This post contains reviews for the books currently available in the Protectors series:
- Absolution (Book 1)
- Salvation (Book 2)
- Retribution (Book 3)
- Forsaken (Book 4)
- Vengeance (Book 5)
- A Protector’s Family Christmas (Book 5.5)
- Discovering Daisy (Book 5.6)
- Atonement (Book 6)
- Revelation (Book 7)
- Redemption (Book 8)
- Defiance (Book 9)
- Protecting Elliot (Book 9.5)
- Unexpected (Book 10)
- Made Mine (Book 10.5)
- Shattered (Book 11)
- Unbroken (Book 12)
- Pretend You’re Mine (Book 12.5)
- Obsessed (Book 13)
Absolution (Book 1)
The funny thing about this book is that it probably would have worked perfectly well as a thriller without romantic elements. Did I mind the romance? Only a little bit, because the suspension of disbelief involved a bit of insta-love that bordered on contrived (especially for the character who had never experienced attraction to another man before). Except isn’t all fiction, including romance, escapism? If so, this was a great, fast-paced story to get lost in.
The lives of Jonas, Cole, and Mace intertwine in a multi-layered storyline that involves their histories and their present, bringing the three men together in a world where they would probably never have otherwise crossed paths. Jonas and Mace both have darkness in their lives; Jonas by circumstance and Mace by choice. In contrast, Cole isn’t necessarily the hero they need, being fairly settled in their lives by the time the story starts, but he’s the hero they deserve. Together, Cole and Jonas are able to lay some of the ghosts in their past to rest. Moving forward, they prevent Mace from delving farther into his own darkness.
This novel touches on dark subjects, such as child abuse and underage prostitution. It won’t be for all readers, but I’m pleased that I stumbled across this series. Contrived relationships aside, I’m willing to suspend a certain amount of disbelief to get to the promised happily ever after.
Salvation (Book 2)
Another absorbing romantic thriller that takes a certain amount of suspension of disbelief to enjoy: This time, the reader has to accept that Ronan and Seth belong together. Once this is taken as an essential point of the plot, the book goes relatively smoothly, and Ronan and Seth make quite a sexy-yet-dysfunctional pair. Ironically, like the first in this series, the book probably could have worked without the romantic element if Ronan had merely come to Seth’s aid in the context of the almost older brother that he was. But to be fair, that’s not as much fun.
I appreciate the way Kennedy approaches the mental health of her characters. Seth and Ronan have a metric-ton of issues between them, but neither man is ever treated as “lesser,” either between each other or by allies. Seth has taken more active steps to address his anxiety and agoraphobia, and even though it partially backfires through no fault of his own, I hope he ends up being a positive example for Ronan. Another element I appreciate about this book is that despite the age-gap component, Ronan respects Seth’s abilities and makes it clear that he intends to support him and their development.
In another world, timing and ages may have lined up better for Seth and Ronan to come across each other in less fraught circumstances. (I say that as a reader who is wholly unimpressed with Ronan’s fiancé, despite the tragedy of his death.) Then again, both men would not be who they are without those conflicts, and maybe that was also necessary for their current connection. I look forward to checking back in with them later in this series as I dive into the next book.
Note: This is a book to read the trigger warnings for if there is any question regarding story points that might affect you negatively.
Retribution (Book 3)
Hawke, another member of the underground vigilante group featured in the first two books of the Protectors series, finally gets closure to his own story here. Of course, nothing can be straightforward about getting revenge on his wife’s murderers, and Hawke ends up with not only Tate but also Tate’s ill son on his conscience.
On the surface, this book appears to feature an insta-love, gay-for-you romance. However, the context of Hawke’s past is essential here. I understand why authors are reluctant to label their characters for fear of backlash from readers, but I suggest that Hawke is an incredibly demisexual character. The only romantic/sexual interest he has ever had in life was for his wife. Ten years later, he is understandably conflicted when that interest strikes again—this time, for a younger man. The passion is hot, at times dark, and heart-wrenching.
