First off, a few things about me: I’m a gay man who enjoys well-written gay romance novels. I am a complete sucker for courtship stories. Finally, I’m a fan of anthropomorphic fiction and art (colloquially, a furry fan).
All of these things combine to make me the target demographic for these books (though the latter is not a requirement – if you enjoy fantasy fiction, this will be up your alley as well).
Eli Easton has created the tiny town of Mad Creek, California. It’s a secluded hamlet on the edge of Yosemite National Park, that is hidden for a reason. We all know of werewolves, however Easton introduces us to the quickened, people who are part human, part dog. Dogs of all breeds, and the breed has a strong influence on the person’s personality. They appear human, but can take on canine form at will. The trait is passed down genetically, though when a dog forms a very close bond with a human, they can become quickened as well. The residents of Mad Creek are almost all quickened, or are their human allies. The need for the town to keep the existence of the quickened a secret is the driving force behind these stories.
The plotting of these books is not going to break any new ground, but not every story is required to do so. What really sets these apart is the writing and the characters. Easton really gives a good feel for the mountains and forests around Mad Creek (particularly in How to Walk Like a Man), and writes in such a way that it’s easy to feel you are present in the story. Additionally, the courtships in the books, willing and not, intentional and not, are incredibly sweet and romantic.
The characters, though, are the best part. Sheriff Lance Beaufort, the unofficial protector of Mad Creek, comes from a family of border collies, and it shows in his intensity and protectiveness of his pack. Tim Weston, is a human seeking a safe place in the mountains after his life has crashed down around him. Deputy Roman Charsguard, a German shepherd quickened only two years prior, is naive in human ways but grateful to have a place in the world. That naivete could easily have been overplayed, but Roman’s confusion and dogged (heh) determination to understand human behavior make it easy to sympathize with his plight. All of these characters are engaging, relatable, and fun. You want to know what happens to them, and you genuinely cheer for them.
If I had any complaint, it’s that the “conflict” (as every story has to have a conflict, Chekov’s gun sitting on the mantel) that is a thread in these books, illicit marijuana farmers, seems sort of low-stakes. This is a minor gripe, though, because of the rest of the stories are so enjoyable.
Finally, there is the caveat that if you are offended by explicit descriptions of sexual activities between male adults, you may wish to look elsewhere. They are a small part of the overall books, but they are present. If you happen to like that sort of thing (I’m not complaining…) then it’s icing on a very wonderful cake. Ms. Easton has said that she is working on the third book in the Mad Creek series. I eagerly await it and will certainly buy it the moment it becomes available.
4.5 stars out of 5!