Among shapeshifter literature the werewolves have been proclaimed as platinum superstars since the very beginning for their popularity in medieval lore as being cursed and torn between humanity and primal instincts. However demands in literature want a fresh angle, something fresh and a tad different. It’s high time cats take their spot in the limelight and Marcia Collette sides in her novel “Unstable Environment” with a new breed: werecheetahs.
Sinclair Duval’s life could never be defined as easy. With an alcoholic sister, Sinclair has sacrificed her career as a pilot to be a surrogate mother to her niece Nahla. Due to an accident in the amusement park “The Jungle Kingdom” Sinclair and Nahla are in a critical condition. The Triangle Coalition of werecheetahs, owners of the park, wants to cover up the whole mess to avoid publicity. Rio Velasquez, the healer for the Triangle Coalition, is called, but the only way to save Nahla is to turn her into a werecheetah herself. And so Sinclair is dragged into the world of shapeshifters and stuck in the middle of a conflict between the Triangle and Charlotte Coalitions. Nahla’s turning however is more complicated than anticipated since no one has ever turned a human so young. Back in the reality Sinclair has to prove herself as a better parent than Mina, her sister, avoid social services, nosy doctors and the police, all the while fearing that she might lose Nahla. Amidst all of this the chemistry between Sinclair and Rio is undeniable.
“Unstable Environment” is written in third person, the focus being mainly on Sinclair and Rio. Collette has defied the usual formula for a title in the paranormal romance or urban fantasy for that matter. For starters Sinclair unlike many other heroines in the same genres is a pilot and has nothing to do with law enforcement. Further on, again unlike most heroines Sinclair has no supernatural powers, heritage or skills for survival and has to learn to play the game, the hard way. Her best quality is the endurance of her mind and spirit during her clash with a whole new world, which is represented more as a horror show than something wondrous and enchanting.
Speaking of character design, Collette does something else altogether. The majority of heroines are fair, while Collette makes Sinclair Afro American. Yes, to some people that may be superficial, but the Afro American community has a specific mentality, way of talking and acting, subculture if you will and if that is too strong for people then a nuance of difference that can make a character truly unique. Since in literature that is the point to make a character a living individual in a reader’s mind and individuals are unique. Sinclair’s marital status is also interesting, she is a single mother-aunt figure and that is also not commonly used. The accent falls on the scorn of a mother figure and her strength in enduring the worst for the sake of her child. Plus children are usually left out in such dramatic scenes and plots, so this is also something new.
Another plus is the connection between the real world and the fantastical introduced into the novel. Sometimes authors put too much work into world building and their plots are sucked and focused primarily on the supernatural, when these genres should use the mundane to contrast to the fantastical and power it up. Collette does exactly this by throwing serious problems we deal in our life like having abusive and self-destructive relatives, doing one’s best to raise a child and interact with the police.
However the novel feels underdeveloped, hard to get into because of that and understand fully the author’s intentions. 250 pages for such a dynamic concept don’t contribute as much and act against it. The novel reads too fast and it’s too dense. Main issue is the transition between Sinclair’s and Rio’s point of view. The shift happens somewhere between paragraphs and it occurs indistinguishably. There were times I felt lost about who was telling the story. The lack of length also leaves the characters underdeveloped as well. Not to mention how much tension is lost due to the same issue. 100 extra pages could have contributed nicely to digging deeper in the characters, follow how their relationship is born and grows from physical to emotional and indestructible.
“Unstable Environment” is a wonderful novel in its own right and it had promise, but a standard length for the titles in this genre (circa 350 – 400) would have improved the overall effect on the reader and increase the enjoyment from the experience.