Hawke and Tate share a destiny when it comes to ridding themselves of the demons that Tate’s estranged family represent. Those demons strive to keep the men apart in various ways, both internal and external, so much so that I cheered for the happy ending (despite the exciting dose of violence that was pretty inevitable).
Once again, this book might be necessary for readers to note the trigger warnings before starting. (I continue to be a heartless monster who already looks forward to diving into the next book in the series.)
Forsaken (Book 4)
Major note: This book is best read after enjoying Kennedy’s Escort trilogy and Berretti Security series. Those are all excellent storylines, so I highly recommend them anyway.
With that in mind, this book crashes together with the two previously separate timelines. Years have gone by for the Escort/Barretti characters, so Eli is firmly an adult here. However, only weeks have passed in the Protectors world, and this book takes place soon after the previous one. Maverick has stuck around Seattle to keep an eye out for future danger for his friends; instead, he ends up with a desire to protect the young hospital volunteer who appears in trouble himself.
Despite what Mav can see of Eli’s found family from an outside perspective, events have forced Eli to withdraw from them. In the same way, Mav has known from childhood that he’s not worth loving, despite the support system that surrounds him to assist with Eli. The sexual chemistry between Eli and Mav is off the charts, but neither man is good with the emotional aspect, thanks to their prior life experience. This disconnect in communication creates the perfect storm for an “idiots in love” story, and I loved every moment of it.
This book is not a light and fluffy romance, however, as Mav and Eli must face the darkness in their pasts. Luckily, both of their found families are around to force the men to accept the love and care on offer, and not just from their potential romantic partner. In Eli’s case, especially, readers should potentially heed the book’s trigger warnings, but Mav has certainly not lived his life unscathed.
It looks like the characters of both series will continue to blend in future books, and I can’t wait to keep enjoying this series. Dom Barretti and Ronon Grisham are forces to be reckoned with, and the characters in their lives are just as intriguing.
Vengeance (Book 5)
At this point, I’m going to stop advising readers to be careful when considering this series. If you’re this far down the rabbit hole, you know that the Protectors world is dark and filled with trigger warnings. In particular, this book lays it all on the page instead of hiding it within characters’ backstories, and even I (who we have established has no soul) felt a little jarred while reading a particular scene in this book. (And what a weird dichotomy to read in my bright kitchen while waiting for the rice to cook.)
That being said: Wow. The Protectors series is now even more intertwined with the found family established in the Escort/Barretti Security series books, and I couldn’t be more invested in all of these characters. Previous books have often mentioned Memphis as a logistics operator for the Protectors vigilante group, and a Berretti Security story included Brennan. Now, years have passed, and a very adult Brennan is split between his long-time secret love for his “cousin” Tristan and his newfound interest in the mysterious man who recently saved his life. Brennan slides through every effort Memphis makes to protect himself due to the wounds inflicted in his past—but where does that leave the men when Brennan realizes that Tristan feels the same way for him?
Luckily, Tristan is wise beyond his young years. There’s a certain element of “why choose?” in this book, but it’s packaged very differently under the theme of “go big or go home.” The connection and intimacy between the three men build like it would between any couple, which created all sorts of warm fuzzies for this reader. At least until Kennedy then puts the men (and my heart) through the wringer. Is the total ride worth it? Absolutely.
Special shout-out here to Kennedy’s inclusion of a character with HIV. His diagnosis does not define the character, nor is his diagnosis the plot of the book. A slight medical hiccup does feature in a subplot, but at no time is the question of whether the character deserves to have the same respect and ability to be in a relationship as anyone else. Kennedy also gets massive bonus points for detailing the realistic risk levels of sexual contact and mentioning PrEP for other relationship members. (Disclaimer: I’m a medical editor currently specializing in HIV and LGBTQ health, so I’m slightly biased whenever these issues appear in fiction, especially romance.)
It’s so difficult to space out these books rather than tear through them all at once, which is almost the highest level of praise I can think of. I continue to highly recommend this world for fans of found families supporting each other through the darker side of the romance genre.
