Like so many of my reading choices lately, I began the Boston Underworld series by A. Zavarelli after seeing the first Book, Crow, recommended on SmutTok. So, please forgive me, but I’m going to start this review with a bit of a detour: If y’all aren’t on TikTok and following those hashtags, I really recommend your at least considering giving it a try. I now follow a combination of romance authors, book sellers, and readers with similar interests. They often provide interesting insights about their recommendations or, if it’s a post from an author, explanations about why they went the direction they did. It’s really kind of fascinating and I haven’t had a bad suggestion yet. Well, except for Ice Planet Barbarians, and we all know how I felt about that. (If are not familiar with that title, you can click here to read my thoughts or here to read teresaelectro‘s thoughts.)
At this point, I’d like to link to author Katee Robert’s clip about the need for caution/trigger warnings in romance. Crow and Reaper (book 2) both have serious need for these. Seriously bad things happen in these novels. The Dark Romance tag is not an exaggeration. While the bad stuff is not necessarily between the leads, there is sexual assault, human trafficking, drug and alcohol abuse, torture, and a variety of assorted physical violence.
Anway, as I was saying, I began this series after seeing Crow mentioned on SmutTok. It was highly praised as a dark romance. I thought it was pretty good, would probably give it 3.5 or 4 stars out of 5. Mack, the female lead, is a tiny, feisty wiseass who can kick butt and take names. Her best friend has disappeared into the gritty Boston underworld and she is determined to find out what happened to her and get her out if she can. Time is passing, her sense of urgency is growing by leaps and bounds, and of course the authorities are zero help. Lachlan, the male lead is second-in-command of the Irish syndicate in Boston. He’s gorgeous, charming, loyal, and has serious dark undercurrents. He’s also her one lead to finding her friend. I didn’t find anything about Crow particularly surprising or groundbreaking, but it was well written and tightly plotted. The sex scenes were spicy, but not the whole book. In fact, there was way more plot in this one than I am perhaps accustomed to seeing in SmutTok recommendations, because while it is a dark romance with spicy scenes, it was not at all what I would consider smut. Of course, you should probably keep in mind that my Kindle Unlimited selections probably make me look like a much more adventurous person than I am in real life. 😉
Reaper, on the other hand… That’s the one I would have recommended. I mean, it’s even darker than Crow, but it’s definitely the one that I connected with on a deeper level. Both of the leads are kind of broken and come from really hard upbringings – Ronan’s is probably best described as brutal. He was raised by a paramilitary group in Ireland to be loyal to the Cause and has been trained since age 8 to withstand all kinds of torture and hardship. He doesn’t even really know who his parents are because they were not involved with his upbringing at all. Sasha’s is just kind of sad and poor and grim – until she gets mixed up with a terrible boyfriend and through him the Syndicate. Then it gets dark. Like, real dark.
The thing that makes Reaper so memorable and interesting is the characterizations of the leads. They are fully fleshed out people. Sasha has had to make some hard choices to protect her loved ones, at times even sacrificing her sense of self and personal safety. Ronan probably falls somewhere on the autism spectrum even though those words and/or diagnosis is never explicitly mentioned. But then there’s a bit with a dog and love triumphant. Even though parts of the journey are grim, following these two people on their path towards healing is worth your time. And, don’t forget the dog.