The Coyote’s Cowboy by Holley Trent. 2018.
This m/f shifter romance novella packs an intense punch. Witnessing these two neuroatypical MCs who both feel alienated from other people connecting and being sweet to each other as they try to extricate themselves from folks who were trying to control them gave me so many feelings. This is an intense whirlwind ride of a paranormal romance that I could not put down.
The meet cute for this story is priceless; the hero doesn’t recognize that the heroine is a coyote (she’s in her animal form) and thinks she is a stray dog….and gives her a bath! He soon recognizes that something is off, and then gets hyperfocused on unraveling what’s going on and how any of it can make sense, which is what brings them together.
I really enjoyed how deeply we were in Austin’s perspective, and how much his ADHD is part of that. This is the opposite of incidental representation. We see his ADHD in how he thinks and behaves, both interpersonally and at work. We also learn about the way he was raised, by parents who had a lot of ableism and didn’t really allow him to be independent, who frequently gaslighted him and treated his perception of things as unreliable and wrong. We see the impact that ableism has had on him, the way it shaped him, how he has internalized it and the ways he is resisting it and insisting on living an independent life now. I appreciated how nuanced and complex this aspect of his characterization is, and the way we can see it shaping his motivations from the very beginning.
Alongside the depth of his POV, we also are in Sheena’s. Her voice is so strong, and so different from Austin’s. I fell for her pretty much immediately, for her determination and strength, her focus and her will to survive, and for the grudging way she slowly let Austin become her friend. Again, with Sheena, we get a deep POV, really see the impact the abuse she has been dealing with has had on her, especially in the latter half of the book, and regarding the gaslighting in particular. It was so resonant for me, this depiction of grappling with the impact of gaslighting. Made for such an intense and sometimes difficult read.
There’s a moment in the story that I saw the author quote on Twitter, describing what happens when you shift and you forgot that you’re wearing a weave; this was the tweet that had me pre-ordering the book, because that kind of deep worldbuilding and representation of the realities of shifters of color was something I definitely wanted to read. When I got to that passage in the novella, it was even more impactful in context, because of what it showed about Sheena and her relationship to shifting, something I couldn’t get in the passage when it was separate from the book. I love that, the way the worldbuilding is deeply intertwined with, and illuminates, the specifics of her character.
There are so many moments like this, for both MCs, where things crystallize and I went back and thought about them later with more depth because of what had been revealed in the unfolding characterization. For me, this combination of deep POV, complexity of characterization that unfolds over the course of the story, and attention to detail in the worldbuilding, are what make Trent’s work so wonderful and make me want to devour her backlist. I know I will be rereading this book, because the second read will add to the experience.
The writing is also just so gorgeous and intense, in a way that made me hold my breath sometimes. A few choice quotes:
She was sick of trying to impress people who really didn’t give a damn about anything but the veneer of her.
“It wasn’t a a ‘no’ but a ‘you can do better than this.’ It was about time someone had started telling her she deserved better.”
“Even cowboys have soft spots they forget to protect.”
As a trauma survivor reader, and as an autistic reader, what I adored most about this story was how careful and kind the MCs attempted to be with each other, as friends, and then as lovers. They knew each of them had tender spots and difficulty connecting, and they were just so persistently sweet to one another. They created a pocket of safety for each other, amidst all the gaslighting and ableism and abuse and danger they were grappling with. For me, that is the place where hope blooms in this book, and what made it safe enough for me to read, even when it was difficult. I trusted them with each other, and loved seeing the way they each made room for the other’s neuroatypicality. It made for a beautiful romance.
There are some intense and adrenaline-soaked moments in the story, including a complex rescue that was very painful to read, at times. I liked that there was no sense that Sheena’s trauma would be cured, that instead the story leaves them at a place where healing has begun. That resonated for me, as a trauma survivor reader, felt like a good place to close this chapter, a hopeful place.
So this was the first book I read by Holley Trent and now I will be devouring her backlist. (Lucky for me there is quite a bit of it to read!) I want to note that this book was one of several that was abruptly dropped in the rather surprising sudden closing of the Crimson Romance imprint. Trent self-published this and will be continuing the series on her own. I jumped right into the middle of the series and didn’t have trouble following along, but I do plan on going back to the beginning and getting a deeper context. I am also very excited to read the next Masters of Maria book (out 7/23), The Coyote’s Bride!
- Black heroine with PTSD.
- Hero with ADHD.
- Black woman author
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
Heroine has PTSD; flashbacks and intrusive thoughts are depicted. References to and descriptions of psychological, sexual, and physical abuse, esp gaslighting from family member/pack leader. MC witnesses this abuse towards her mother as well. Ableism from family members. Internalized ableism. Both characters have low self esteem and think nobody could want to be with them. The story is about the heroine extricating herself from an abusive situation. Sex on the page.
- Source of the book: I bought this with my own money.
- I have had some contact with the author on Twitter
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- Review of Snare, another paranormal romance