A Protector’s Family Christmas (Book 5.5)
Most holiday novellas consist of a lot of self-indulgent fluff, by the author and for the readers. This story features it all, from engagements to weddings to plenty of sexy bits involving familiar characters. Except these guys are still the Protectors, and that’s what they do best—even when it comes time to expanding their family and starting their happily ever after. For a sweet novella, this book still had an engaging, action-packed subplot that gave multiple characters time to shine. It also sets up at least two future relationship arcs to look forward to in the series.
If you’re already this far in the Protectors series, this bit of self-indulgent fluff will be right up your alley, no matter what time of year you read it.
Discovering Daisy (Book 5.6)
This novella works excellently as a romance arc interlude that fits within the Protectors universe but doesn’t necessarily include all the full series hallmarks. For example, Cash and Sage are already together as a couple, Sage’s tragic backstory is securely in the past, and Daisy’s immediate conflict doesn’t revolve around her. I look forward to the resolution of her friend Dylan’s story in a later book, but for now, I’m happy to enjoy Daisy coming out of her stereotypical “computer girl” shell. However, this isn’t a book purely about a gay-presenting couple accepting a woman to make a permanent trio.
Sage’s story might be resolved, but the emotional and mental scars have not. The way he relies solely on Cash for his mental and emotional security is not healthy nor sustainable. Ultimately, it is the men’s joint attraction to Daisy is what propels them on the path toward healing.
Overall, this is a satisfying novella featuring familiar characters. I agree that it is best read on the heels of A Protector’s Family Christmas, and I hope to see these characters continue to appear in supporting roles in future books.
Atonement (Book 6)
Yet another book in this series that blew me away with the plot twists and drama of the characters coming together. Dante and Magnus are just shy of being “enemies-to-lovers,” in that they’re not actually enemies, and Dante is on board with Magnus becoming a lover. Except that Dante wants Magnus for the wrong reasons, and once Magnus is on board with the plan (to his own surprise most of all), their happily ever after is still a long time in coming.
I hesitate to talk too much about the external conflict for fear of spoilers, but it went in a direction I didn’t expect. As Matty’s young grandfather on his mother’s side, Magnus ties into characters from earlier in the series. The larger Protectors circle has adopted him as one of their own and foists Dante upon him as a bodyguard while testifying in a trial from his previous life, whether he likes it or not. With the men forced into such close quarters, the relationship between them begins to shift. Then, Dante’s past is the inciting factor that propels them on a detour to Chicago that almost ends in tragedy.
The Protectors would not exist if it weren’t for the darker side of life, and Kennedy does not shy away from showing us that dark side in her work. And even though Kennedy has let her characters fade into the sunset in previous books, I genuinely worried that might not be the case for one of the main characters in this installment.
Reading this series one after the other might make them vaguely repetitive. I’ve been spreading it out, and so far, each one has been a delight when this series returns to the top of the list.
Revelation (Book 7)
This series’ recurring theme is two “broken” individuals coming together to find solace in their trauma. That solace might be more immediate, in the case of Ethan growing close to Cain while Cain helps Ethan escape his abusive ex-boyfriend once and for all. It also might be a long time in coming, such as Cain finally coming to terms with the trauma inflicted upon him by his parents while he develops feelings for Ethan. In both scenarios, the road toward their happily ever after is bumpy and paved with mental and emotional hang-ups that provide all the necessary angst for a truly rewarding love story.
That being said, it is essential to note that the sexual/romantic feelings between the characters (which eventually evolve into love) do not FIX the trauma scars carried by either party. True love does not heal all (no magical healing cock tropes either), but Kennedy brings to life the idea that shared pain is pain halved while shared love is love multiplied. Following the actual recovery of the characters would double the length of these books, at minimum. Still, it is enough of a satisfying read to see everyone on that path together (including secondary characters, such as Lucy becoming official family to Ethan and Cain).
Family also continues to be a re-occurring theme in this series. These stories can be read as stand-alones, but the satisfaction of visiting previous characters as they support the new romantic leads is another element of this series that I look forward to in each new book. I also appreciate how Kennedy slowly introduces new characters who will eventually have leading roles of their own.
