Review: Heart of Venom

Reviewed by Jen

You would think that by now that the bad guys of Ashland would all know who Gin Blanco is, and get the hell out of her way.  After all, she kills everyone who does her wrong.  (Well, almost everyone, but we’ll get to Owen in a minute.)  But somehow, Harley Grimes missed the memo.

Who is Harley Grimes? you ask.  He is the dude responsible for destroying Sophia’s voice.  Years ago, he kidnapped and tortured her, and she only escaped once Fletcher came to rescue her.  Now that Gin’s mentor is gone, Grimes is back to finish what he started. He attacks Jo-Jo’s home, nearly killing the healer, and taking Sophia captive once again.  Gin is right there and can’t stop it.  But she vows to save her friend and finish the job that Fletcher started.

For a variety of reasons, Owen is the only person who can back Gin up on her mission.  Convenient, no?  They pick up Fletcher’s old friend and nemesis Cooper as a tour guide, then hit the mountains where Grimes is holding Sophia. It’s fraught with traps and trials. And despite the power Gin has at her fingertips, it’s a difficult fight she’s not sure she can win.

Overall, I really liked the story.  I like the way the villain is woven in to the history of our characters, even though we have never met him before.  I like that Jennifer Estep gives us a plausible explanation for why Gin can’t wipe the floor with him out of the gate. She makes me believe in the struggle. She also paints a fantastic picture of a sadistic and twisted man and his equally twisted sister.  I liked the distinct old-time feel of his band of gangsters and appreciate the effort it must take to create such variety in the antagonists after so many books.

As always, Gin delivers. She is powerful yet vulnerable.  She kicks ass, but not without taking her own licks, which allows her to maintain her humanity.  I love how she remains so dedicated and loyal to those she loves; she protects her own.   We also keep learning more about her, with the flashbacks sprinkled throughout the series. I really like those.  It keeps adding layers to her character.

And then there is Owen.  In the last book, Owen went past the point where he could ever achieve complete redemption for me.  I was ready to forgive him almost all the way up to the end of Widow’s Web, but he didn’t come through, and something in his character was irrevocably damaged.  (**mild spoilers**) Here, we finally see him say and do the things he should have been saying and doing in the last book.  I’m sure that for some readers, it will be a welcome and exciting development.  For me, it was too little, too late.  It didn’t make me happy; it made me sad.  And I was unsatisfied, because his big revelation was off page and anti-climactic.  It would have made more sense in the aftermath of Widow’s Web and it would have been better for his character. At least I can say that both he and Gin gave voice to some of the concerns I had.

“I did the exact same thing to you that Donovan Caine did, even though I had made myself a promise that I would never hurt you like he did, that I would never take you for granted, and that I would especially never judge you for being the Spider. But I did it all anyway, just like he did.”


Yes, you did.

Moving on.  We’re get more hints on Mab Monroe’s heir.  I can’t wait to see where that storyline takes us… though it looks like our next installment will be a prequel(?)  The Spider releases at the end of the year.

Rating: B

Note: I read Kiss of Venom after I read this book. I think if I had read that novella first I may have had been a little softer on Owen here. The missing revelation I referenced is the focal point of the novella.  I urge you to read that story before reading this book to get a set-up on Owen’s behavior.

*ARC Provided by Pocket Books

Click to purchase: Amazon

Heart of Venom
by Jennifer Estep
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Pocket Books


  1. Ah, the awaited sequel review after my falling out with the series. Thanks for the honest review. It had to be an “A” review for me to consider picking it up again. NOPE! Glad I quit whie I was ahead. It is a shame that JE did not see the damage she was doing by allowing Owen to stray so far out of character that he deviated beyond redemption. Oh well, may the series RIP :-/

    • Jen at Red Hot Books says:

      I understand, Olivia. I am sticking with it because of my love for Gin and the other supporting characters, but I have quit other series over an unsatisfactory romance. Like the Chicagoland Vampires and the Kitty Norville books.

  2. Dammit, Owen!

  3. I’m one of those readers that I was satisfied with the relationship development. I was never on team “hate” Owen. I felt his pain and understood why he acted like he did. With that being said it would have been nice to see the change in the last book. But I still love Owen.

    Great review.

    • Jen at Red Hot Books says:

      Thank you, doll. My book friend at work feels the same way you do. I guess my expectations are just too high for him. I just loved him so much… Well, you know. We’ve had this conversation.

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