Melanie: Once again, I had very little memory of this book except for my original GR review letting me know I loved it the first time I read it, which was over two years ago. I wasn’t sure whether the book would hold up – after all, so much has changed in the past two years – but, despite a lot of pretty glaring consent issues that started right from chapter one, I found myself loving the book, loving Indigo, and absolutely adoring Drew. Melinda and I talked a lot about the fact that we both loved Drew so much and tried to figure out why we loved him despite him repeatedly breaching Indigo’s boundaries without her explicit consent. Hopefully, by the end of this deep-dive, we’ll have answered that question, both for ourselves and for you all.
This book returns us to the SnowDancer den, which, I have to say, is my favorite pack in the series. I adore the wolves, adore the den setting, the family aspect. We don’t often discuss tropes when we do these deep-dives but it’s impossible to read this book without picking up on the fact that this book is essentially a friends-to-lovers and also a book with a pining hero. Unusual for this series, the book starts off with Drew already fully into Indigo. From the very first chapter, this is apparent, when they both track down a SnowDancer wolf at risk of going rogue. Drew, the pack’s tracker, is responsible for tracking down rogue changelings. It’s a position full of great responsibility and emotional complexity and while he’s not quite a lieutenant, he’s not subservient to them, and reports directly to Hawke, the pack’s alpha. Indigo, on the other hand, is the pack’s sole female lieutenant. From the get go, the pack hierarchy in relation to their two positions is very much a factor in the progression of their relationship.
The wolf nipped at her jaw, growling low in his throat. She pushed him away. “Don’t make me pull rank on you.” Though to be honest, she wasn’t sure she could – and that disturbed both woman and wolf.
Melinda: I apparently can be counted on to consistently just have vague memories of these books. Frankly, in my head this was just ‘the book before Kiss of Snow’, but it’s so much more! Play of Passion has all of my favorite details about the P/C books – revisiting previous couples, foreshadowing future couples, the den; but it also challenged my previous statement of favoring Psy characters within the main couple. As we get deeper into the series I don’t think I can make black and white statements like that, because Nalini is so good at changing my mind with every book.
I too was so excited to return to the den, I love the dynamics they have there so much. I found the beginning of the book so interesting because a tracker is a position within a pack that we haven’t heard about before. Everything that is going to be important to this book is laid out in chapter one – Drew’s tracker status, Indigo and Drew’s dominance both between the two of them, as well as how it could play out in the pack, and then their intense attraction to each other.
And we get straight into my main issue with this book – the glaring issue of consent that comes up a few times, with the biggest one being right at the end of chapter one. Emotions are running high after Drew and Indy bring in a rogue wolf and
She pushed against his chest. Of course, since he was a predatory changeling male, he kept on kissing her. She could’ve gotten away, but unwilling to reject him so roughly, she chose to push at him again. He broke off only long enough to say, “You want me. I can scent it.”
I immediately hate the ‘Of course’ in that sentence. There is no of course, no matter if we’re talking about shifters or vampires or minotaurs, and yes I know how ridiculous that sentence sounds. I need shifters to ask for consent even if they can SMELL that they want it because that equals the same as a human saying I can just tell you want it. This infuriated me particularly because consent is so incredibly important to them with touch privileges!
“I,” she said, in a tone so calm it took all of her control to maintain it, “haven’t given you the right to touch me as you please.” There was play . . . and then there were lines you didn’t cross. “Next time you try to touch me like that”—in possession, in ownership—“be prepared to get that pretty face shredded.”
I adore Indigo here, she is powerful, standing up for herself. But also it’s heartbreaking to watch because Drew is an affable guy who is her really great friend so she’s also super confused. And thankfully, Drew knows he fucked up and is regretful instantly.
Melanie: It is kind of shocking just how quickly this book gets right to the action between Drew and Indigo. That’s not to say they fall into bed right away – they don’t actually have sex until almost at the halfway mark. But, this is not the slow-simmering attraction that eventually builds and builds to a physical climax that we’re so used to seeing in this series. Part of the reason is that this coupling, much like Mercy and Riley a few books back, focuses on two dominant Changelings constantly trying to get the upper hand on each other. But while Mercy and Riley’s romance origin story was basically two consenting, horny adults trying to scratch an itch, here, the story plays out much differently.
God, but he craved the right to have her. Except that she was a dominant female, the highest-ranking woman in the pack, and he was a male whose dominance level was ambiguous – an unusual situation in a wolf pack, but his work for their alpha depended on him being seen as outside the hierarchy. However, no matter how you cut it, she outranked him; she’d been lieutenant for years. Added to that, she was four years older.