Overall, this book follows the established patterns of this series, including pretty dark issues for which readers should heed trigger warnings. Despite the patterns (and possibly because I make sure to read a few other books between them), the series is not repetitive; rather, each new book is a treat to dive into both because I will read familiar tropes while also experiencing brand-new scenarios and connections between characters.
Redemption (Book 8)
Each book in this series is designed to stand alone, but I think this story works so much better if you have also read Salvation (Protectors #2) and A Protector’s Family Christmas (Protectors #5.5). The full context to the dark load Levi carries regarding his past becomes that much more visceral, which cranks up this book’s angst-level to dramatic levels. In a series already filled with damaged characters, Levi is as close to broken as I’ve experienced. His present is unpleasant enough, but his backstory is even more traumatic, demanding some pretty significant trigger warnings.
Without knowing so, Levi’s saving grace is that Ronan sends Phoenix after Levi to determine whether the young man is a threat to Ronan’s husband. Luckily, Phoenix gets close enough to see that Levi’s “threatening” actions were those of a man looking for a better future (even if he could not see one for himself). The two men develop a connection despite, rather than because of, seeking a replacement for the family they lost.
I wish I had more to say about Phoenix here. Though he has darkness in his life, it is not quite like what other men in the “Protectors” group have dealt with. However, this does not make him less of a multi-dimensional character, and I’d even argue that he is the foil that Levi needs due to his personal history.
Because in contrast to Ronan’s suspicions, Levi is not “that guy” (and never actually was). Thematically, this story focuses on getting the full story before judging someone, especially someone so young. I would even argue that, contrary to the title, Levi is not a character who needs redemption. He was (and still is) a man in an impossible situation. By connecting with another man in an equal yet different impossible situation (regarding the state of Phoenix’s family), they both get their happily ever after.
A friend warned me that she felt this series got repetitive. I can easily see the common threads and plot tropes that link each of these books. Because I intentionally read other books in between coming back to this world, I continue to thoroughly enjoy every installment for what it is.
Defiance (Book 9)
Kennedy knocks it out of the park once again with this installment to the Protectors series. Vincent fascinated me as a character since I first met him a few books ago, and learning about his backstory made me love him even more. He has the typical tragic background of a member of Ronan’s vigilante group, except he gets wrapped up in one of Ronan’s missions by a different avenue. He wants nothing to do with Nathan, who represents much of what he hates about the society that ruined his life more than once. Except like calls to like, and Nathan is an equally damaged soul. He doesn’t need Vincent to save him, except from the immediate threat to his life, but his connection with Vincent does set him free in a way he didn’t know he needed.
The external plot, as usual, is deliciously twisty and affects more than only Vincent and Nathan. I love that I have the full context of all the characters mentioned, which enhances the current story and drops some tantalizing breadcrumbs for what comes next in the series. In this book, particularly, the main characters do not exist in a vacuum, and Vincent has some great connections that I look forward to learning more about. He also might not have a background as traumatic as Kennedy has treated her characters to previously, but that does not diminish the pain he has experienced.
Regarding the connection that develops between Nathan and Vincent, Kennedy manages to present all the feels. Luckily, because these characters do have support from others, they still manage a truly satisfying happily ever after. This book is another solid installment in a series I’ve very much fallen head over heels for.
Protecting Elliot (Book 9.5)
Though Kennedy wrote this novella as an introduction to her writing, readers of the complete saga up to this point will get the most from the story. Cruz (and his brother) are brand-new characters, but Elliot has connections to Declan Barretti’s history. Declan referred to his previous police partner back in his book, but this story gives the incident’s full scope, including the residual effects that have echoed through the years. Elliot has reasonable cause not to trust anything that involves Declan, but Declan’s extended family takes protection seriously. Enter Cruz, who leaves out a few details about his sudden interest in Elliot; however, the interest itself is one hundred percent real (and incredibly sexy).
For an intro book, the steaminess level is slightly on the kinkier side compared with the other books in this series (even the MMM installments). However, it works perfectly for Elliot and Cruz’s personalities. Their insta-lust makes a natural progression to not-quite-as-insta love, and the story’s climax (not that kind of climax) features everything I have come to expect from a story in this series. As usual, it also sets up another potential romantic connection that I’m eager to explore further.
