I have very conflicting feelings about this novel. There were some things the author did incredibly well that really sucked me into the story and made it a worthwhile read, but there were some things that weren’t quite as well done and really bothered me. So this is going to be longer and a little more rant-y than my usual reviews, but it’s not all bad, I promise.
I’ll start with the things I liked.
The first half of the book had more issues that I’ll get into below, but the further I got into the book, the harder it got to put down. About halfway in, the characters, their problems, their relationships, and their emotions really started getting deep and rich and complicated. It went beyond cookie cutter emotions and obstacles and became a web of pain and anger and grief all interconnected with inner demons and the effects the past were having on the characters in their present situations. Somehow the author managed to portray the complex emotions in a natural way and get me to sympathize with all the characters on all sides of the conflict. The emotions were so high and intense sometimes, but they still made sense. THAT is the kind of stuff I love in my books.
The second half was also when the book started to get disturbing in a good way because it was more about psychological things and characters trying to handle the messed up events in their lives. One particularly disturbing (but in a good way, albeit definitely fitting with the gruesomeness of the book) thing was *SPOILER* when Killian was carrying his former kidnapper’s severed head around in a bag just so no one could defile it again (two other characters had dug it up) because the kidnapper actually had a really messed up life too, and Killian he felt like he needed to protect him from any more harm. *END SPOILER* So my point is, I was incredibly impressed with the psychological depth from about the middle on. Like, INCREDIBLY impressed.
Now for the things I disliked.
*TRIGGER WARNING: I’m going to be discussing rape a lot, in somewhat graphic ways, in the next few parts of the review. There might also be a few mildly spoiler-ish things, but nothing big or important or concerning main plot points.*
Rape. Rape everywhere. Also various other types of sexual perversion and abuse, cannibalism, gruesome violence, torture, drug use, and more disturbing shit I don’t even have a word for. I wasn’t expecting the book to be rainbows and butterflies—I like dark books. And I have read other books with graphic gore and rape and been able to handle it. I was expecting disturbing. But this book hit my upper limits. (Especially that part when Reaver found Killian in the factory.) That alone isn’t what bothered me though. I can respect that just because something is beyond my comfort zone that doesn’t make it bad. The problem was that most of it seemed to be there for shock value, especially in the first half of the book (the second half was… slightly more toned down in the shock value factor… slightly). It wasn’t all necessary to the story, and it was over-the-top.
But the interesting thing is, I was most bothered by the scene with the two main characters, Reaver and Killian. The sex started out consensual, but that changed when Reaver started hurting Killian. Killian was shouting at Reaver to stop, but Reaver didn’t stop until he was physically pulled away. One person did blatantly call Reaver a rapist, but, by the next scene, it was forgotten, Reaver never apologized, and Killian just made excuses for Reaver and blamed himself. That made me feel unsettled on a deeper level than the other more violent scenes because of how it was explained away as being ok. I kept waiting and waiting for it to come up, for Reaver to apologize, for someone to say something more, but it never happened. I was just left feeling completely on edge about it. I will say, however, that at least the rape in the book wasn’t romanticized. In fact, it was downright brutal and hard to read.
Another issue was that like 90% of the characters were rapists, including the protagonist (in the aforementioned scene) and many of the main characters. It pushed my suspension of disbelief too far and became gratuitous. It also made me dislike the characters because rape is unforgivable to me. I actually kinda liked Reaver, sociopathic tendencies and all, in the beginning. He was an asshole who enjoyed killing, but he didn’t kill innocents, and he didn’t go out of his way to be a jerk. He was loyal and protected his town and the few people he did care about. He just liked to be left alone. But then he raped someone with a machete, and that was the end of my Reaver-liking. I didn’t even care when he sliced open the legionaries’ legs, ripped the throat out of one, chased another to the edge of a cliff, and chopped the head off another. They deserved it, and Reaver was just trying to find Killian and get his vengeance. But raping a man with a machete is just sick and terrible. Some other characters did acknowledge that, and there was kind of an explanation for why Reaver was like that, but it still made him impossible to like.
*END TRIGGER WARNING*
But then Killian, one of the few characters who wasn’t a rapist, wasn’t likeable either. The thing is, he started out as a perfectly normal, acceptable character, but then as soon as we got to the point when he was dating Reaver, he turned into this weak, submissive, emotional, dramatic, squealing, giggling, crying, wimpy, whiny, pathetic, lost little kitten of a character. Being mentally ill and/or struggling after going through terrible experiences is one thing. Being Killian is something else entirely. He acted more like a child than a 17-year-old man who had been fucked up and hardened by the world he lived in. I think my favorite moment of Killian’s was *SPOILER* when he revealed to Reaver that he cut off Perish’s head because it was the first time he actually acted… not annoying and pathetic. *END SPOILER*
Another issue was the plot. It was a bit episodic, but mostly I was bothered by the fact that there wasn’t really a goal. I like knowing what we’re working toward when I read books so that I know if the characters are getting closer or further.
One last problem I had was the editing. I wouldn’t normally let that bother me, but there were just too many issues with verb tense not quite making sense, sentences with confusing typos, using the wrong word, etc. There was also a lot of repetition. I also hated how the author had most of the book in 1st person POV alternating between Reaver and Killian but then sometimes changed to 3rd person POV of other characters and once went to 1st person POV of some random character named Jade, especially since Jade was the worst narrator ever. He literally just went into shock or something and had no clue what was going on which then meant I had no clue what was going on.
All of that being said though, any book that can impress me the way this one did with the complexity of the characters and their emotions is worth my time and is a book I’m glad to have read. And any book that can actually keep my attention for 800+ pages—and keep my attention enough to make me finish it in three days—is obviously doing something right. So even though I had quite a few issues and decided not to continue the series, but I’m still glad I read it.
Anyone who likes seriously dark, gory, disturbing books. Anyone who likes complex characters and relationships.