Title: The Protector
Author: Cooper West
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 250 Pages
Characters: Alex Taylor & Marcus Stephanek
POV: Third Limited
Sub-Genre: Alternate World
Guardsmen are always matched in a bonded pair. The Protector can shift into a weredog, and the human partner is his Handler. They are incredibly rare and highly valued, but people also fear them for their mystical abilities. No Protector in living memory has outlived his Handler—until Alex Taylor.
Now a widower, Alex lives a lonely half-life and faces day after day of grief with no hope for happiness in the future. When he unexpectedly bonds with the young and vibrant Handler Marcus Stephanek, Alex is angry and unwilling to leave the memory of his former Handler behind. He pushes Marcus away and tries to distance himself from their bond. But then a mysterious villain who has been secretly shadowing Alex for years sets his plan in motion. Alex and Marcus must learn to trust their bond and love each other, or risk not only their own lives but the lives of those closest to them.
Overall, I think “The Protector” is about refusing to move on, and how one person’s inability to do so can affect others, too. Dogshifter Alex is the picture of depression after losing his beloved Handler. For him, the world has lost its colour and without his Handler, he is as disabled as someone who’d lost an arm or leg. He should have died, and wishes he did every day—but he’s not suicidal. In comparison, Handler Marcus’s POV is almost bland. He is handling his disappointment at never bonding through a dry sort of anger and a refusal to make any solid decisions regarding his future, despite offers from around the world and nudges from friends. This makes for an interesting dynamic when they bond.
I really loved the way Ms West managed to infuse emotions between the lines, and the thought she put into the world of the guardsmen. The little touches of a mention of history we know (with its Protector twist), the genetic information, and even the way shifting and the bond is described makes the story fuller. The inclusion of Sam and John (a het couple) in the story, and the fact it felt like they were only a smidgeon less important to the story than Alex and Marcus meant they mellowed the depression/guilt/anger mix provided by the two main characters and almost stole the show. The plot was believable, and even if I knew who the criminal was, and why, by halfway through the story, I am sure that if I had been in their positions that I wouldn’t have.
I think I would recommend this for people who love a good survivor story, well built characters, a strong ‘world’, and either stories that ask ‘what if?’. For a variety of reasons, I will probably read this story again at least once, if not more.
I don’t think I’ve read any other stories by Ms West, but I will be watching for non-contemporary stories from her. I think I saw a fantasy/apocalyptic by her around here somewhere…
Reviewed By: Alison
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