Whether you read it as part of the complete collection of series, as I did, or come to it fresh, this novella is exactly what it says on the tin: A snapshot of all the best aspects of Kennedy’s writing and storytelling for the stories set in this sexy, dangerous, but most of all, romantic world.
Unexpected (Book 10)
Not to be cliché, but one of my favorite things about this book is precisely how unexpected most of it was. I already knew that Everett, Nash, and Gage would end up with their happily ever after from the back-cover text. However, the three characters’ journey—together and separately—to reach that point followed a few surprising twists. If you’re looking for political intrigue because Everett happens to be a former U.S. president, this book won’t be for you. Everett gave up that life long ago, along with what he thought was his only chance at true happiness, and now has little desire to do much other than garden and attempt to repair the damaged relationship with his son.
However, because he is a former president, he lives with the expectation of accepting Secret Service protection, even if it’s often a hindrance now that he has a new agent for his protection detail. Neither Everett nor Agent Nash knows what to do with the sparks between them, so they mostly attempt to pretend that they don’t exist. Enter Gage, who wants nothing more than to fix the potential happiness between both men, and ends up getting sucked along in their wake. It’s sexy, it’s sweet, and unfortunately, it treads some familiar paths that will only create more conflict between Everett and his son.
In typical Protectors fashion, Nash and Gage carry significant baggage from their personal lives, slowly revealed as the three men grow closer (I figure the weight of being a closeted president is plenty of baggage for Everett). And, of course, as each man comes closer to healing, wrenches are thrown in the works in the form of Everett’s constant clashes with his son and then the son’s own history intruding upon the otherwise idyllic life they’ve created hidden away on Gage’s farm.
Kennedy takes plenty of risks with her characters in this book (seriously, a president and a small, precocious child?) that are more than paid off for the readers. As usual, it also sets up interest in following secondary characters on their own paths. Fans of the overall series won’t be disappointed in this installment.
Made Mine (Book 10.5) | with Lucy Lennox as Made Marian #8
The authors intended this book to work as a stand-alone story, but honestly, everything about it is so much better if you already have the full context of Lennox’s Made Marian series and Kennedy’s expanded Protectors universe. Not even for the main characters alone, in that Reese is the son of Everett (Unexpected, Protectors #10) or how Ben is Griffin’s long-lost little brother (Grounding Griffin, Made Marian #4). The entire reason the two men meet is prompted by the worries of Ethan, one of the heroes of Revelation (Protectors #7). Multiple other characters, old and new, appear from both series—yes, including Aunt Tilly and cohorts who are definitely up to their old tricks.
Despite how the authors often roll in their other books, I found it amusing that the usual insta-love doesn’t occur here. Sparks fly between Ben and Reese, who have evident chemistry despite the incredible awkwardness of their first encounters. However, it is how Ben intrigues Reese and how Reese cares for Ben’s sister that deepens their connection. Ben may hate everything about how he has to rely on strangers (especially Marian strangers) to keep him and Georgie safe, but Reese is a fairly obvious exception.
If you’re coming to this book new, it is not the type of love story in which the two heroes exist in a vacuum. Kennedy and Lennox cram in plenty of familiar faces, but it never feels gratuitous or contrived. Instead, readers are treated to revisiting a ton of delightful friends. While I hope this book brings new readers to both series, I found it much more of a treat for those already devoted to both authors.
Shattered (Book 11)
I make it a point to read a few other books between the installments to this series, which means that Kennedy guts me anew with each story. This book ties closely to the events in Forsaken (Protectors #4), so even though it can stand alone, I highly recommend reading that one first for the full context if you have not done so. Eli and his younger stepbrother Caleb went through hell, so it was only a matter of time until Caleb also got his own happily ever after. Unfortunately, and always with this series, it’ll be a bumpy road to get there. Luckily, Caleb has more than just his extended family on his side—he also has the man he knows his heart belongs to, even if that man hasn’t quite gotten his act together about it quite yet.
