Paenther is a feral warrior, one of the last of the Immortal Therians to carry the strength and magic of the thirteen shifter clans. Long ago, before he became a feral, he was trapped by a witch who he thought was a woman in distress. Trapped, she tortured him with both sex and pain, trying to wrest the animal spirit that shared his soul from him so that she could have more power. Thanks to another trapped Feral, Vhyper, they are able to escape the witch's control and later, to help the other ferals capture her. But even after she is dead, the pleasure that should be his when he shifts to his animal form is gone- all he feels is pain.
Now, years later, Panther has been trapped by another witch named Skye, and even as he hates himself for being tricked yet again, he hates Skye in greater measure for tricking and capturing him. Somehow, she was able to hide the copper rings in her eyes that mark her as a mage, leading him to think she was just another human and safe to sport with. When he followed her into the woods for a second round, her people captured him, and he grits his teeth, waiting for her to start torturing him as Ancreta, the other witch did.
But instead of hurting him, she treats him gently, kissing and stroking him. Skye was forced to capture Paenther by Birik, the leader of the witches, who is soulless. In truth, everyone except Skye in this group is soulless, giving up their souls for more power. Skye's power, though, is that of an enchantress, able to call to her the beasts of the earth, or even humans and ferals. But Birik uses that power to get animal sacrifices for their rituals, which he forces her to call and makes her dance at the rituals while he slaughters the animals and makes her dance in their blood. Skye, who views the animals as friends hates it, but has no choice in the matter, as Birik has forced spells of compliance on her. Paenther has also been shackled with bonds that prevent him from shifting shape.
Birik wants her to raise power from Paenther, but the power she raises from his sexual arousal by merely touching, stroking and kissing him isn't enough for Birik, who comes in and beats her savagely in full view of Paenther. This tells Paenther more than he wants to know about Skye, and he begins to feel sorry for her, because it is obvious that she is just as much a prisoner as he is. And he still wants her- even though he hated her before, it wasn't enough to affect or dim his hunger for her. And he is the only man she has ever wanted, ever been able to respond to. But when the time finally comes, the beating she's taken has made her uninterested, so he coaches her on how to find pleasure for herself, and they make love once more.
But as Skye leaves to find them something to eat, Vhyper, the Feral that Paenther has been searching for, comes into his room and intimates that the whole thing, the beating and Birik's treatment of Skye, was a scene meant to persuade Paenther that Skye was innocent and untouched. Paenther, already uneasy because Skye is a witch, believes Vhyper and hates her again. Vhyper, who Paenther wants to rescue, tells Paenther not to bother, when he was injured by the demon knife, it took away his conscience. Now, he doesn't want to return to the Ferals and is interested in helping the witches free Saetanan, the Demon Lord, locked away in the knife for many, many years.
Later that night, Paenther is dragged into the main room of the witches cave and chained up,, where he sees Skye dancing naked in the blood of animals that she enchanted to come to her and who Birik sacrificed. This makes him hate her even more, but even so he wants her. Birik tells Skye that he means to sacrifice Paenther to open the gate into the knife and release Saetanan, and that he means to have her entice other Ferals there to do so. This is too much for Skye and when she returns Paenther to his room, she lets him go, taking him to a secret, hidden entrance to the mound and telling him to go. Paenther does, but not before knocking her out and taking her with him for revenge.
When she recovers, she is in a car with Paenther and several other ferals, who are upset at her because she is attracting the animals that live inside her. He demands her Cantric, without which it apparently makes her unable to do magic, but she can't give it to him, because it is embedded in her heart, which was done when she was 8 years old, Paenther denies this as being possible, but she is telling the truth.
Back at Feral House, they call in the Shaman to bind Skye's power, while the Ferals have sex with other Therians to break the effect of any magic that Skye was able to perform on them. All except for Paenther, who finds he is unable to perform with anyone but Skye. This makes him long to kill her even more, but at Midnight, he sees the results of what happens when she tries to run from Birik- slashing wounds open on her body, starting on one side and moving up and down the other as she bleeds and hurts. He feels sorry for her and begins to believe, again, that Skye is just an innocent pawn in all of this.
None of the other warriors believe that, but Paenther stays with her and bathes her wounds, taking her to his room. She shares some information with the other Ferals, that Birik and the other witches in the mound are soulless, but she still has her soul because Birik feared that if it was gone, it would damage her abilities as a powerful enchantress. While the other ferals are still wary of her, the Shaman reveals that he is friends with an old mage who was married to an enchantress, and that he might know how to help her use her abilities in a good way.
Paenther takes her to see this mage, who is a crusty man, but softens and warms considerably to Skye. As he teaches her, two more of the Ferals go missing, and Skye must return to try and prevent Birik from sacrificing them to open the blade. However, the warriors discover that they have a traitor in their ranks- someone who is passing on information to Birik in some way, allowing him to capture other ferals and destroy their plans. But can Skye and Paenther discover who it is and rescue the other warriors before Birik gets his way?
I was all set to be annoyed at the names of the characters in this story, which reminded me entirely too much of the Black Dagger Brotherhood names. There's Foxx, Paenther, Lyon, Tighe (for Tiger), Kougar... And Vhyper, of course. Vhyper's name made me laugh, because every time I read it, I was thinking "I am Vhyper- I come to Vhype your Vhyndows." like the old joke. But thankfully, it was only the names, and I could forgive that. The Ferals aren't like the BDB, and for that, I am heartily glad!
I found myself quickly drawn into the story, and invested in both the story of Skye and Paenther (Okay, the names are more than a little annoying, I'll admit.), and I liked the love/hate dynamic on the part of Paenther, and on Skye's part, well, we find out she's been raped by the men there since she was 8, and Paenther is the only guy she has ever been attracted to. It was very delicious to read the two of them together, especially once he'd stopped switching from love to hate an anger every 30 minutes, and it was nice to see Skye blossom- she's hidden her true feelings for so long that she blooms when she is among people who can feel something besides hate and coldness.
This was the first book in the series I'd read, and I really enjoyed my first glimpse of this world. There wasn't a lot of infodumping, which I greatly appreciated, and even when i was puzzled by something (Like what a Cantra is), I could usually figure it out from the context. This book never stops or slows down for long, giving it a great energy, and Pamela Palmer's prose made it easy to get into- each scene flows well and never comes off as stilted or clunky.
I really enjoyed this book, and I found it an easy and interesting read. There's no pain when it comes to absorbing the information sprinkled about the characters and the world throughout the text, the love scenes were hot and engrossing, and the story really pulled me in. Highly recommended.