Dueling Review

Dueling Review: Dragon’s Instinct by Elva Birch (2022)

Daycare for Shifters, #2

Ingrid’s review of Daycare for Shifters, #1

Holly’s Take

Heat Factor: There’s an epic sexathon without a ton of details

Character Chemistry: “My dragon says that you’re the one!” But also they’re really cute together.

Plot: Single dad dealing with some stuff + neighbor who is really good with kids + the American West is on fire

Overall: A cute read

Ingrid’s Take

Heat Factor: So many puns about fire and heat factor and so little time. They have many encounters and entanglements. 

Character Chemistry: It’s a lot of cute, eager yearning and then it’s off to the races.

Plot: Olivia is not a shifter, but she’s hoping to shift gears and start over in a new town. Ian is a single dad with a massively challenging home life going on, and he’s immediately drawn to his new neighbor.

Overall: Very tender and entertaining.

Erin’s Take

Heat Factor: I don’t think I’ve ever read an Elva Birch book with this much descriptive sex. (They go through a whole box of condoms in one weekend!)

Character Chemistry: Is it fated mates or are they just really into each other?

Plot: She’s running from her past, he’s running himself ragged with a shifter toddler, and there are some worrisome things happening around town

Overall: It’s light-hearted and sweet

**Our discussion contains spoilers**

What’s one key piece of information you think a reader should know before getting Dragon’s Instinct?

Erin: Birch writes light-hearted stories typically, but I wouldn’t say this is a full-blown rom-com because Birch’s writing style trends a bit more dramatic and serious—there’s usually an external plot issue driving tension. In this case, it’s humorous having these little kids bumbling around in their shifter shapes, but the story focuses more on Ian coming to terms with himself and his abilities, and him and Olivia fitting their lives together. 

Holly: This book is marketed as just light, fluffy, silly escapism and it definitely is an easy read. Nothing super terrible or dramatic happens. But like Erin said, Ian is working through some identity stuff. So there is some meat to this book.

Ingrid: I read the first book in this series as well. In both of these books, the male character has some meaty emotional growth. Both books were similar in that they were both single dads who had a great relationship with his kid, but were stressed out. For the dad, he’s pretty clear in the beginning that he’s a committed, devoted parent, but he needs/wants a partner. But because of the fated mates trope and the kids, the heroines are portrayed as perfect mother material to complete the family. The heroine is a solution, and I know this might be a sticking point to some people. Olivia is more two-dimensional, whereas Ian has the more juicy three-dimensional emotional development. 

So, this book is a journey of self-discovery and a single parent book…

Holly: Jumping off what Ingrid said, I agree that Olivia is less well-developed. As I was reading, I was thinking, “Wow, this is a really interesting journey of self-discovery for the hero (and only the hero), and usually I see this for only the heroine.”

Ingrid: Olivia had this interesting backstory where she had a relationship, and when it went wrong she gave up her photography out of sadness—but it was just dropped. The resolution for her was, “Yay, I get a dragon! I’ll never be lonely again.” But it wasn’t well-developed, and made Olivia a flatter character, which was disappointing, because there was potential for a lot of juicy stuff there.

Erin: I do agree that there could have been more to Olivia’s story, especially considering the way it was teased at the beginning. She didn’t want to think or talk about her photography or her past, and then there was the reveal when she was talking to Ian. Other than when Ian was going through his problems and he ghosts her, it doesn’t really come into play again. But, I understand the vibe of Olivia being the solution to the family problem, and I just want to note that I don’t think it’s a full blown “you’re the solution to my problem” that we sometimes see in single parent romance. Ian does find his own solution: he puts Lucy in daycare, which is ex mocks. He has a really healthy relationship with Lucy, it’s just hard having a toddler. Olivia does become a help-meet but she doesn’t become Mary Poppins, so I don’t think it goes full blown into: the woman comes in to fix the problems. I think it’s on that line. For people who don’t like the super-nanny trope, they probably wouldn’t like this book. But for the more flexible reader, I don’t think it’s a problem.

