Cowboy Wolf Trouble
by Kait Ballenger
January 1, 2020 · Sourcebooks Casablanca
I read Cowboy Wolf Trouble because I rarely read cowboy or shifter romances, and I was in the mood for something different. Well, I got something different, all right. Many of the things I disliked about this book will be pure catnip to other readers, but a few things were straight up problematic. However, I can’t deny that I zipped right through this book wondering what was going to happen next. Forgive my frequent use of bullet points here as there’s just SO MUCH to unpack in this story which involves humans, multiple kinds of shifters, and not one but two different kinds of vampires.
The basic plot is that Naomi, a rancher and biologist, accidentally traps Wes, a wolf shifter. In doing so, she becomes embroiled in a complicated history of feuds between vampires and various shifter clans. Shifters and Humans are forbidden to have romances, but Naomi and Wes have immediate pants feelings for each other, and they two proceed to have passionate sex on every possible surface while battling the vampires and rival packs who want to take over her ranch.
This book is the first in the Seven Range Shifters series, but the exposition is so crammed in, and everyone already seems to have such long histories each other, that I assumed it was a middle book. Honestly this does not remotely come across as the first in a series and the emotional beats don’t work without the required build up about the long history of these characters. The plot is compelling when it is simple, but multiple different kinds of shifters, human enemies, pack politics, and two kinds of vampires, one of which is new, plus corporate takeovers and Wes’ personal history as an enemy pack leader and killer, is too much for a single book.
The plot of this book is overstuffed and bonkers, but when it settles down it really shines. I loved the scene in which a nervous Naomi meets the women of the Grey Wolf Pack, and her first breakfast with the pack during which the pack medic gently gets her to relax, chat, and eat despite her nervousness at being in a room with the entire group for the first time. Naomi and Wes have a few quiet conversations out in the woods that feel real and that give a hint of how these people might act as a couple when not surrounded by drama. I also loved the chapters that depicted ranch work as messy, smelly, exciting, and filled with teamwork.
Wes and Naomi are complex characters who work well together. Wes is tormented by his past and can’t seem to decide what he wants in the present. If you like brooding, violent, angsty alpha heroes you will like him. Naomi is competent, good at ranching and fighting, smart, and not a pushover. I appreciated her pointing out that she’s spent her whole life having to stand up to alpha men so the men of the Grey Wolf Pack aren’t that different. I regret to inform you that on occasion both Wes and Naomi make incredibly stupid decisions for the sake of plot, which undercuts their established attributes of good strategic sense.
Romance is a personal genre, and what to me is a bug might be a feature to another reader. Here are some not-for-me, but maybe-for-you, aspects of the book:
- I am not a fan of the danger boner, but Wes and Naomi sure are, so if that’s your jam you will enjoy seeing these two get it on in unlikely places and perilous times.
- There is so much male posturing in this book. I gather that shifter romances often do a lot with the idea of the “alpha” so maybe for some readers this is a huge turn on. For me, not so much. I could do with a lot less macho jockeying for dominance. If they are that obsessed with establishing how alpha they are, they should just pee on each other and get it over with. HOWEVER I will admit that the book consists of a lot of good-looking testosterone bombs walking around and if that’s your thing, who am I to judge? Read on!
- This book contains graphic violence and misogyny.
I have the following questions:
- The Grey Wolves are ranchers. How can wolf shifters be good ranchers? Wouldn’t their scent drive the livestock into a constant state of stress?
- If Naomi is a biologist, why doesn’t she know the difference between breed and species?
- Given the shifters’ obsession with not making babies with humans, why don’t they at least try using birth control? There is not a single condom in this book!
- Must the villain always reveal the plan? Will they never learn to stop monologuing?
For most of this book, I figured just because it wasn’t my cup of tea didn’t mean it might not be someone else’s. As I’ve mentioned above, the plot was compelling most of the time, and in quiet moments the book works well.
However, two major elements were NOT COOL, and these two elements dropped the book from a mileage-may-vary C to a D+. One is the Grey Wolf Pack’s obsession with maintaining “pure bloodlines.” This is a really problematic, disturbing, and dare I say gross concept to have our heroes harping on about. The pack wants all relationships to be within the wolf shifter community, and although I presume secrecy is a factor they specifically mention “purity of bloodlines.” I have practical questions here about why they can’t just use birth control, but the bigger issue is that that phrase has White supremacist connotations that make me deeply uncomfortable.
The other moment I found to be deeply disturbing comes when Wes believes that Naomi has betrayed him and reacts by sexually assaulting her (he pushes her down, forces a kiss on her, and sticks his hand down her pants, then mocks her for what he thinks she may have done with someone else). Wes’ intent is clearly assault. It’s a terrible breach of trust and violation of Naomi’s body. It’s abuse and as far as I’m concerned that should have been the end of the relationship, not something resolved with a half-hearted apology and a slap from Naomi.
A romance should have the reader invested in the couple, and I was invested in Naomi and Wes for most of the book. However, their mutual tendency to make assumptions and to engage in physical violence with each other worries me, as does the lack of any real healing on Wes’ part. Wes’ traumas are literally cured by the love of a good woman. I landed at a D+ because of the assault, the bloodline obsession, and the fact that the love of a good woman will only take a person so far before they need to get some fucking therapy. For the most part, I did enjoy reading outside of my comfort zone, but I won’t be reading more in this series.