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Joanna Wylde

REVIEW:  Devil’s Game by Joanna Wylde

REVIEW: Devil’s Game by Joanna Wylde

Devil's Game Joanna Wylde

Dear Ms. Wylde:

One of the most feminist books I’ve read. This is the line I’ve used to describe Devil’s Game to any number of people who would listen. When the words “motorcycle club” are invoked images of overly misogynistic men telling their property how to act leaps to mind. But within the Reaper’s MC, I believe some of the most interesting power dynamic struggles are taking place.

In Devil’s Game, you have two young people in their early twenties who are struggling with their roles within their respective social groups. One is the daughter of a powerful man and the other is an orphan raised by a dangerous group of men to become a dangerous man himself. Between the two, they have to discover the limits of their willingness to sacrifice part of themselves and part of their vision of the future in order to be together.

I’ve read a ton of MC books and frankly most of them are pretty bad but I believe that the reason it is so popular right now is because of the tribe based culture of the club. Tribes have a long history in literature and romance. The first tribe based romance books I ever read were Scottish Highlander stories. The structure of a Highlander novel is not unlike an MC book.

Both include a militaristic hierarchy with a leader, several strong wingmen, and others that live within the confines of the primary property whether it is hold, fief, or armory. Both types of stories feature warring clans vying for power. Often the head of the tribe is a male with a patriarchal power structure.  The concept of loyalty along with external signage (whether it be plaids–although those came much later in history than depicted in many romances–or cuts) is vital. Scottish stories could (and sometimes did) feature a female clan leader. Medievals often followed the same structure.

After the decline in both those types of stories, we saw a rise in paranormals and in shapeshifters, particularly, you see a similar clan or tribal structure. There is one alpha often male, often involved in power struggles, and all living together for the betterment of the clan or tribe. It was author Moriah Jovan who first pointed out the similarities between werewolf packs and the motorcycle club.

Whenever there is a strong male lead, particularly in these patriarchal clan structures, my preference is for a strong female otherwise the romance seems imbalanced to me. In Devil’s Game, Em is the daughter of Reese “Picnic” Hayes who is the president of the Reaper’s MC–an outlaw one percent club that deals in unstated unsavory activities. Em and her sister were raised within a loving household. They would often see their mother and father lustily touching each other so Em knows what a loving, healthy relationship is. That’s what she wants. Moreover, she wants a man who will stand up to her father because her whole life has been full of men who defer to him.

There was a patch (aspiring member) who became a full fledged part of the club who had feelings for Em, but he never made a move on her without checking with Picnic first. This not only infuriated Em, but made her lose respect for him and she couldn’t be with someone she didn’t respect. Her father scared off all of her suitors and so Em sets out to create her own opportunities. She thinks she’s found someone in an internet connection with Liam Blake. What she doesn’t know is that Liam is “Hunter” and part of the Devil’s Jack MC, a rival of the Reapers, who has decided to take Em because holding her means having leverage against the Reapers. Plus he wants her.

In some ways this is a classic Romeo and Juliet story. Two young adults from rival factions seek to form their own unit yet their families strive to keep them apart. Gratefully this is a romance so we don’t get the tragic ending, but we do get fighting, bullets flying, betrayals and forgiveness.  There are the internal struggles between the two as Em has to learn to trust Hunter and vice versa. There are the external struggles with bringing accord between the rival gangs who are brought together to fight a common enemy. Both conflicts keep the book motoring at a super fast pace.

But it’s an emotional story as well. Em’s a bright young woman and she’s learning, through the book, how to move out of her father’s shadow and become an independent woman. Part of that development includes falling in love with someone who isn’t handpicked by her father and then standing against her father with Liam. The relationship dynamic between Em and Picnic is as important at times as the one between her and Hunter because despite Picnic’s desire to keep Em settled with the “right” man (as approved by Picnic) he raised her to think and act independently. She was level headed and calm in the face of intense stress. As Picnic said, she was one hell of an old lady and he was regretful about losing her to someone outside the Reaper’s because of her capableness.

Throughout the story, Em is saving herself and sometimes Liam. Her power isn’t just the emotional power she’s given because of Liam’s love for her; her power comes from her ability to react calmly in tough situations, to think of solutions, to take action when the opportunity presents itself. She’s proactive in the story rather than reactive.

