Monday, February 13, 2012
Comrade Bear by Mary Winter
by Mary Winter
Publisher: Pink Petal Books
Genre: GLBT Paranormal
Length: 107 pages
Summary: Trent had always been the outsider on the team. When one-by-one Bjorn, Kjell, Hans, and Mark found mates, Trent knew he'd always stand alone. The European military structure might be more tolerant towards homosexuality; he wondered if his commanding officer and team members would be. Then Vik brings Aleksander back to the team. The Russian is the one man who can prove to be Trent's undoing. But betrayal and uncertainty run deep, and when Aleksander is asked to go undercover with a band of Russian shifters, Trent wonders if he can truly consider Aleksander is comrade, or if the man he's always loved might become his enemy.
Mary Winter’s paramilitary/shifter series, Nanook Warriors, is up to its fourth installment. Featuring polar bear shifters in clandestine operations, Comrade Bear focuses on Trent, the one gay member of the team.
This European Union based team is up against a shadowy Corporation inside Russia, which is polluting the environment in the Arctic reaches of Russia near the Norwegian border. General Vik and his team have to balance diplomacy, espionage, and direct action against the Corporation, which uses the least savory practices of the post-Soviet era to get ahead.
Aleksander, another bear shifter, was Trent’s lover earlier in their lives, but his loyalties are suspect: he’s already changed sides a few times. Aleks loves his Motherland, although he seems to cherish an overly-rosy view of how things were before the USSR fractured, and he also loves Trent. For Aleks, this mission means defining his loyalties and his love. He’s the liaison to the Russian bear shifters, who are engaged in their own battle against the Corporation, but he looks like a turncoat. Trent loves Aleks deeply, but he was devastated when Aleks left before, and is not at all sure of him now.
There’s a lot going on in this story which would probably be more interesting to readers who have been following the series. Louhi, another team member with her own story in this series, is in communication with Bear Clan Spirits in a spiritual plane, and there are Night Demons who are drawn by the pollution and will fight to get it. They figure heavily in the battle, but since this is a grunt’s-eye view of the action, they are more a shadowy danger.
The shifter aspect was what drew me to the book; one doesn’t get polar bear shifters every day, and unfortunately, doesn’t get them in focus here either. We never see the main characters in shifted state or know what they are feeling and thinking then; Trent and Aleksander think of their bears as separate from them, a thing apart, and only recall being shifted. Even then, instead of rejoicing in catching a seal, Trent had the means to cook it. Perhaps the were-element is stronger in the other stories, but here it’s far secondary to the politics and battles.
I enjoyed how Trent and Aleksander had to work out their relationship, so complicated by Aleks’ patriotism and how he has to redefine it, and the battle was very exciting, but there were enough elements that didn’t exactly make sense that I wasn’t as fully engaged as I would like to be. Why, for instance, would two brothers and a woman be more acceptable to the team’s sensibilities than a gay couple? While I’m glad to have encountered something unique, I think there were some wasted opportunities in the story-telling, because it really didn’t seem to matter that the men were shifters; the romance part of the story would have been little different if the references to “his bear” had been removed.
For those who have been following the series, which has a variety of pairings, Comrade Bear is a good next book, but for the reader of m/m who isn’t interested in the other relationships and will miss out on the rest of the paramilitary story arc, this may not be a satisfying stand-alone choice.