Ingrid: I agree, and that’s why I say it’s really the fated mates aspect that provides that nuance–Olivia is the solution because she is who she is, not because she’s a warm body with a maternal figure. That’s where “the solution” component comes from—the shifter trope, not the single parent trope. I think it’s really hard because with the single parent dynamic you have to have everybody in the family connect enthusiastically or it doesn’t work. So that’s difficult because without everybody coming together there’s no HEA, and when the fated mates connection gets included, it’s even more challenging to navigate the “she’s the solution” element because of the way the shifter/fated mates stuff plays out. That was where I was headed with that thought.

*Holly and Erin are nodding.*

On a scale of 1-10, how bad would it be if your kid were also a shifter?

Ingrid: I’m sorry, I have to agree with the ex-wife. You can’t let the cat play with the squirrel baby. A human can’t communicate with the cat. Maybe if it were a cat shifter. But it’s a two-year-old and a cat! That’s a ticking bomb.

Erin: I thought after the first scene that Lucy was going to be afraid of the cat, but instead she was like, “Cat is fun playmate!”

Ingrid: I was not surprised that Lucy was like, “I’m terrified! I’m going to chase after you every chance I get!” That tracks with two-year-old behavior. And especially if you’re a cat, and you keep chasing after the same squirrel and it gets away every time, is the cat gonna be like, “Oh ok”? No, the cat’s gonna be like, “I’ll get you next time!”

Erin: It’s a fire-breathing squirrel.

Ingrid: That does help.

Erin: The other thing I have to say is, it would be terrible if my child were a shifter.

Ingrid: The worst. 

Erin: Especially if I have to keep it a secret. Kids can’t keep anything a secret. 

Holly: I mean, having human children is hard enough. 

What are some ways that Birch plays around with shifter tropes in this book? What effect do these changes have on the story?

Erin: Part of Birch’s brand is playing with shifter tropes, which I think is fun. In this case, what do we have…we have fated mates, but maybe not because it’s “instinct”. A lot of times in shifter books, when the shifter shifts the clothes disintegrate, so Birch has an explanation for staying clothed. She adds in the elementals… 

Holly: In a lot of books there’s a strong family “pack” dynamic going on, and we don’t see that here. This may be because he’s a dragon with a quirrel kid, rather than a wolf, where the pack thing tends to be more emphasized.

Erin: It’s interesting that in this world, dragons are different from other shifters. Instead of just being part of the shifter community where you’re born the way you’re born, it’s like a symbiotic entity.

Ingrid: I liked these books, and think they’re really fun and engaging. I’m going to go with an unpopular opinion and say that the second I found out that the dragon was a parasitic symbiotic relationship—it made my skin crawl. I was so icked out by it. If I take my feelings out of it, it’s a really interesting narrative choice. But on a gut level, it would be like having the dog lying on your bed every time you do it. The sex scenes were ruined for me. I was like, “Eugh, the dragon is just really rooting for this to happen right now.” And it was worse when the dragon went into Olivia. Now it’s like they’re sharing toothbrushes, only sex style. 

Holly: I thought the symbiotic dragon thing was really interesting. This was Ian’s struggle! It entered his head when he was a child and was disdainful of him. This ancient beast that was hovering over his shoulder all the time. This storyline is what I was thinking when I said there was some meat to this; if you think about it that’s really intense to have that kind of dread and pressure. Ian has really struggled his whole life because of his dragon form. 

Erin: Well, and that nobody accepts him, from his parents to the dragon to the ex wife. Because of who he feels like he is at his core. I mean, I see what you’re saying Ingrid, you’re not wrong, but that aspect didn’t affect me at all.

Ingrid: At one point before the dragon shifted over to Olivia, I was like, “Ooh, this is a really good allegory for anxiety and trauma.” Chosen during childhood, caused major family strife, comes up at the worst possible times as a voice in your head that mocks you. I agree with Holly, though, it is meaty. I just couldn’t get over the…technical…aspects.

Erin: Other shifter thoughts?

Ingrid: I like the pack mentality thing that happens in shifter books, and I missed that. In other books, not everyone is a shifter, but they have these packs, so they’re not alone, and that makes it feel warm. In this book, because of the single parent aspect and the lack of a family or pack, we don’t get that feeling. Because of the community and the secrecy, that makes it feel less lonely, but I was surprised that I noticed missing that pack element.

