I remember devouring the first book in this series and I really wanted to follow up and see what had happened. It is now twenty years in the future and some individuals do not know what a free country is. They are used to be held under control, being told what to do but for a few individuals they want their freedom back and fleeing the compound and living out in the forest is what they desire. John has been tasting freedom for a while as he has secretly cut a hole in the fence and has been sneaking outside the compound for brief periods of time without anyone’s knowledge. This hole is how David and his family escaped with another young child Micah, who David’s wife has befriended. They were not prepared for the world outside the fence but they are determined to survive for the world is not as bleak as the powers inside the fence portrayed it to be. John and Joan escape soon afterwards to seek after the individuals who have just escaped for they are relatives and they fear for their safety. A group of Earth Protection Agency individuals are sent out to apprehend the escapees and Steven the commander, is determined to return them one way or another. There are others hidden among the trees, others who have escaped when they gathered everyone and put up the walls for they have been living out in the forest for the past twenty years. There are also individuals working in the fields outside the fence, growing the crops for the food cubes for the individuals living in the compound. David and his family cannot survive without assistance but where will that assistance come from?
I enjoyed all the angles that the story arrives from as I read further, these angles propel the story forward and keep the momentum going. There was something about this story that I noticed. I really enjoyed reading it, it brought closure to many issues but I thought the storyline was simple. There wasn’t a lot of complicated information to unfold, nor were there subplots to figure out or thousands of intrigued pieces to put together. I really loved this and it was nice to go on a manhunt and also run from authorities. I feel that to really enjoy this novel, you should read the first book in this series as it sets everything up and I really enjoyed it.
Thorne McKelvie has meticulously and ruthlessly worked his way through the ranks of criminal organisation the Hangmen, a group that doesn't shy away from human trafficking in sweat shops, drug or arms smuggling. The leader of the Hangmen is suspicious of Thorne, however, and worried that he is gunning for his spot next, taking over the whole organisation. So after a series of unexpected attacks on the gang and their allies' warehouses, he sees an opportunity to have Thorne framed and removed as a threat. Thorne needs to prove that he's not responsible for the raids, and to do so, he needs to raid the mansion of his former employer, and face the only woman he ever had feelings for.
Nadia Volkov used to be known as "the Party Princess", obliviously spending her father's money and partying with his many henchmen and bodyguards, without really caring what her father actually did for a living or where the money fuelling her extravagant lifestyle came from. Two years ago, she had an affair with Thorne, her father's most dangerous henchman, which ended when he cruelly cast her aside. When Thorne unexpectedly turns up at the house where Nadia is living with her sister, one of her father's former bodyguards, and her young son, she's terrified that Thorne will discover he's a father and that their child will be in danger once his crew mates realise that there is a toddler that can be used as leverage against him. She also hopes Thorne doesn't discover that she, along with some hired goons, are responsible for the warehouse raids he's investigating. After her father's death, she was appalled when she discovered what he'd been responsible for. Having discovered that her mother is probably alive, in one of the sweatshops now run by the gangs who divided her father's assets after his death, she's systematically raiding each one, freeing the enslaved women in order to locate and liberate her mother.
Thorne believes that Nadia just used him for sex, having overheard a conversation where Nadia discussed him with her sister and offered to "share". Filled with self-loathing and with no illusions about his ruthlessness and inability to feel any sort of softer feelings since his sister was brutally killed when they were teenagers and swore revenge, Thorne and Nadia's former relationship was an extended role play on "the princess and the thug". Nadia actually had feelings for Thorne though, and was uncomfortable with the dirty names he wanted her to call him. She never had second thoughts about keeping his child when discovering she was pregnant. When they reunite, the sparks fly once more, but can they have any sort of future, with Nadia responsible for the crimes Thorne is being accused of? He needs to locate and present the individuals responsible to his boss, or be killed.
