Denae doesn’t waste any time letting readers know what they’re in for with the start of this book. It’s a fairly brutal way to set up a romance, even a dark one. However, launching us straight into the black moment of this story sets up both main characters well, especially since their emotional (and physical) agony fairly drips off the page. Honestly, giving us a chance to get to know these men before a surprise rips their lives apart might have made it too painful to read.
Instead, Denae uses flashbacks to good effect to fill in the missing details. The chapters in all time periods are short and to the point, which could have led to reader whiplash but instead creates a gradual burn that truly shows the depth of Cristian and Carter’s intensity toward each other. And not just for our two heroes—Denae crafts a fully fleshed-out story by also giving us glimpses of important secondary characters. In particular, giving voice to Cristian’s son was an interesting and effective twist. His blend of maturity and age-appropriate reaction to Carter’s supposed betrayal helps to build him up as a real character before he becomes more of a plot device that shapes the scope and threat of the external conflict.
The conflict within the relationship between Carter and Cristian is directly linked to the external conflict from page 1, but I loved that the arcs don’t mirror each other. Denae plays with and upends themes common to romance stories, especially by making a distinction between the love and trust that can exist between characters. The two are not always connected, but both can be dangerous for anyone risking their heart.
Another benefit to including point-of-view scenes from secondary characters, beyond helping to build the world of the heroes so that they do not exist in a vacuum, is that it allows the reader to already connect with future protagonists. I’m looking forward to diving into my early copy of the second installment of this darkly complicated series!