Jace played a role in rescuing Caleb two years ago and knew his heart was taken. However, Caleb’s age and events in Jace’s life meant he kept his distance. Until everything crashes together at the same time, and Jace can’t let go of Caleb a second time while he tries to resolve issues related to his own family.
Neither of these plot points necessarily wind up with a perfectly happy ending, even for characters with so much damage, but good elements are evident in both. This book is a poignant read that is difficult at times (emphasis on the trigger warnings for some readers). However, Kennedy never fails to wrap up events in a way that makes sense for her characters, giving them the freedom to move toward the future together.
Unbroken (Book 12)
Though this book works as a stand-alone, it will have a better impact when read after Atonement (Protectors #6). Aleks is Dante’s younger brother, and that book explores much of his backstory. Every time I think this series can’t get much darker, Kennedy sucker-punches me again with how horrible a place the world can be. Luckily, in Kennedy’s universe, men like Vaughn exist. He’s not a member of the vigilante group we’ve come to know and love in this series, but a man who works with his brothers on a particular project. Vaughn’s family comes into direct conflict with the men who work with Dante to nearly explosive effect. Readers who have enjoyed the entire series so far will recognize many familiar characters with delight.
But before that, the story is just about Aleks. He continues to struggle years after being freed from his previous life, and that struggle ramps up when that life emerges from the darkness to try to claim him once again. Luckily, Vaughn also returns to his life to save him a second time. Kennedy often skirts the “insta-love” line in this series—that seems true on the surface here, but in reality, it feels more like two characters who have simply already found their person and just need that extra push to find their happily ever after. Unfortunately, happily ever after in this situation involves a significant amount of baggage and undiagnosed mental illness.
Vaughn’s dedication to Aleks is never in doubt, and seeing them explore the various facets of their obvious connection is at times sexy and heart-wrenching (and sometimes both simultaneously). Both men have experienced pain that has bent but not broken them, and I love that it’s clear they don’t need each other to heal but that they’ll do it together anyway.
The story of Vaughn’s brother Luca is teased here, and I’m already intrigued. As I near the (current) end of the Protectors series, I look forward to also exploring yet another spin-off series to Kennedy’s amazing extended universe.
Pretend You’re Mine (Book 12.5)
This shorter novella is best read after Revelation (Protectors #7), just so you can fully appreciate being familiar with all the characters. Other than that, however, this story has little to do with the main themes of this series, though it does show Kennedy’s writing ability to good effect. Sebastian is just as much the damaged hero as anyone else in this series. His pain might seem like small fries compared to others we’ve seen here, but this isn’t the pain Olympics, and we can still cheer for Sebastian getting his happy ending.
If this had been a longer book, I might have looked forward to more introspection on Devon’s part regarding his attraction to Sebastian. His actions here don’t ring false, but they do suffer under the length limitation.
Obsessed (Book 13)
As mentioned on the back cover text, this book is best read after Protecting Elliot (Protectors #9.5) for the full context of events at the beginning and some secondary characters. It might make for weird family dynamics in the future, but this story features the burgeoning romance between the father and older brother of the characters in the “prequel.” Except romance is not quite the proper term to use here since Mathias doesn’t quite have the emotional intelligence to recognize the pull he feels for Sam, and Sam never finished mourning his husband to initially accept how he might feel for Mathias. The men indulge in a few explosive encounters that end with varying levels of angst. (And by angst, I mean that I discovered that I can read on the elliptical, but I cannot read and cry at the same time while on the elliptical.)
Both main characters might carry their fair share of baggage, but Sam is still very much part of the real world. He might not fully understand or accept his connection with Mathias, but that doesn’t stop him from doing what he feels is best when Mathias disappears in search of demons from his past. Sam’s unknowing actions drag him into Mathias’ world, forcing the men to stage the most awkward fake relationship ever while they pine for each other.
The tense finale features plenty of familiar faces, including the brother and son mentioned above. It fulfills all the dramatic beats I’ve come to expect from installments of the series. I’m pretty bummed that I’m officially caught up as of this review, but I look forward to exploring more works by Kennedy, including yet another spin-off from this world. I will definitely be following future books to this series.