Can you believe I didn't notice the creative placement of the title letters on the cover until I started writing this post?
Ori grew up in multiple foster homes. He always believed he was human, but he found out several months prior to the start of the book that he was actually born an avian shifter.
Ori is 20 and won't find out until he's 21 exactly what his shifter form will be, but it seems most likely that he'll be a duck. Unfortunately for him, ducks are low in the avian hierarchy, and he's forced to do the bidding of every avian around him and take whatever abuse they dish out, too. Ori becomes so accustomed to this life that he's shocked and bewildered when Raynard, a hawk shifter, sees the kind of life he's living and takes him away to be a servant as his home instead. Although Raynard resists his attraction to Ori at first, Ori eventually becomes Raynard's submissive. The two are happy together, and Raynard decides he'd like to have Ori around indefinitely, but he has to wait until after Ori shifts for the first time.
I did not like this book. It's a BDSM story, which I already stated in my review for Katrina Strauss's Some Kind of Stranger is not something I generally like, so I've thought about whether my dislike stems from that or from other aspects of the story. I think I would have disliked this book even if it had not featured BDSM.
Raynard and Ori, especially Ori, were incredibly boring characters. When they were together, they were little more than a dominant and a submissive. When Raynard wasn't with Ori, he spent his time trying to put his late uncle's business in order, but none of that was ever shown. Prior to living with Raynard, Ori grew up in lots of different foster homes and eventually ended up at a club where other avian shifters verbally, physically, and sexually abused him, but, again, little was shown. I wanted to know more. Did Raynard have any friends? What kind of business did his uncle leave him? Did Ori ever leave Raynard's house for anything other than attending to his needs as an avian shifter or to run the occasional errand for Raynard? Did Ori ever think about anything other than Raynard and things related to Raynard? Did Ori enjoy anything besides cleaning Raynard's house and having sex with Raynard? (The answer to the last couple questions is probably “no,” which should explain why I thought Ori was the more boring of the two characters. He was so. Incredibly. Dull. Not unlikable, but dull.)
Initially, I found Ori and Raynard's relationship intriguing. Raynard made Ori his servant in order to get him away from an environment where he was clearly being mistreated. Although he was attracted to Ori, he resisted doing anything about that attraction, because he was pretty sure Ori would assume that sex was part of his duties and would say yes to whatever he was asked to do, whether he actually wanted to do it or not.
Unfortunately, then Raynard noticed that the attraction was mutual. He gave Ori a “choice” between being his servant and being his submissive, and Ori decided to be Raynard's submissive. I put the word “choice” in quotes because I, personally, was not convinced that Ori was emotionally capable of making this choice.
Ori had an intense desire to please that was probably due, at least in part, to years of living in foster homes and feeling like he didn't fit in. Ori was essentially abused in every way at the avian club he served at prior to being taken to Raynard's home. That only increased his desire to please and to avoid offense. What Raynard took as a natural tendency towards submission I took as a sign that Ori could have benefited from some therapy. Had Ori gotten that therapy and still wanted to be Raynard's submissive, I probably wouldn't have been as uncomfortable. As it was, the very foundation of Raynard and Ori's relationship didn't sit well with me, and I could never fully settle into seeing it as the light, sweet BDSM tale I think Dare intended it to be. Raynard may not have been abusive the way the other avians were, but he never invited outsiders to help Ori, even when outside help would have been warranted. The mansion could have used more than just Ori as its cleaning staff, I already mentioned that I thought Ori could have benefited from a therapist, and why the heck didn't Raynard take Ori to a doctor after Ori cut his arm?
The story was, for the most part, as dull as the book's characters. Dare made creative use of the story “The Ugly Duckling,” but it took two thirds of the book for anything like conflict to be introduced, and then I felt that part of the book dragged on for too long. Since I did not find Ori and Raynard's relationship appealing, I didn't feel particularly affected by their grief when it looked like they could no longer be together as master and submissive. Ori began to look more and more pathetic, and I felt no sympathy for Raynard when he worried that the only way he might be able to stay with Ori was as something other than his master.
I got this book because I was intrigued by its unusual shifters, but I found Dare's world-building to be sketchy at best. From what I could tell, Dare's shifters could be any species – hawks, ducks, geese, hummingbirds, finches, and more were all mentioned. Shifters seemed to almost always be categorized as either dominants or submissives, with certain species being more inclined to one role or another. All the shifters were male, and it was never explained how women fit into that world. I'm assuming the avian shifters had children with human women, but did the relationships end at the egg donor (no pun intended) level or did avian shifters ever have lasting relationships with the women?
Kim Dare's books appear to be quite popular, and this one was well-received by many of Dare's readers. Had the world-building been better and Ori and Raynard less one-dimensional, I might have liked it more. If I come across another work by Dare with an interesting setup (like I said, I got this one for the avian shifters), I might give her works another shot, but at this point I don't plan on purposefully seeking anything else of hers out.
- Wolf in Men's Clothing (e-novella) by Dakota Rebel - Another e-book published by Resplendence Publishing. Like Duck!, it's based on a story (Little Red Riding Hood) and features m/m romance. Be warned, this one is very short - it might be more accurate to call it a short story rather than a novella, since it's only 12,000 words long.
- The King's Choice (e-novella) by Mandy M. Roth - This one's also short, only 18,000 words. I added it to this list because it apparently has at least one bird shifter, but from the sounds of things it's otherwise pretty different from Dare's work.
- Some Kind of Stranger (e-book) by Katrina Strauss - This is a contemporary BDSM erotic romance, with no paranormal aspects. I found aspects of the main characters' relationship to be cute, but I should probably mention that pain is incorporated into the sex in this book more often than it was in Duck! Even so, I still enjoyed the book - you can read what I wrote about it here.
- Absolute Perfection (e-book) by Stephanie Burke - More m/m erotica (or possible erotic romance?). I haven't read it, but the same impulse that prompted me to get Duck! is tempting me to get this. Those looking for something else featuring unusual shifters may want to try this: one of the main characters is a seahorse shifter, complete with the ability to bear little seahorse shifter babies.
- Hawksong (book) by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes - This is a YA fantasy novel with romantic aspects. It's more angsty than Duck!, but I added it to this list because it has unusual shifters, including avians and serpents. The main characters are an avian shifter princess and a serpent shifter prince. They decide to enter into a political marriage in order to create peace between their two kingdoms.
- Dreams Made Flesh (anthology) by Anne Bishop - I don't know how appealing this would be to someone with no familiarity with Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy. I added it to this list because of the story starring Lucivar and Marian. Marian, like Ori, is meek and uncertain when she is first brought to Lucivar's home to be his new housekeeper. Lucivar helps Marian gain more confidence, but he's not sure what to do about his growing attraction to her.