❤️ The psychology of the characters. When I read a dark romance, it's not enough that it has smut. I want a book that really plunges the depths of the characters, exploring the horrors lurking in their psyche. I noticed in the critical reviews of this book that a lot of people were super hard on Violet, the heroine, but I actually felt like the author did a really good job capturing her stepbrother's betrayal, and her torn feelings over holding him accountable and giving in because giving in was easier. I felt bad for her, especially with Jesse manipulating her when she should be devoting all of her cognitive load to self-care for her grief.
❤️ The hero is one dark mother. A lot of dark romances claim to have scary heroes but they often just come across as sounding, uh, kind of desperate. Jesse is terrifying, maybe because in his mind (I would assume, since we never see his POV), he thinks he's being perfectly rational. I honestly think he's a high-functioning sociopath. The way he gaslights his stepsister and can act like he really is a "good man" while doing what he's doing-- that is not normal. But he thinks it is. *shudders*
❤️ I felt things while reading this book. No, not like that, you pervs. What I mean is that, when Violet finds out about her stepmother's cancer, the shock felt real. When her stepbrother immediately takes advantage of her when they first meet, immediately rekindling all of her worst doubts and fears, I genuinely felt her outrage and terror. When Jesse figures out that emotional manipulation is the key to her heart and he unleashes this pretty gruesome confessional, it hit different. It hit hard.
💔 The religious elements in this book didn't really work for me. I am not religious, so some of the things in this book, like equating godliness with goodliness, having being a good wife and mother determining whether or not a woman is a "good" person, and the weirdly prudish attitudes about sex before marriage-- it was very odd for me. Especially with what the dad does to Violet at the end, and how he compares her to her mother. I really didn't like that.
💔 The abrupt ending. This doesn't really have an HFN or an HEA. I mean, maybe it sort of does depending on what you think about that, but I don't think it does. The author did say in her note that this is going to be the first book in a series, in addition to the other book she has planned, but I left this book wanting more closure than what I got.
💔 Who "is" Jesse, really? As I said before, I read Jesse as being a sociopath. But then towards the end, it kind of felt like the author was trying to take his character in a different direction. Maybe the book would have been better with his POV (I personally liked the mystery), but his characterization felt a little inconsistent. I don't really feel like I really understood what made him tick, apart from his obsession with Jesse, or what made him into what he is.
Overall, I'm not sorry I read this book. I think people who like those really dark and taboo romance novels will enjoy this one, and I am really curious to see what the author does next. I hope her next book is longer and really goes into deeper detail with her characters. She doesn't have much of a social media presence so I was kind of bummed about that when I tried to peep her out and see what she's working on, but hopefully there is something and she's living her best dark romance life.
2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars