Review: The Country Omega (The Downing Cycle #1) by Penelope Peters

What if desire really did have the power to sweep you away?

Omega Ethan Downing doesn’t want a mate. He wants to play his piano and travel the world. But with his acceptance to a prestigious musical conservatory hanging in the balance – and an ex who won’t take “no” for a hint – Ethan’s father arranges a bonding with an alpha neither of them have ever met.

Alpha Antonio Valdez’s life is perfect. He has the career, the money, the looks. In fact, he’d be perfectly happy never to bond at all. When his overbearing father arranges a bonding for him, he’s ready to find every excuse in the world not to go through with it.

One meeting changes both Ethan’s and Antonio's minds.

Too bad their fathers have also changed theirs.

Now Ethan and Antonio have to fight for something they never even dreamed they wanted: each other.

The Country Omega is the first book in a three-part series set in the Omegaverse. It is a non-shifter, paranormal world in which mpreg is a possibility (but does not occur in this story).

Question: When is a shifter story not a shifter story? Answer: When it's an Omegaverse.

Those of you much wiser than me may already know that in an Omegaverse male pregnancy is viable since each person has two genders, male or female and also an alpha, beta or omega gender.

Our two protagonists Ethan and Antonio find themselves reluctant participants in their parents' search for potential mates for their respective offspring. Neither is particularly keen to be tied down with a mate, however in this Omegaverse they don't have much option and each is attracted to the other's independent spirit. In a meeting that lasts not much more than twenty minutes Ethan and Antonio believe they may have found someone to build a future with, but their parents decide against the match.

All the ingredients are there for the shifter story trope I am more familiar with, but these guys stay human. No shifting. In fact they live in a world much like ours, except in this case, they wrestle with pretty defined roles as alpha and omega and a highly developed sense of smell. Ethan and Antonio expect to experience various (not entirely human) rites of passage including bonding with bites, knotting, coming into heat or 'estrus' and so forth.

I am both intrigued by the idea and delighted with the concept of male / female gender being secondary to a person's status as alpha, beta or omega (the titles are also non gender specific even though traditional pronouns are maintained). Mothers can be male or female. Clever, huh?

Ethan is an omega with ambition and independent ideas, however his omega status means that his options are limited. Ethan really does not have much of an option other than to find a mate and quickly.

In many ways, it reminded me of the Stepford Wives where conformity is the expected norm. Ethan hopes to finish his education at a musical conservatory but he must be bonded and have his mate's permission. Antonio is a potential suitor but much stands in their way and time is running out, with only a few weeks available to make plans and reach agreement.

You might think that this story would be quite speedy, but actually I found the pace sedentary, although my interest was kept, I remain fascinated by the concept if not gripped by the execution of the plot, some of which seemed a tad overblown such as when the alpha patriarchs tie themselves in knots posturing over contract problems that should have been relatively simple to resolve.

This brings me to another quintessential part of the story, in which a teacher steps way out of line and conducts a clandestine liaison with one of his students. Whilst specifics are not explored in great detail they are recalled in flashback. I was uncomfortable with what happened once the affair came to light. I would have thought a trigger warning might be helpful in the blurb for something that covers a rightly sensitive subject at length.

Ultimately, The Country Omega is an unusual read about the imposition of fairly strict social roles dependent on alpha, beta and omega gender and of course, at its heart is a romance.

There's plenty of food for thought (my own preference would have been to explore the social norms, and the culture clashes between town and country, ethnicity and religion in some more detail which would have notched up several more stars from me). Interesting cultural juxtapositions are raised only to be dropped again without much ado. Perhaps they will be more thoroughly developed throughout the course of the Downing Cycle trilogy.

A highlight for me, is Ethan's abrasive and rather brusque music teacher Dimitrov, he comes into his own as the book progresses, here's hoping he continues to hold a starring role in the trilogy as there seems to be some mystery to his love life too.

As an introduction to an omegaverse this was certainly intriguing, an interesting exploration of love and the expectations of family.

Recommended for those who like alternative universe fiction and their romance spiced up with just a little bit more of an animalistic drive.

A complimentary copy of the book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Find out more on Goodreads.

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