So, obviously, there are major roadblocks as far as Indigo is concerned, as to why this relationship is a nonstarter. She’s older, she trained him, and she considers him her subordinate despite the fact that he doesn’t report to her. And she understands that pickings are slim for a dominant changeling female in her neck of the woods. However, being a changeling means skin privileges and the granting of them are a big deal. So, when Drew not only kisses her but tries to exert his dominance over her by holding her by the neck and using his body to pin hers against the wall, she doesn’t only feel angry, she feels betrayed.
The worst of it was that she’d trusted Drew, thought he was a friend who accepted and appreciated her for the dominant female she was – but clearly, he was just another cocky young male who thought the lieutenant could be brought to heel by sex. And where she might’ve easily forgiven everything else, she could not forgive that betrayal.
Now, I know you all are wondering, “well, how on earth did you end up ADORING Drew after ALL THAT (all of which happens in Chapter 2 of the book, btw)?!?” Well, as Melinda stated, part of that is due to the immediate regret on Drew’s part. It is quickly apparent that Drew realizes he messed up. Many of the consent issues in the previous books never had the male character acknowledging, much less apologizing for breaching boundaries without permission. Here, while Drew intentionally holds off on apologizing to Indigo, the remorse he feels for what he’s done is immediate and genuine.
Melinda: I’m amazed that Nalini starts the book with that scene because this leaves us in danger of disliking the hero but I love that she seems fearless in her choices, even when they’re ones I don’t love. Drew being remorseful is definitely first in a long line of steps that makes me able to like him as a character. Since we get his POV we’re able to know his feelings which helps immensely as well, if we hadn’t I think the entire book would have gone differently. But since we do, we know how mad he is at himself for letting ‘his wolf’ take over and push too far.
What follows is Drew in his role as a tracker, which is just so unexpected as it is so much more than tracking. He seems like a flirtatious, social guy from the outside. But as we get to know him we realize how those are honed skills utilized for the pack’s sake. He’s built these relationships with basically everyone in the pack that are extremely unique to him, where people will open up to him and tell him things. It was kind of astonishing to watch him use those skills, as from the outside – as Indigo – it truly does look like flirting. But from the inside, it looks like compassion personified.
With all of that, Drew is beloved by the pack, and I enjoyed them rooting these two on but standing on the sidelines, not interfering. Hawke sends the two of them on a trip with the younger pack members to help them with their control of their wolves – these are some of my favorite scenes. I love getting insights into how wolves grow up, watching the teens flirt, and comments about it being awkward to be naked around each other at that age; just slice of life moments that build up the relationship, and the pack.
But what I love so much is that so is Indigo. They’re matched in dominance, but they are both beloved by the pack. She’s the only female Lieutenant and people in the pack look up to her, but also love her. I appreciate that they are so well matched.
Melanie: Drew, from the outside, looks like a happy-go-lucky guy but this book gives us a deeper insight into him as a character, which really accounts for why we finished the book loving him so much despite not being so keen on some of the choices he made. And really, both Drew and Indigo are dominant in different ways and they have to be, to fulfill the roles they play within the pack. It’s also important to remember that Drew has experienced some severe losses and tragedy in his life, from the loss of his parents at a pretty young age to almost losing his sister Brenna to a sociopathic Psy.
The overnight trip is also pivotal in that it allows Drew to finally properly apologize to Indigo, something that dominant changelings are not known for doing. It’s a sincere, genuine apology and goes a long way towards endearing Drew to me.
Melinda is right in that they are matched in dominance and while you might think this attraction is mostly one-sided, it’s quickly apparent that Indigo is starting to have feelings as well when a young attractive female changeling shows up on their trip, clearly intent on making a play for Drew. Jealousy causes Indigo to strike out, say some pretty harsh things and suddenly, there’s more distance between them than ever.
Drew’s plans to use subterfuge to court Indigo further hit a roadblock when a pack member named Riaz returns to the SnowDancer den after some time away. Riaz also happens to be Indigo’s former lover and as such, has skin privileges with her that Drew is still trying to earn. It definitely sparks feelings of jealousy in Drew which is pretty par for the course in dominant alpha changelings who are very insistent on marking their territory. But what sets Drew apart is a heartbreaking scene where, after Indigo and Riaz engage in a friendly competition, Indigo makes a conscious decision to go to dinner with Riaz.
It fucking hurt that Indigo had chosen someone else over him. But he’d have shrugged that off and continued to court her, to challenge Riaz for the right to her, if he hadn’t seen that glowing expression on her face during the run, heard her laughter after it.
Riaz made her happy.
