I BR-ed this with the lovely Briana and I'm so glad she was with me through this adventure because I'm not sure I could have finished this book on my own. For context, I loved the original trilogy. The first book was not my favorite since it starts with a pretty graphic sexual scene when the heroine is underage and she felt very passive, but Story's emotional development, along with the three Lords, was honestly one of the best things of the first trilogy. It was dark and edgy but not darker or edgier than it had to be, and I ended up really loving the direction the authors took the story in (bar the fact that the last book had two too many epilogues and too much back to back sex).
By contrast, this new trilogy is very different, both tonally and also in terms of writing style. It opens with a graphic non-con scene that was very hard for me to read (and this is not something that normally bothers me). The Dukes are also way less likable. There's Nick, who's been Lavinia's handler and obsessing over her the whole time; then there's Sy, Nick's brother, and relevant incel, whose personality can basically be summed up as has-a-big-dick-and-is-mad-about-it; and Remy, a tattoo artist who seems to be coded as having Bipolar II (mania with psychosis).
Lavinia was hard to like but I didn't hate her as much as some readers because she has had an incredibly shitty life and I feel like most people would probably be bitter and defensive in her position, and I come from the camp where women don't have to be "likable" to be interesting. I did like Story better as a heroine because she had more control over her narrative; it's harder to be engaged with a heroine who basically just has (bad) things happen to her throughout the book. My opinions about the guys fluctuated a lot while reading. At first Nick was my favorite, and Sy my least favorite, but Briana actually got way ahead of me and was like haha fuck Nick, Remy for life, and I did NOT get it. Until about 92% in, when I was suddenly like, okay, yeah, actually. Fuck this guy.
These guys are just so awful. Sy and Nick did things that were just completely unforgivable, imo. I can take a lot of abuse from the heroes in a dark romance, but there has to be some sort of emotional connection, and when that doesn't happen, I just feel completely turned off. Remy was actually the most interesting and developed character, and during that tower scene, I felt genuinely bad for him. The only emotionally intimate scenes happened between Lavinia and Remy, and it almost felt like this would have been a better book if it weren't a Why Choose? and Nick and Sy stayed the antagonists, because I would have totally bought a ride-or-die bond between Lavinia and Remy. Their fucked-upedness was complementary, even if it was toxic. Not so much with Sy and Nick. I also really hated that the Dukes called their women "cutsluts."
More things I did like: the fight scene, the introduction of more Royal "lore," a few cameos from the original cast, and Sy having a little bit of a redemption arc in the last act of the book. I don't think this was a bad book, but the sex to plot ratio felt off to me and a lot of things were overexplained without much actually happening. Books one to three in this series had a ton of action and it felt like there was a clear antagonist for the characters to sort of unite against. I spent most of book two, for example, with my heart in my throat, white-knuckling my Kindle. I spent most of this book skimming. I'm not sure I'll be reading more from this series, although I will be checking out this author's cult book, since I love cults.
Also, this is completely random, but at one point one of the dudes penetrates the heroine with a marker. I have never read a romance book that did that before and it amused me so much I posted a status update about that, which actually made some people go ADDING IMMEDIATELY.
So I thought I'd mention that here, since that seems to be a selling point with some people.
Don't worry, I won't judge.
2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars