Book Review: Denied, by Kinley Baker

Denied, by Kinley Baker
Crescent Moon Press, July 1, 2012

When invaders brutally massacred the women and children of the Varner, Caleb witnessed loss and destruction on a scale few can comprehend. As the leader of a race on the brink of extinction, his only hope for survival is gaining acceptance into the Shadow Shifter Kingdom. Struggling with new customs, he meets Tabitha, a woman who challenges his limits.

Refused the right to join the king’s guard because of her gender, Tabitha must be stronger than the men to prove she deserves to be the first accepted female Warrior in the kingdom. She believes Caleb will help improve her abilities, until she learns her goals conflict with the foundation of his culture.

When the realm is attacked, Tabitha and Caleb must come together not only to fight, but to find the strength to win against an evil with the potential to destroy everything they revere most–including each other.

Denied opens with Caleb, the leader of the alien tribe that is currently squatting near the Shadow Shifter’s castle, meeting with King Valerian. Caleb wishes for his displaced warriors to be accepted among the Shadow Shifters, but there’s a snag. The Varner warriors are the only people to attack the kingdom. Ever. So, Caleb’s offer to help protect the Vale’s kingdom from invasion falls a little flat. Vale is a man who thinks several steps ahead. His gut tells him that Caleb is trustworthy. At the same time, he knows his people’s collective gut will not unless Vale can say, 100% convinced, that the Varner have been accepted by their Ancestors. So, after Caleb assures the king that the Varner men will not be kidnapping village women, Vale gives the Varner warriors a good faith task to complete.

Caleb breaks his promise to Vale almost immediately when he comes upon a woman practicing with sword. He feels a change within him that he’s been waiting for all of his life. The Shadow Shifter woman is his aroha, and she is dropping her left arm. He steps in to correct her form. When he tells her that he will never allow her to see battle, she takes his words as supreme arrogance. She tells him her name only to keep him from kissing her.

Three days later, Caleb stands in a town recently abandoned by the kingdom’s neighbors, the Gaspar. All that remains is a body being picked apart by birds and a Varner sword lying nearby. Needing Vale’s trust, Caleb decides to take the body and blade back to the Shadow Shifters’ king, even while knowing that telling the truth could ruin everything he’s working for if Vale doesn’t believe him.

Author Kinley Baker played with cultural taboo in her Shadowed Love series’ first novel Ruined, when she put reluctant King Vale under the spell of a woman his people considered a disastrous match. In Denied, she sets ambition and desire at odds, gives both a pistol, and orders them to start walking. The reader has about twenty paces to guess which of our fated lovers—Tabitha or Caleb—has the faster draw. The answer may surprise.

Souls in the Shadow Shifter kingdom are born with one of four gifts by their Ancestor gods: warrior, healer, seer, or sensitive. Tabitha was born with a warrior spirit, but being a woman, social mores demand that she ignore her calling. Her father set up a fruit stand to give her a feminine occupation. She is expected to marry and have children. Tabitha rejects being swaddled and stuffed into that box. She wants to serve on the king’s guard. Her best friend Max is not the best of swordsmen, but he helps her prepare for the day she’ll fight to earn her place.

Caleb is an open-minded guy. Although he clings to the traditions of a dying race, he is willing to make sacrifices for the bigger picture. A series of unfortunate events revealed that the Varner can successfully mate with Shadow Shifter women. Caleb prays to the “gods in the sky” because his men are at the mercy of King Vale’s superstition and judgment. With Tabitha, he beats down the voice inside that says she shouldn’t handle weapons because he knows she will not accept him as her mate unless he accepts that much about her. And still she denies him.

A common trait of sentient beings, be they mortals, Varner, Shadow Shifters, is a tendency to paint our opinions—informed by our upbringing and experiences—over whatever scene lies before us. This is a huge factor in Denied. It fills in the shadows of every level of the novel, but it wreaks havoc on Tabitha and Caleb’s relationship. Her continued rejection of Caleb’s claim to her is bolstered by her father holding her back, by the teasing of fellow villagers, by her gut reaction to men who recognize her skill yet still dismiss her for being a woman. Caleb is different, which is part of why she loves him, but his words and actions accidentally offend her chafed self-esteem. At times, he seems to view her as fragile, and at others, property, all without consulting her about what exactly what they are to each other.

Tabitha frustrates Caleb because she doesn’t respond the way a Varner woman would to his claim. She should be happy to have found her one true mate. Having lost every woman and child of his race, he sees her ability to protect herself as a bonus, because maybe if the Varner had taught their women to fight, their people would be on the brink of extinction. She should be grateful to lay down her weapons, to let him care for her like the precious gift that she is to him. But, Tabitha insists that someday she will fight in battle along with the Shadow Shifter guards. He doesn’t understand why she would want to. He doesn’t mean to be possessive, but she’s the only woman for him. When he says he won’t let her fight in battle, what he means to say is that he can’t risk losing her.

Perhaps, if the two had sat down and given the other long enough to explain their positions, they would have sorted things out way sooner than they did…but, what fun would that have been?

Readers who liked Ruined will love Denied. I would also recommend the novel to fans of paranormal romance.

Rating: ★★★★★

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