…Andrew would slit his own throat before he did anything to savage her happiness…
So, here’s the moment that I fell head over heels for Andrew Kincaid. That he is willing to set aside his own feelings and desires, his own happiness to make way for Indigo’s sets him apart from a lot of the dominant changeling heroes who have come before him. Even though his heart is breaking, he’s willing to walk away, if it means that Indigo will be happy.
Melinda: That moment that Drew walks away from Indy just *kills* me. He plans on walking away, wallowing for a night, and returning to the pack. I was choked up as he left them for the night, and I think that the inclusion of this scene is crucial to how we feel about Drew. Knowing that he wants Indigo’s happiness more than his own is everything, and while that seems like it should just be obvious, that’s not always the case.
What makes this even more pivotal is that simultaneously we have Indigo at that dinner with Riaz coming to the realization that Drew is the one for her. I can just see this playing out in the most amazing movie montage scene with intense music over it; Indy at dinner – having these memory flashes of Drew, Indy leaving dinner – going to the den to find Drew gone, Indy shifting and racing to track him down, Indy finding Drew and BAM. Silence. Phew. I’m emotional just thinking about this!
When she does find him, what follows is an intense and honest discussion of what could be between them and it sets the tone for their future together and the rest of the book. I love honest conversations like this in books!
“I’m willing to try.”
“That’s not good enough.”
Hard words, his jaw a brutal line. Her wolf growled at the challenge. Drew stared back in unflinching demand.
“I want to try,” she said when he refused to break the deadlock. “I want you. But I don’t know if my wolf will accept what it is you want from me.”
In the first half of the book we’d been very focused on Drew and his courtship of Indigo, and just trying to get her to even consider him as a real possibility. After this conversation it shifts more to really focus on Indigo and her extremely valid dominance concerns…as well as super hot sex of course!
When Drew meets more of Indigo’s family we finally can understand exactly why she seems so obsessed with dominance in relationships.
He didn’t have to be a shrink to see that Indigo’s views on relationships had to have been shaped by the two closest to her. Her parents’ mating, while unsuitable to her own situation, fit the accepted parameters and was very, very successful. Adria, by contrast, had broken the mold, thrown in her lot with a less dominant man—and the results weren’t exactly inspiring.
Melanie: I agree – that would make such a perfect movie montage! The juxtaposition of Drew going off to lick his wounds in private while Indigo sits at dinner with Riaz and slowly begins to realize what an epic mistake she’s just made and then, finally, FINALLY! going after him and what she really wants – please, Hollywood, adapt this series, already!
What I also love about this is that it also gives the SnowDance pack a chance to show how they always have each other’s back, from a very young changeling named Ben comforting Drew to Hawke telling Indigo to essentially find Drew and sort it out to even Judd, who helps Indigo out by pointing which way Drew has gone off to because, as he so astutely points out,
“Because, I was you, once.”
And he’s right, it’s fascinating to see how icy Indigo, determined to hold Drew at bay for fear of destroying their friendship beyond repair, is similar to Judd, who once upon a time, held Brenna at bay because he couldn’t believe he was worthy of her. Also fascinating is the fact that both Kincaid brothers, Drew and Riley, end up mated to strong, dominant changeling females.
While I agree with Melinda that it’s good that they finally talk it out as adults when Indigo goes after Drew, that’s not to say that the rest of this book is all hearts and flowers for them. Despite being the laid back charmer he needs to be to be an effective tracker for his pack, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Drew is very much a dominant as well.
“I’m not going to suddenly accept all the dominance bullshit.”
“Did I ask you to?” Blue eyes narrowing. “But if I’m learning how to deal with a lieutenant with a mile wide streak of stubborn and a tendency to put up walls of ice, you better fucking learn to deal with a tracker who isn’t about to let you walk all over him.”
Essentially, these are two very hard-headed, stubborn characters who have to figure out, through a lot of missteps, how to balance their natural instincts and personalities with their desire to be with someone just as strong as they are.
Melinda: I normally gravitate to more of a grumpy/sunshine dynamic or beta/alpha pairings but Indigo and Drew just work for me all the way around. Drew brings out Indy’s fun and playful side and Indy brings out Drew’s more serious and thoughtful side.
But those issues rear their ugly head in a major way when there’s an injured pack member down a dangerous cliff. They have to make quick decisions on who would do the rescue and Indigo, as the Lieutenant, determines who should go down. She has to evaluate who has the most knowledge and experience to save the fallen pack member, but this is something she knows how to do! Indigo has been a Lieutenant for a very long time and this is just part of the job. So when Drew snaps at her, in front of other pack members, it is like a slap in the face. The pack member is saved…but the relationship, not so much.