Holly: Right, and it’s really interesting you’re saying this because that’s Olivia’s thing—she’s longing for community and for people, and she really thinks that becoming a shifter is the magic bullet for finding that community. But they don’t have packs. They can recognize each other but they can’t go on playdates at the park. The kids can’t make friends easily. There are only 10–15 kids in this whole daycare. Is that the entirety of their community?

Ingrid: I would be curious, because I read the other book in the series and now this book… I wonder if that is something the author is building towards. There are several characters who enter the scene—both who seem to be able to build the community and a villain who seems to be poised to pull everything apart—that will probably develop more in this space as the series continues.

Are Olivia and Ian actually fated mates?

Holly: I don’t think they are. Because the whole time the dragon’s like, “We need to be with Olivia.” But it wasn’t that Olivia needed to be with Ian, it was that Olivia needed to be with the dragon. She was the right host for it. So that means that she and Ian maybe aren’t fated to be together.

Ingrid: In the other book, it’s more fated than that. It’s instinct. BUT. In the other book it’s two shifters. In this book, it’s an elemental and a dragon. 

Erin: Well, it’s like in human/shifter books—the human usually doesn’t feel the bond but the shifter does. He’s an elemental and she’s a human…there’s a dragon who’s like a shifter but kind of not. So it makes sense that it would be confusing what exactly the status is.

Holly: I’m just thinking of A Hunger Like to Other…where he breaks out of the underground sewer because he senses his mate is near. It’s so clear cut (even if she doesn’t feel it). 

Erin: I think that’s the aspect of Birch’s handling of the trope—like, I read multiple different books in different series by her at this point, and all of the fated mates are handled a little bit differently? But it’s always also a little bit more grey than that pretty standard Hunger Like No Other style, or Slave to Sensation, where you dial in on who your mate is, it snaps into place, and you’re connected for life. I think what I have seen with her books is the fated mates component is essentially the adhesion plot thrust. It’s the reason they come together but not the reason they STAY together. It’s why they’re introduced at the outset but it doesn’t ultimately control the relationship in the end.

Holly: I have a question about fated mates. How do you date or have an ex partner, if you know as a shifter you have an elemental soulmate that you just have to meet?

Ingrid: I have an answer for this in this world. In the last book, the single dad had trusted his instinct and ended up with his wife leaving him and his child, so his problem was “How can I trust this instinct when it went so wrong before?” The way instinct works is that it tells you that something needs to happen, but you don’t know exactly what or why. So that first woman was meant to be the mother of his child, but not his life partner. And I like it because it mirrors real life—you don’t know what your future is meant to hold and you might know that you feel drawn to someone or to a choice, but we don’t always have a clear picture of why until we’re through it. And I like that idea of fated mates.

Erin: And more broadly, I’ve seen this multiple times—sometimes it’s: not every shifter gets a mate, so if I don’t fall in love now that might just not be in my future. There is an idea that you don’t have to wait for it to happen because it’s not actually controlling your life, it’s just something that exists in life that some shifters experience. But yeah, I was like, why did he decide to be with Wanda? But, you know, people make mistakes.

Final Thoughts:

Ingrid: I think this is a very cute series and I think that it’s one of those series that has threads that make you want to read more of the books. I’m pretty sure if I read the whole series that this wouldn’t be my favorite of the books, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of fun stuff going on. 

Holly: It worked fine for me as a standalone (because Ingrid’s been talking in terms of the book as being part of a series). I could pick up on most of the larger story arc without having read the previous book. And my interest was piqued for the next book in the series.

Erin: I would have really liked more fire breathing squirrel hijinks. But, for something light and fun and playful, and easy to read, it was definitely enjoyable. And I needed something light. I’m more excited about the next dragons of Alaska book than maybe continuing this series, but I am also really excited about the EMT who got teased. 

Buy Now: Amazon

Looking for something similar?

Other books by Elva Birch

Single Parents

Fated Mates

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