Nadia also doesn't realise that Thorne worked as a henchman for her father and moved on to the Hangmen as part of a complicated revenge plot. Having been left to die in the desert, surrounded by scorpions, after his sister was murdered, Thorne swore revenge and has been working methodically to wipe out all the men responsible for his sister's death. Working so deep cover for the covert Associates that only the leaders of these secret agents know he's not the hardened criminal he poses as, he only has one man left until his revenge is complete - Jerrod, the leader of the Hangmen.
Due to his past, Thorne is scarred, literally and figuratively. What happened to him and his sister was dreadful, and the flashbacks to his past made me deeply uncomfortable. To escape his chains in the desert, he needed to push himself to the edge of human endurance and he's spent his entire adult life systematically hunting down every man who was present when his sister was murdered, whether they actually took part in the killing or not. Thanks to Dax, the leader of the Associates, Thorne was able to position himself closer to several of the people responsible. Through their alliance, Dax gets access to invaluable intel about a number of criminal organisations, while Thorne was able to get close to the last man on his hit list.
In order to rise to the top of the Hangmen, Thorne has done any number of terrible things. He's a ruthless and hard man. Nonetheless, he's tired of his revenge quests and longs to be done. His feelings for Nadia are complicated. Just when he was ready to acknowledge to himself that he loved her, he overheard her conversation with her sister (which was not at all what it seemed), making him believe she felt nothing for him, means he now thinks of her with what he terms "love-hate". He dumped her before she could dump him, not realising that the evening he coldly rejected her, she was actually about to tell him about being pregnant. Even before the events that set him on his path to vengeance, Thorne never had a good family life and struggles with any human interactions that don't involve dominance and power play.
While Nadia used to find the role playing and abusive language quite exciting, now it makes her sad and uncomfortable, and when they are reunited,and she's unable to deny that her feelings for him are as strong as ever, she tries to express to Thorne that she only ever called him names because he seemed to get off on it. It doesn't take long before the two are growing close again, despite the dangers facing both of them. Jerrod wants Thorne gone, and when he discovers that Thorne and Nadia have a shared past, he has the weapon he needs to bring his second in command down.
As with Carolyn Crane's previous two books in the series, Into the Shadows is full of action, suspense, complicated and wounded people who need each other to try to make sense of the world. There is a emotionally struggling hero seeking revenge and justice, and a capable and determined heroine. The villain is once again truly despicable, making it abundantly clear that while Thorne isn't a boy scout by any stretch of the imagination, he's in the right in taking Jerrod down. I really liked most things about this book, however, I would have liked even more present interaction between Nadia and Thorne, rather than so many flashbacks. I also found some of the internal machinations of the Hangmen a bit tiresome. It was a fun, suspenseful, sexy read, though. The book is nominated for a RITA in the Romantic Suspense Category, and it is a well deserved nomination. Ms. Crane also self-publishes her very entertaining Associates novels, so consider buying a copy so she can afford to keep writing.
...because my life is complete. There's something about Carolyn Crane's characters that just reminds of chili hot chocolate, or salted caramel, or even wasabi white chocolate cupcakes (yes, that is a Marian Keyes reference. Believe it!) Looking at them in theory, they are a mixture of traits that should not coexist, and yet in her books, they work so well, you can't believe how you lived without this. (Hence why I'm rationing her Disillusionists series like nobody's business, because I don't want to be left without a Crane book unread. Yes, I am one of those people.)
Anyway, "The Associates" series are romantic suspense, which is kinda like the Disillusionists series, but without the paranormal aspect. That's okay, though, we have a super-secret organization that fights crime independently of the government that is entirely comprised of geeks agents. And by geek agent, I mean super-hot dudes with obscure areas of specialization that go deep undercover in the worst criminal groups imaginable. They can do what they have to do without any sort of public accountability, but also without having to rely on obscure politics and funding to do their job. Your mileage on that may vary, but I found it didn't marr my enjoyment of the series, mostly because everyone involved is awesome beyond belief.
