I don't want to say too much because I don't want to spoil anything, but I have a LOT of thoughts. First, I loved the bullying element at the beginning of the book (and also the way that Ryan got revenge on Brylee). So many bully books either don't go there, or end up feeling way too over the top. I thought McBride did a good job picking out humiliating punishments that felt like something a privileged high school or college asshole might select for their enemies.
This is also one of the more feminist-friendly dark romances I've read. Madison is a great character and she stands up for herself in a way that a lot of heroines in books of this genre don't. That's not to say that it plays the PC card or anything like that, but it does have some diversity (hero has a neurodivergent younger sister, heroine has a Black friend, etc.), the heroine stands up for her principles, and she has a really healthy and awesome friendship with another girl named Bex. I loved that, and how it felt effortless.
Also, HOLY SHIT. The twists. Every time I thought I knew where this book was going, it veered away and left me speechless. I wasn't expecting this to take a sort of mafia twist, but it did. Kind of like The Royals of Forsyth, but better thought out, because this kind of nailed the unscrupulous sociopathy of the jaded billionaire elite in a way that those books did not (even though I enjoyed them). The ending literally had me panicking and THANK GOD book three is out because otherwise I could not even.
I don't have a lot of criticisms for this book, actually, because it was so well done and I loved the development of Madison as a character, and also as a love interest pairing for Ryan. All of the characters have really interesting narrative ARCs and I appreciated that a lot as a reader. My only qualms were that this book just felt a little bit too long, and a lot of that felt like maybe it was because it was padded out with too many sex scenes. I love a good sex scene but the second half felt like it was basically nonstop. Also, this is not technically a college romance the way it is advertised as on Amazon because the heroine herself is in high school (albeit, a high school senior). Her boyfriend is, though.
So overall, this was a pretty amazing read. I think it's right up there with Royals of Forsyth and Zodiac Academy in terms of being pure delicious brain candy, and it's very well written with some very clever dialogue and some memorable characters who make me care about them even when I want to strangle them (except for Gary; Gary needs to be run over by a semi). I'm soooo excited for book three in this universe and hope the author has some other books under her studded belt, because I NEED MORE.
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars