Recommended Read, Review

Review: Unicorn’s Instinct by Elva Birch (2023)

Daycare for Shifters, Book #3

Reviews of Daycare for Shifters Book #1 and Book #2

Heat Factor: Some boning with minimal details. 

Character Chemistry: Who wouldn’t want a hot pediatrician unicorn who does the dishes without being asked?

Plot: Fated mates, with an expiration date. And then everyone gets kidnapped.

Overall: A different look at the fated mates trope. I liked it.

Let’s just say this up front: Becket is the perfect man. He’s a pediatrician. He’s a mega-hottie. When he’s not caring for kids, he’s a search and rescue EMT. He does the dishes. One could say he’s a unicorn. In fact, he’s a literal unicorn who can heal people with his unicorn magic. The only problem is that every time he heals someone, he takes time off his life. And his unicorn magic tells him when his time to die is going to be—and how much healing someone will cost him. 

When Becket arrives in Nickel City, Montana, he has about a year left to live. And wouldn’t you know it? He finally meets his mate, Vivian. Being with her feels like home, but Becket feels like he can’t put Vivian through the pain of falling for him (he is a unicorn, after all) only to die on her in the near future. Especially since Vivian is a recent widow with two young children who is just coming out of her grief after her first husband’s death. This is a real conundrum, especially within the rules of romance novels, where, in the minds of readers, happily ever after means FOREVER. (Obviously, St. Vincent will never, ever die. He’s currently 200 years old and just as hot as ever and still in love with Evie.) Is love worth it if you know the relationship will end? Does it make a difference if the relationship will end in the next year or in the next century?

I’ll come back to the central conflict, but first, I do want to talk about the heroine and how this book fits into the Daycare for Shifters series.

So Vivian. Vivian is struggling, because she has a 9-month-old and a 4-year-old and works full-time and is single parenting. But she’s like, normal-people level of struggling: there are dirty dishes in the sink, and she can’t find time to make it to the bank to get some forms notarized, and her dining room table is covered in stuff. She’s an awesome parent and is hyper-competent at her job. At first, I thought this was a case of uneven characterization—the first time we meet her, she’s trying to get her kids out the door in the morning and it’s one damn thing after the next, but then the hyper-competence gets turned on—but actually, this is just real life. Oh, except for her 4-year-old is a kirin (a lucky Chinese dragon-unicorn), and Vivian is decidedly not.

Image by Jill Johansen

Sidenote: Vivian’s first husband neglected to mention that he was a kirin-shifter until after the birth of their first child. CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE? I would be so mad if I pushed out a baby and my partner was like, “Oh hey, by the way, our kid might be able to turn into a dragon-unicorn and have magic powers.” 

The point I’m making is that I liked Vivian’s characterization. I thought she was relatable in her vulnerability while also being strong.

In terms of this book as part of the larger series, Unicorn’s Instinct felt very different from Dragon’s Instinct (I did not read the first book, Wolf’s Instinct, but Ingrid reports that it was very similar to book 2). We spend very little time in the daycare, and so the multi-story arc about the woman who is trying to shut down the daycare doesn’t move forward here. Both books are playing around with the ideas of instinct and fate and how they relate to romantic love, but this book tugged on the heartstrings more. Because Unicorn’s Instinct doesn’t really advance the larger plot, it works just fine as a standalone. 

Back to the central conflict: Vivian and Becket dance around each other a little bit, but they come together pretty quickly (with the help of the unicorn in Becket’s head and a golden retriever puppy). The conflict becomes whether or not they let themselves go all in, knowing that an immense hurt is coming for Vivian and her kids. Becket gets some extra angst, because every time he heals someone, he sees his death move closer—and now, it’s not just a decision between his life and the other person’s, but rather a choice between another moment with love and saving someone else.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I thought it was handled well, and did not contradict the rules set up within the story.

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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