Read my review of the series prequel, Salt in the Wound.
I have zero regrets about enjoying the series prequel before this official beginning to the trilogy, but I’m curious how readers who did not read it engaged with the progression of this compelling story. For me, Isolde was a constant, almost ominous presence even before Tristan knew anything about her. A fresh reader would have gotten a much different sort of shock at a sudden reveal than the dread that crept into my enjoyment of Mark and Tristan’s burgeoning relationship.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Isolde might be an integral component of this story, but that’s certainly not how Tristan’s story begins. He’s at a hinge moment of his life, having left military service for the civilian world. That’s a difficult move for anyone to make, but Tristan’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) practically rolls off the page from the very beginning. Simone does an excellent job of seeding in the details of what broke him overseas, including how it can encompass all the rigors of service, not just the dark moments. I have the feeling that the darkest moment that made Tristan a hero to everyone but himself will eventually play a larger role in the overall story, but for this section of the saga, it serves well enough to contribute to the chronic PTSD that influences much of Tristan’s motivation, realized or not.
In contrast, Mark is a man who served in a very different sort of war (and in his own way, is still fighting it). Mark’s initial interest in Tristan, established in the prologue, proves he’s playing some sort of long game. Regardless of whether Mark truly anticipated the effect Tristan would have on him, it is who they each are at their core, presented in excellent character work, that forces Tristan under Mark’s sway. The men are excellent foils to each other in multiple facets of their lives. The gap that both separates and attracts them has much more to do with experience than age alone and also contributes to the complicated emotions that end up in the mix. (On all sides, despite Tristan’s near-obliviousness to it, which is also a credit to Simone’s writing ability.)
But we mustn’t forget Isolde, who appears in this story much earlier than I expected. Mark’s manipulations here are clear to the reader, even if I didn’t quite understand the why. Luckily, she’s a much more interesting character to me as an adult than a teen, quickly transitioning from a vaguely mysterious and religious side character to an integral part of this story. Triston’s connection with her is different from that with Mark, but no less strong. Whether the power exchange element is explicit or unspoken, I especially enjoy the nuanced shifts that occur in Tristan’s character as he interacts with each of them.
This book doesn’t end on an overt cliffhanger, but instead at the edge of an emotional precipice for all involved. Tristan’s narrative will be a hard act to follow, but I have faith that Simone will continue to unravel this world in a manner that will keep me as captivated in the next books as I was in this one. I adore a good anti-hero and look forward to exploring this world through Mark and Isolde’s perspectives.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.