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This review is also available on my blog, Bows & Bullets Reviews
****THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS****
Tess Snow is living a relatively perfect life, with a single semester left to go in college and a perfect sweet boyfriend. But when said boyfriend surprises her with a trip to Mexico, everything goes downhill fast. Tess is kidnapped and sold, with no one to rely on for rescue but herself. She's pushed into a world where women are mere possessions, meant to be used and abused at their owner's discretion, and she refuses to bow to her new master. She certain of one thing, she will escape this hell and find her way back to Brax, her perfect boyfriend.
If I had any self-control at all, I would never have downloaded this from NetGalley. I have more E-ARC's than I know what to do with and several books that need to be read and reviewed before February 5th, a fast approaching deadline. But I have no self-control and the book I'm supposed to be reading is boring me, so when I saw this up on NetGalley, I was way too eager to have an excuse to read something else. My sister is in love with this book and has been singing it's praise for a while now, so I knew it'd be something I would enjoy. So color me happy when I was instantly approved. I started it immediately, so drawn in by this dark world of kidnapping and sex slaves. It is unquestionably addictive. It's described as a dark romance, but I feel like "dark" isn't a strong enough term. This novel is brutal and cruel and heartbreaking, especially considering shit like this really happens. But let's not go there because then this review will digress into a bitter diatribe about the injustices of this world.
Tess starts out as a meek girl with sexual desires above what her boyfriend is willing to give. Now why any red-blooded male would turn down his girl's offer of more, kinkier sex, I have no idea, but whatever. After she is kidnapped, Tess start showing a stronger side, constantly fight her captors at every turn. In the end, the feisty spirit doesn't really do any good, but at least she'll know she did everything she could, right? Because that has to be better than just taking it all passively, right? Then once she arrives to meet her new master, she's immeasurable terrified and pissed off and maybe just a bit turned on by this possessive, controlling man. He takes control of her life, simultaneously trying keep her fire high while trying to break her spirit. Tess's reaction to him is a bit disturbing, because although things turn out well, it could easily have not. I get that she desperately desires the while masochistic element in the bedroom, but seriously? In this environment, I can't believe you were seriously turned on by this jackass. That could have led down a completely different and much more dangerous path, idjit.
Q is someone I want to like, but I don't think I do. In the beginning, you hate him for obvious reasons. This asshat is her new master and he is borderline abusive towards her, though never fully stepping over that line. By the end we learn that he has spent a fortune on rehabilitating women who have been sold into slavery abused, before returning them to their families, which is fucking wonderful. Seriously, sir, bravo. You are doing the world a great service and it's appreciated and all that jazz, but I'm not sure that justifies his reaction to Tess. Not only does he treat her like a master would trade his slave, but he also allows bad things to happen to her in his presence. Seriously bad things, and even though he tries to repair the damage, there are some things that can't be undone. What really pisses me off is how his dark desires are rationalized away at the end. This whole ordeal is forgiven because Tess enjoyed it, which is great for her, but what if she hadn't? What if she had been repulsed by his advances and felt violated instead of exhilarated? He goes on and on about how this is the first time he has ever given into his urges with a "slave," like somehow that makes it okay, but I don't think it does. If a child molester fights his urges for ten years before abusing some poor innocent child, do we commend him for holding out for so long or do we punish him for finally falling prey?
I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it or that I wouldn't recommend it, just that it pointed out some very disturbing ways it could have went wrong. Really, this novel was stay-up-all-night-to-finish-it addictive and I think I really enjoyed the majority of it. The first half was fascinating and terrifying, following Tess through her kidnapping and captivity in Mexico. The second half was fascinating trying to figure Q out with his multiple personalities. I don't think we get enough of him to understand completely, but we get enough to throw mental sympathy his way. I'm not sure it's enough to really excuse his behavior, Tess's reactions notwithstanding, but enough that I can consider forgiving him.
This is a complicated novel that will most likely make you think more than anything else. After finishing it, I can't help but wonder if this type of thing will ever truly stop. As long as there are people out there with the cash to make such purchases, it'll continue and that's just depressing...and terrifying. No human being is a possession, regardless of their gender. We are all sentient beings with rights and no one on this fucking planet has the power to take that away. It's a powerful issue and I imagine many people will shy away from reading something that delves so deep into the subject with no qualms about showing the darker side or the things we'd rather not see, like abuse and rape. This is a heart-wrenching portrayal of one woman's struggle to survive her circumstances and then to figure out what she really wants out of her life. It's addictive and horrifying. It's one of the very few dark romances I've read and though I tread carefully in this genre, I'm definitely adding Pepper Winters to my authors-to-watch list!
****Thank you to Pepper Winters and Black Firefly for providing me with an eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review****