But—“What you did, it was a dominance challenge.” She held up a hand when he would’ve interrupted. “You can’t help it.” He was a dominant, one hell of a strong one. “It’ll keep happening, and I can’t afford to let it.”
“No, Drew. For the health of the pack, the hierarchy must be explicit.”
The part of this conversation that absolutely was a knife to my heart was this exchange:
“So that’s it? You won’t even try?”
Her wolf peeled back its lips, all hope of a rational discussion going down the proverbial drain. “What the hell do you think I’ve been doing all this time?”
She can’t believe that Drew hasn’t seen or felt how much she’s been trying this whole time to come to terms with how dominant he is and how her wolf handles that. Indy is more hurt than anything at this, but also embarrassed at how he treated her in front of other people. Drew, however, stews for maybe 5 minutes in his anger and realizes his mistake. And this is why I love him. Every time he makes a mistake he realizes the error of his ways and goes to apologize and course correct as quickly as possible.
And from there we get some great courting throughout the book with Drew leaving roses for her everywhere – and my favorite, a wolf plushie. There’s a delightful setup of a goodbye party, which leads to Indigo realizing she doesn’t want him to go anywhere. And then some intensely hot reunion sex – in a restaurant, in the den, just in a whole lot of places!
Because whatever the future held, she’d claimed him as hers, too. This was the trade-off, and if she was honest with herself, she didn’t mind belonging to someone who was happy to belong to her.
Melanie: Oof, that scene when Drew questions Indigo’s authority just was a punch to my heart. And it also calls back to a question that Judd asks Drew earlier in the book about whether he really and truly knows Indigo.
“Ask yourself if it’s Indigo you want, or a mirage of her you’ve built up in your mind.”
For this pairing to really work, it’s imperative that Drew and Indigo not only see each other for exactly who they are, but accept each other for exactly who they are. Indigo, especially, has seen what can happen when a dominant female changeling mates with a less dominant male partner who cannot accept being less dominant. Her reaction to Drew undermining her authority is perfectly justifiable, as is her inability to forgive him right away.
I do love what follows – it’s so different from what we’ve seen before, almost like a rom-com montage of Drew hiding flowers and chocolate kisses for her to find and even their pack gets involved. And eventually, when Indigo realizes that she can’t live without Drew, we get hot reunion sex, as Melinda mentioned, but also an honest conversation about what they want and need from each other.
“I’m going to learn to deal with you exactly as you are.” And that man, she thought, was more than a match for her wolf.”
It’s also interesting how the mating bond kind of sneaks up on these two, taking even Drew by surprise, only when he sees another SnowDancer changeling jokingly hitting on Indigo. A fight ensues and while normally, Indigo would be less than thrilled with Drew’s disproportionately furious response, she realizes that Drew wouldn’t just randomly go after a bigger, stronger opponent unless something bigger than logic was at play.
He’d bent for her more than once.
So today, she bent for him.
This is one of the reasons I really love this pairing a lot – these two are incredibly dominant, stubborn, strong, willful individuals. However, they understand that in order to make their relationship work, they also have to be flexible, to bend – not break – for each other. It’s something that’s especially important to Indigo who doesn’t want to end up in a relationship like her aunt, where she’s made to feel like she’s less than.
Melinda: Before we move onto something besides Drew and Indy, we need to return to the issue of consent again. There is never any issue as egregious as the beginning thankfully, but there are moments that made me pause. And frankly, the text makes it obvious that these are consensual moments between people. So, I may be just more on edge and looking for this because of the beginning? But while it’s not an issue of consent, this kind of scene played out more than once and Indigo is more than pleased with their lovemaking…I just was hesitant.
As she went to reach for his erection, he angled that hand down, spearing his fingers through her curls to— She screamed into his mouth as he thrust two fingers inside her. “Damn it, Drew,” she gasped, “that is not foreplay.” He bit at her neck, smoothing his other hand down her ribs, then back up to squeeze and caress her breasts, rubbing his thumb over one tightly furled nipple. “Yes, it is.” Another kiss, another tangling of lips and teeth and tongue. “I can feel you all silky and luscious”—two fast thrusts that threw her shockingly close to orgasm—“and ready, so hot and ready.”
Melanie: I think the scene that Melinda brings up could definitely be problematic on its own. I think the reason why I wouldn’t hold it against Drew is what follows – a scene full of playful banter where they each tease each other, verbally and physically, especially on the idea of foreplay. And while Drew is definitely assertive and dominant, especially in bed, there’s always that underlying sense of protectiveness and nurturing that he shows Indigo.
He pulled her up until she could brace herself with her palms flat on the bed. “Am I hurting you?”