"Against the Dark" is the story of Cole, a maths geek who enlists the help of a retired jewel thief to get some documents from the safe of a sadistic crime boss and save a bunch of kids from a horrible death. In "Off the Edge", a singer on the run from her abusive husband and a linguistics expert are thrown together in a race to stop a weapon of mass destruction to be sold off to the highest bidder. And "Into the Shadows" has a deep undercover pretending to investigate a series of sweatshop raids, not knowing that the woman behind them is his former lover, or that she gave birth to his child.
Right off the bat, we're thrown into a world of high stakes, where everyone has something to lose and not always something to win. All three books benefit from excellent pacing, with action and lulls coming at just the right moment - it's a reminder that, in the right hands, a multiple third person POV can be pulled off and it can be pulled off quite well. I don't think I would have enjoyed some of these characters half as much if I didn't spend some time in their heads, and learnt their motivations only in the end. Difficult lot, they are.
And I really, really liked how Crane didn't shy from making her male characters well and truly (and I mean truly) broken. Cole, Macmillan and Thorne aren't just a bunch of blokes with a lot of manpain - they all have painful pasts and those pasts massively fucked them up, to the point where they are all barely able to function normally. Now, you might think this opens up the whole "healed by love" can of worms, but I think the series manages to escape it, largely due to how it handles its characters' brokenness.
To put it in another way, there are books out there that make a point of discussing the male character having a mental health problem of a sorts so that can introduce a relationship conflict (see: 50 Shades of Gray.) But having a mental illness doesn't make you unfit to love and live a fulfilling life, and you don't have to be "healed" before you can have all those good things. "The Associates" books don't go out of their way to spell out just what the guys' problems are. Nor do the heroines entertain any notions that men can be "healed" - they are quite broken up themselves, actually. They find a middle road, and there is no better way to sum it up than this piece of dialogue:
"You have to let some things and some people be fucked up," she said.
"How?" he said.
"You just do," she whispered.
- Against the Dark, location 2345, Kindle Edition
Amen to that.
My review and an extended sample of the audiobook are posted at Hotlistens.com.
I started this book in the middle of the series. It came highly recommended by several other bloggers that I know. I asked around if I could start with this one or if I needed to go back and start at the beginning. I was assured by several different people that starting with this book would be fine. I have to agree. I have no idea what the first two books were about, but this one felt almost more like a book one or even a stand alone.
This story is about a late mafia boss's daughter, Nadia. It takes place right after her father has been killed and the fall of his empire. She grew up being told that her mother died in childbirth. After her father's death, she learns the truth. Her mother was brought to this country to be used in the sex trade. When she got too old for that, they moved her to sweatshops. Nadia can't stop until she finds her mother.
Thorne is a former bodyguard to Nadia, but after her father's death, he was putting himself into place to take over a new gang. Thorne is undercover trying to help find out who is politically helping these gangs. Thorne and Nadia have a past, but they both thought it was just a fling, even though they both secretly wanted it to be more.
Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I like the undercover aspect with Thorne. He has to do some really tough things to keep his cover, he just keeps his endgame in his mind. I love how Nadia, who grew up in luxury, trying to make up for everything the blood money from her father has come. She frees dozens of women from the sweatshops.
There were a few things I didn't like. I was so sick of the phrases "party princess" and "love/hate". Also, there was a more angst that I would like to see in a romantic suspense. But over, I really enjoyed the story and will getting more from this series at some point.
I keep going back and forth on the narration. At times, I didn't mind it, but one scene that keeps sticking in my head. It was banter between Thorne and Nadia. The lines were quick and they went back and forth between the two. I couldn't tell who was saying what, there just wasn't enough difference in the voices. This didn't seem to be an issue in most scenes, but I can't get that one scene out of my head. I did listen at an increased speed, so that could've had something to do with it too. I did go to Audible to see what others were saying about this narrator after the fact and saw that many people gave her high stars. I'm willing to give her another try. I would hate for one scene to turn me off a narrator. I will try her on another book in this series.
I like to thank Tantor Audio for providing me with a copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.