I have mixed feelings about this book. There are some things that really reeled me in. OK. One thing… the title character. But I had some serious issues too: primarily the degree of sexual violence against the heroine and, well, the heroine herself.
Kisa and Luka were childhood sweethearts. They always thought they would have a future together, until someone set things up to look like he betrayed her and died. Someone who shipped him off to an underground fight club where he was tortured to the point he no longer knew who he was… forced to kill until the rage owned him, and all that was left to live for was revenge.
Fast forward 12 years. Kisa is set to marry Alik, her boyfriend -slash- Russian mob-boss in the making. He is a very Bad Man. He treats her like property. He is controls her in every way. He abuses her. He rapes her. But she thinks he “needs her.” She thinks she has no choice but to marry him. And for me, this pushed all kinds of buttons I’ll get back to in a minute.
When Luka gets his chance to escape from the Gulag, his only focus is getting to Alik to take his revenge. He doesn’t remember why. He doesn’t even remember his name. He’s been reduced to a number: 818. The only other thing he answers to is “Raze” –the nickname he got for obliterating his opponents. So he heads to New York with murder on his mind. He tracks down Alik and gets himself into the fight club where he’ll have the chance to take him out. That’s where Kisa works –and although they don’t recognize each other right away, the attraction is instant and undeniable.
Luka is a fabulous tortured hero. He has been so abused that he’s been reduced to an animal. But there are still tender parts inside of him. He is gentle with Kisa even before he knows who she is. He wants to protect her as no one protected him.
But Kisa, oy. She is essentially boning a stranger almost right after meeting him. Definitely before she knows it’s Luka and definitely while she is still having abusive yet satisfying sex with her fiance all over the place. She is a quiet, placating victim with Alik. She tolerates all he dishes out, so it’s a pretty big leap that she would jump into sex with a stranger. The violence Alik treated her with was difficult to read. I almost put it down. I don’t want to read about my heroine being beaten and raped, and I don’t appreciate the idea that he plays her body like an instrument while still abusing her. This was all kind of wrong for me. Plus I don’t believe her father would tolerate the level of abuse she endured if he knew –his reaction later in the book supports that.
Anyway, another issue came along once I realized that the great love between these two happened the first time when Kisa was 13. Er… what? They had sex and knew they would get married WHEN SHE WAS 13. Isn’t anyone else squicked out by that? I know I am.
There is a lot of violence beyond what happens with the heroine. Lots of death –after all, only one man walks out of each fight. There is a heavy focus on the Russian Bratva, and I can’t say how accurate that was. There are lots of Russian endearments too, sprinkled throughout.
So, like I said, I’ve got mixed feelings. I’m not sure how to rate this one. (Though I feel I should point out it has a ton of 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.) Ultimately, I stuck with it for Luka –and I was satisfied with his happy ending. But it was a tough road to get there.
*ARC provided by publisher
Click to purchase: Amazon
by Tillie Cole
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Publisher: St. Martins