This was so wonderfully fresh, non-cookie cutter that I reveled in it. How has this author escaped me before??? Like I said in an update, the hero is left of center and the almost gothic tone with bdsm threads bubbling under the surface (I fully expect them to see daylight in the next book in the series), is not going to be for everyone. If you usually like books I do, abandon your friends and family to go out, buy this book, and cocoon yourself for some uninterrupted reading time.
*I want to note, because of the over-saturation, and in my personal opinion, not well done bdsm themed books, this is not like the typical ones you all are tired of. This is a first in the series with the hero and heroine's relationship just developing, so first off, sanely and emotionally maturely, we don't get active (well, one scene could sort of kind of fall into this) scenes of bdsm play. However, because the hero is aware of his personal proclivities and the heroine is, at turns consciously and unconsciously responding to these proclivities, it is bubbling under the surface.
I wish I could write a coherent review of this story but it kind of took me off guard and all I have are quotes (I highlighted the hell out of this and whittling them down so I didn't get in trouble for posting the whole book was agony, I tell you!) and excited emotional disjointed thoughts. I think it was this friend's review, Jaci ,that alerted me to this book (if I'm wrong, please let me know if you are the one who told me about this book so I can smother you in you're my new bestfriend praise and credit). Read her review for a coherent take.
Ropes, ravens, murder, and poison is only the beginning.
His presence whispered of a dominating man with very high standards of sophistication edged with unnerving patience and…darkness.
Mr. Ridley. A backstory that is Dexter-ish, we get a sketched and shaded in relay of his past but even more wonderfully, we get a fully in depth emotional written character from the author. He's intriguing, nuanced, complex, sweet, hot, smart, darkly witty, and the list goes on; I could read about this man all day.
“It was not your analogy to use. It was my analogy. An analogy I used with respect. Do you have any idea how many white British men have referred to me and my people as being animals?”
His features flickered. “Kumar. Cease. That wasn’t what I was—”
“Be mindful of how you speak to me.”
His voice softened. “I will. I’m sorry.”
It was something. “Be mindful.”
Jemdanee. For as strong a character Mr. Ridley is, she more than matches him (I would say surpasses him at the end even). She's young (18 to his 32) but her childhood and living and life situations have given her the strength and maturity older than her years. Instead of just telling us this, the author did a magnificent job of crafting Jemdanee's character and personality to reflect this, thus creating a believable and chemistry sparking relationship between her and Mr. Ridley.
She swallowed and turned toward him in the darkness, his undefined features in the shadows close behind her. “Your house makes too many sounds at night.”
“It’s the books,” he whispered. “Some are as old as the Crusades and they’re all telling stories. They try to crawl out of the pages and drag you in with warped words. The ones in the attic are by far the worst. They’re piled high enough to enable you to stand on them and reach the rafters where all the old ropes from the building hang."
The murder, tone, and atmosphere gave this more of a dark and bleak feel but with Halloween coming up, I thought it provided a darkly enticing welcome. Also with Gothic feels, sometimes the drama gets a bit Drama and the dark mystery gets a bit Dark Mystery but it was all in darkly spooky drama fun for me.
Skimming her bare shoulders and the exposed upper rounds of her breasts sitting above the corset, he paused. Their eyes locked and her heart seemed to rush to her head and every toe. His steady gaze bore into her with the heat of sandstone. It was the only acknowledgement she needed as a woman. She almost, almost smiled but thought that would be over-flirting. “It must have fallen.”
His eyes grew flat and unreadable. “Along with whatever respect you have for yourself. Wit over tit, Watkins. Pull it up.”
"Wit over tit". Y'all.
“Few will ever point out their own flaws, but I will be the first to admit I carry the greatest one of all. I deny myself nothing and regret everything.”
Ridley quirked a brow. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Control.”
She feigned surprise. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is None.”
She swallowed and sank back down onto the mattress, her body burning as she released his hands. “I have desires and feelings much like any woman. Yet you refuse to acknowledge it. Why?”
