had no idea how she even knew about the guy. The author often had an awkward way of wording certain things and occasionally used the wrong word entirely (eg. tantamount instead of paramount, or frogs riveting instead of ribbiting or simply croaking). I found the POVs to be rather muddled too. Sometimes I didn't even know whose perspective I was reading or the perspective seemed to change in the middle of a paragraph. On a side note, I'm usually all for characters being intuitive, but Bella sometimes manages to infer things about what Devlyn is thinking or his intentions with the barest of information which totally lacks credibility. Last, but not least, for a romance, I didn't sense much emotion in this story at all. There's an overabundance of lustiness, but virtually nothing in the way of tender interactions or true romance. Even Bella's reveal of Volan's repeated attempted rapes didn't come close to carrying the weight it should have. This could have easily been a rip-your-heart-out moment, but instead, it occurred in front of witnesses and was pretty much glossed over as being no big deal, as was the the moment when Bella finally confessed to shooting Volan.
Overall, despite my many criticisms, Heart of the Wolf wasn't a bad book per se. I've certainly read a lot worse, but the frustrating heroine, and the numerous weaknesses in the writing, plot, and characters did make it a rather lackluster read. Even the villains weren't all that compelling. While Chrissie and the zookeeper, Henry Thompson, were nice secondary characters, they were equally underdeveloped as all the others. The only character who I can tell goes on to star in a future book of the series is a rogue red wolf named Leidolf who is only mentioned in the background and doesn't even appear in this story, so it seems Heart of the Wolf could easily be read as a stand-alone book. I've noticed that this first book of the series has a lower rating then the others. With this being the case, I'll probably give Terry Spear another chance to wow me, especially since I already have three more Heart of the Wolf books on my TBR pile. Hopefully, the stories will get better and the characters will become more relatable as the series continues.
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