I have spent a lot of time being embarrassed about certain sections of my reading habits. I have referred to romance novels as Treadmill Trash over and over again (yes, I like to read my kindle to distract myself while I run on the treadmill), but I’ve decided that this is my year to Woman Up and accept that I am just that into them.
[For the record, I deleted a sentence up there describing the breadth of my reading habits. You like reading about happily ever after, and you’re 40 years old. Just fucking own it, already!]
Highlander, by Julia Sykes, is a standalone novel, in that it resolves its central mystery/crime/peril by the end, but it is also part (book 10) of the Impossible Series (starts with Saviour). There are a couple of series arcs that won’t make quite as much sense if you start with Highlander, and the cast of characters will feel a bit more rounded if you go back to the start.
Highlander is set in New York, where the Russian Mafia is teaming up with a Columbian cabal to trade in a new drug called Bliss, which is essentially a combo of rohypnol and cocaine… or something. I’ll be honest: I like a bit of mafia/fbi action to drive my story forward, but I’m reading this for the romance. The meet-cute on this one is a bit darker than usual – Alicia (kidnapped by Russian Mafia in a previous novella and kept as a sexual slave) shot Finley in the chest to protect her kidnapper (except that he’s now dead… there’s a bit to catch up on). Finley sets out to track Alicia down for vengeance, and, as they say, sparks fly.
There’s a fine line a modern romance novel has to strike, with it no longer being good enough for consent to seem dubious, or a woman to (a) only be complete because of a man or (b) never have a hand in rescuing her own damn self. Sykes has, over the course of the series, played pretty close to the lines. This is mostly because she isn’t afraid to have darkness befall her characters, and the way they find their way back to the light is through BDSM. Control and structure in this setting helping women through trauma is obviously something close to her heart, as it’s a recurring theme. This may or may not work for you – it does for me – and will be a large part of whether or not you enjoy any of her books.
Alicia has a long way to go to find any version of normal, and the love/hate dynamic between her and Finley eventually (this is not a spoiler, it’s a genre standard) gets her there. The sex scenes are hot (presuming you lean towards the BDSM aspects), and there is just enough of Alicia saving herself to keep me from calling it a white knight story and giving up. Overall enjoyable, with enough plot to keep it ticking over between sex scenes. I read it on New Year’s Day and was onto the next before lunch time. If you’re into BDSM Sykes is worth a read. She’s keen to accurately represent the community, and the safe/sane/consensual practices. Some have found this addition annoying, but I found it a relief after Fifty Shades.