He set his shaven chin against her throat. “I am acknowledging it by not permitting you to have control. Don’t throw yourself at things you have no understanding of. There is more to me than even I understand. Leave it be.”
“Learn to kneel.” His voice grew gruff and ominous. “It’s Mr. Ridley given I do not belong to you. Just as you are and will always be Kumar, because you do not belong to me. We belong to ourselves and not to each other.”
"Whilst we may never see each other again, I wish to offer you this parting advice: You need to be your own person, Kumar. You need to belong to yourself first before you can belong to anyone else, especially someone like me. Do you understand?”
She jerked toward him, refusing to let him command her. “What did you mean by one day?”
“As in not now.” He flicked her forehead. “Cease letting your body dictate what you want. At your age, even a finger resting in your mouth seems exciting.” His tone hinted he was mildly amused. “You were riled by it, weren’t you?” He tsked. “Call on me in five years. In the meantime, do you need a towel for those moist thighs? Because I’d hate for you to slide off the bed and hit the floor.”
The restraint and coinciding slow burn weaved into this story, was/is EVERYTHING.
Jemdanee eyed it and him. He thought a woman choked by rope was…beautiful? His finger traced it, his voice fading. “I only point her out to those I trust.” Which hinted it meant something to him.
The build up to Mr. Ridley showing this hint of truth and vulnerability and cracking the door open to Jemdanee, should be material for a writing, building romantic genre relationships class.
I feel like I should take a moment to very briefly and roughly sketch out the story premise.
Jemdanee is in England, having traveled with a guardian, gets arrested due to wrong place, wrong time and racism. Mr. Ridley who investigates murders takes on her case. The chemistry and relationship building I've been going on about. Murder investigation, drug overdose, pasts, and futures interwoven throughout. There are secondary characters that add to the story and our main couple's characters and could probably have novellas of their own. The ending is cliff-hangerish in the sense Jemdanee and Mr. Ridley's story is clearly not over but not an abrupt cut-off, this felt like a complete book/story.
Back to the quotes that I hope make you want to read this:
Deranged as she was, it made her want to reach out a hand and push aside the ferns. Those soulful eyes reflected a granite-like strength that were as charming as they were feral. Very few people knew that crocodiles had soft bellies. And this crocodile had the softest belly of them all. Kali save her from falling in love with him for she knew he was too dark to ever love her in any normal way. It was there in his eyes which taunted. His heart was slumbering in the deep cave of his chest, yes, but it had not seen much light for it to grow into anything normal.
I know the age difference will be off-putting for some and in contemporaries this usually bothers me, but the author's crafting of the characters shows, tells, and gives reason to their attraction.
Something primitive within her emerged as her pulse roared and she grew…wet. There was no shame in it because she had made herself wet. He hadn’t forced her to be wet. Something within her body and mind wanted to prove to him that she was ready to know real passion. The sort women rarely got to touch without labeling themselves as whores.
Oh yes, there is seemingly innocuous but nuanced points and discussion on sexism, racism, imperialism, consent, and power dynamics.
She tilted her head. “Shall we agree to meet in Calcutta in five years?”
He dragged in more smoke. “Are you insinuating you would wait five years?”
Was that an offer? Or was he teasing? She couldn’t tell. She sat up and propped her shoulder toward him, trying to exude the sort of grand sophistication he required. “If I am promised something worth waiting for, why would I not?”
He said nothing, merely drew in more smoke. Turning a page, he kept reading.
Like I said, this is not the end of their story and after this, I'm dying to continue reading about their relationship, especially since Jemdanee will probably be of an age Mr. Ridley deems ready to embark on something with him.
For she at her mere eighteen had a taught a man at two and thirty that without self-respect, no life was worth living. She was right. But that didn’t mean he had to stay wrong.
Like I said, Mr. Ridley captured my attention first and is an incredibly alluring character (for all his mystery and dark, we also get tears from him) but Jemdanee ultimately emerged as the stronger one (her personal strength and self-respect will touch many women). I rarely come across such intriguing characters that feel different, while still encapsulating some tropes, and are amazingly chalk full of depth and emotional.
Like I said, read this so I have more people to talk about this couple!