I must clarify a few things before I write this review. First, due to problems with the system I did get the book much later than I expected so I read it at quite a pace and didn’t have time to savour it. I’m also aware that I read an ARC copy and there were some issues I found with the book (that I won’t mention here as I’m sure they won’t be a problem with the definite version published) that might have affected my full enjoyment of the novel. The other thing I wanted to mention is that the novel, described as an NA book, is very sexually explicit (I’d say to the level of erotica, although I’m not a big fan of the genre and don’t read many books on it, so others might not agree). There are between five and six sex scenes (one is divided in two so I’m not sure if I should count is as one or two) some quite long and as I said very explicit, and one that is ‘rough’ although even the protagonist makes the point of saying that she does not enjoy S&M. The book is fairly long so the sex scenes are not a major part of the book, but for me they didn’t add much to the story (and that together with my dislike for this type of writing and with what I felt was the uneasy combination of such scenes with the nature of some of the themes of the book didn’t work for me). In what I think it’s a standard of the genre those scenes stretched the suspension of disbelief for me personally, but I suspect nobody is too worried about what is biologically possible when reading an erotic fantasy.
I was intrigued by the book because of the suggestion that it might have a link to Beauty and the Beast, and in a way it does, although a much darker version (well, not that a monster is not dark), that involves crime families, stormy and highly conflictive family relationships, danger, violence, murder (and murder attempts), sex trafficking, drugs. Kidnappings, blackmail…
The story is told in the third person from the point of view of two different characters, Ava, a young woman whose mother, Charlie, is worse than most fairy tale evil stepmothers (although we only get a few scenes with her), and whose adopted dad (but not her official stepfather for reasons we learn later), Jean Paul, loves her dearly and is very rich. We later also learn that he is a big crime boss. The city where the action takes place is divided in five sectors and Jean Paul is one of the bosses. Dimitri, the man Ava loves, who’s been keeping away from her for eight years for reasons we learn later, is the son of one of the other crime bosses, a Russian woman called Elena. (And if Ava’s mother is a cold and horrible human being, Elena fits into a category of her own. I can’t think of many women who could compete.) He also happens to be the biological son of Jean Paul, but his father wants nothing to do with him and insist he’s a monster. Jean Paul is also determined to keep Ava and Dimitri apart, and theirs is a very extreme version of the star-crossed lovers.
Things don’t work according to Jean-Paul’s plans and once Ava and Dimitri come together again, nothing can separate them, even if Dimitri’s reasons to go back to her are suspect to begin with (he kidnaps her to blackmail Jean-Paul into agreeing to his becoming the boss of the North sector). Everybody around Dimitri and Ava seem destined to get into trouble, as if their coupling created an eye-of-the-hurricane effect, and Ava gets stolen away from Dimitri and sent on a shipment with other women who are being sold away, ending up in Puerto Rico. The subject of sex trafficking is horrific and those chapters make for harrowing reading, even if we’re quite convinced that Ava will survive, because this is her story. She doesn’t get much of a break because she’s shot at, and the subject of many more attacks (that I won’t discuss as I don’t want to give any spoilers).
The action is fairly fast, and we are kept guessing as to who is doing what and even more as to their possible reasons, as there are those who unwittingly might help the bad characters, but also very devious evil people, and the cast of people involved is long indeed. The book flows along at good pace although at some points there are things that seem to be left hanging on to be eventually revisited and solved later. This is not a realistic and gritty book (there is violence, wounds, and fights, although the level of description of the violence is not as detailed as that of the sex scenes, but I think it might be too violent for those who don’t like any such themes) although as mentioned some of the themes are raw and dark, and the way in which these criminals can buy their way out of all their troubles and sort out any difficulties stretches credibility, as it does the seeming indestructibility of the protagonists, but that’s only to be expected from the genre.
With regards to the characters I really liked some of the secondary characters like Penny, Frank or Sayeed, which deserve full books. I liked some aspects of Ava’s character (like her attachment and loyalty to her friends), and enjoyed the couple of times when she took control of the situation, but although no human being could go through her experiences unscathed, I wondered about her sense of morals and the easy way she accepts the situation, especially considering what she has lived through. She is always being rescued by the men in her life (not a plot device I like) and I wondered if the ending (that I enjoyed) quite makes up for the rest. Dimitri, in my opinion, although a bit one-dimensional is a more consistent character, even though his style of possessiveness is not to my taste, but I know I might not be in the majority in that respect. His stunts as ‘the Devil’ when he steals from the baddies to give to good causes make him more sympathetic, and he’s an exciting individual, the forbidden bad-boy who is not quite as bad as he appears to be, although he’s darker than the beast of the fairy tale.
I didn’t realise until I started reading it that this book is part of a series, although it is not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy it as the stories are completely independent.
In summary this is a thrilling book, that treats serious themes, although its focus is on the romance between the two main characters whose relationship causes chaos and danger to everybody around them (and to both of them). It has sex and violence and it’s not my ideal kind of book but I’m sure many will enjoy it.