And then, later on in that same scene, Indigo comes to a much important realization about the complex dynamics of their relationship.
He was absolutely right to demand that she learn to deal with him as he was learning to deal with her.
Her wolf growled, unhappy at the idea of bending for any man.
But was it really submitting, Indigo dared ask for the first time, if the man was bending toward you in return?
Melinda: Other things happened beyond this romance I swear lol! What I found interesting in this book is that compared to the rest of the P/C books I’d consider this a very much ‘no plot, just vibes’ type book. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely moves the overall series arc forward – and in insignificant ways – but we’ve seen major plots play out in each of these previous books. Many times the MCs are racing against a clock or working together against adversaries, but here the majority of the plot is spent between Drew and Indy, and we get very key pieces of information in other scenes carefully placed throughout.
Obviously, my favorite of these were Hawke and Sienna. We’ve gotten bits and pieces of them sprinkled through books before, but this book felt like a prequel to Kiss of Snow in so many ways. There are longing glances, biting words between them, and obvious struggles to keep away from each other. And my favorite thing is that everyone in the packs can see and definitely knows the chemistry the two have. Indigo talks to Hawke openly about it, even though he wants nothing to do with that conversation.
“Don’t leave it too late, Hawke, or you might just lose her.”
The fact that the top contender was an eighteen-heading-for-nineteen-year-old Psy defector was one hell of a surprise, but that didn’t mean they should just ignore the subject and hope it went away. Especially not when the girl seemed to reach parts of Hawke no one else could even see.
It cracked me up to see others in the pack discuss Sienna and Hawke, because literally everyone can see their attraction to each other. Hawke and Sienna though, are just doing their full best to ignore everything about it and go about their regular ways.
Melanie: Haha, can you all tell we’re just a tad bit excited for Hawke and Sienna?!? These two are just the most combustible combination (which, if you know anything about Sienna’s true Psy powers, is quite the pun I just made). There is definitely an enormous pull of attraction between the two – something they’ve been able to manage for the past few books by putting some distance between each other. And yet, they both somehow think the other doesn’t want them.
And, she thought, steeling her spine, she chose not to let this strange compulsion toward a man who wasn’t interested, who would never be interested, break her.
Book 10 promises to be one hell of a ride and I already can’t wait to dive into it.
Aside from the central romance and the Hawke/Sienna teasers, while the book itself is light on plot, it is definitely not light on action. The Psy Council plays a huge role in this book, from Nikita and Anthony forming an unlikely alliance (Nikthony fans assemble! I know there are many of us hoping for a Nikthony pairing in the not too distant future) to Henry and Shoshanna Scott making major moves to take down the big changeling packs in San Francisco and basically cut out Nikita’s power base. Also, lest we forget, there’s Judd and his interactions with the ever mysterious Ghost, and trust me when I say that the action is just going to ramp up even more in the next few books.
It’s amazing rereading this book and realizing just how well Nalini put all these little details in place that would come back in future books in major ways. There are also a number of characters in this book aside from Hawke and Sienna who will play major roles and take center stage in future books. If it’s your first time reading this series with us, we’d love to hear from you about who you think is going to show up as a Psy/Changeling MC in a future book.
I’ll be honest – I had to really think about my rankings for this week and where Drew should be ranked. I certainly don’t want to downplay the consent issues that were present in this book. But I think what sets Drew apart from previous heroes in this series who had similar consent issues is that he was always very quick to realize he’d made a mistake and figure out how to right his wrongs. There was an innate softness and tenderness present in his interactions, not just with Indigo but with his whole pack that really helped to endear him to me. Ultimately, he may well have been a protective, possessive dominant, but he also came off as a nurturing caretaker. However, while I did adore him, Judd still remains in first place…at least for now! I have a feeling as we head deeper into the series, it’s just going to get harder and harder – the last few heroes in this series are just phenomenal and I adore them.
Melinda: I loved seeing the Anthony and Nikita tidbits in this book. There’s a particular scene that made me realize how much went over my head with these two the first time around. And speaking of Nikita, there is a chilly interaction between her and Sasha, in front of basically everyone they’re allied with that just tugged at my heart. Nikita’s evolution as a character is a fascinating one to watch throughout the series.
“I have a child to protect now, Mother.” Soft, powerful words. “Priorities change.”
I had to really consider where to put Drew in my list as well. I loved so much about him, but I had to slot him at #5 because of the consent issues. I am wondering who is going to take the top spot from Judd because I know someone will but not sure when that happens!
There’s so much in this book that I’m sure we didn’t get to – if you have a favorite part or key tidbit in this book, let us know!