While Hunter’s intentions in the beginning toward Em weren’t very honorable, he worked hard to earn her trust back. There were three overt acts by Hunter in which he demonstrates his remorse for past misdeeds. Two are fairly humorous but one is a pretty big deal. It occurs at the end and I don’t want to ruin it but there aren’t a lot of times in which the grand gesture means the hero gives up something that reduces the potential for increased status and money. And it doesn’t diminish Liam at all. Instead, it is a showing of someone who is sorting out his priorities and determining what is important to him, what will make him content and happy.

Em and Liam are perfectly matched and within the violent, sexy world of the MC both find equal footing. B+

Best regards,

Jane

 

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REVIEW:  Reaper’s Legacy by Joanna Wylde

REVIEW: Reaper’s Legacy by Joanna Wylde

Dear Ms. Wylde,

I read Reaper’s Property  (reviewed here by Jane) last year and, somewhat to my surprise, I liked it very much.  I say somewhat to my surprise, because I wasn’t sure I could buy into the “hero” of a romance novel being a) in a Motorcycle Gang Club and b) being a criminal and c) whether the apparent misogyny would be too much for me.  In the end, I felt it was a kind of “urban fantasy romance”  or fantasy to the “hyper-extreme” -  so far removed from my reality that it may as well have had magic and werewolves and vampires in it.  And, while in real life I don’t find bikies terribly heroic or attractive  or admirable, in some kinds of romance fiction, in this “fantasy” setting, I found them vastly entertaining.   (I read Motorcycle Man by Kristen Ashley sometime after Reaper’s Property and that really sealed the deal.)  Reaper’s Legacy has therefore been a much anticipated book and I was very happy to read an advance copy of it.

Reaper's Legacy Joanna WyldeI do think Reaper’s Legacy stands alone well and it is not necessary to have read Reaper’s Property to understand it.   I found the latest book to be more tightly written, with the (to my mind) best elements of your writing and your “voice” preserved.  I think this is down to your natural talent, a bit more experience and being blessed by the editing gods.

Reaper’s Legacy opens when 16 year old Sophie Williams is losing her virginity to Zach Barrett in the apartment of his stepbrother (no blood relation), Jesse “Ruger” Gray.  It is not a romantic scene and the sex is only “successful” in so far as Zach gets off and also (because the condom broke), gets Sophie pregnant.  When Ruger comes home unexpectedly, he is angry with Zach for breaking into his apartment and throws them out, but not before copping an eyeful of Sophie’s nether regions.  Fast forward 8 months and Sophie is in labour, Zach is drunk and Ruger rides to the rescue and ends up delivering baby Noah on the side of the road.  Ruger falls in love with Noah from the very first moment and the experience creates a special bond between he and Sophie.

The main part of the story picks up when Noah is 7.  Sophie has got shot of Zach (in circumstances which aren’t made explicitly clear until near the end of the book) and she’s struggling to make ends meet. She lives in a shitty apartment with crappy security and both of her regular babysitters are down with the flu.  Knowing she will lose her waitressing job if she doesn’t go to work, she agrees to let her neighbour look after Noah.  When Noah calls her later that night, terrified of the bad man in the neighbour’s apartment who has had Noah sit on his lap and scared by the movie with naked people on the television.  Sophie leaves work (and her employment) to get to Noah and finds him clinging to the fire escape outside the 4th storey apartment, with her neighbour and her male guest, stoned and drunk and completely oblivious to Noah’s well being.

Noah is a smart little boy and after he tried and was unable to reach Sophie (he left her a voicemail message because Sophie couldn’t hear her phone ringing in the bar and only got the message when she was on a toilet break), he also rang Uncle Ruger.  Uncle Ruger gave him some advice about how to keep safe and then got into his SUV and drove from Coeur D’Alene, Idaho to Seattle, where Noah is.  It is quickly apparent that Ruger is a devoted uncle to Noah and they share a close bond.  It is also apparent there is some history between Sophie and Ruger (and in particular, something which happened 4 years earlier but which we don’t know about for quite a while) which means there is ultra-URST and a level of mistrust and dislike between them.

Ruger brings Horse (the hero from Reaper’s Property) with him and together they go next door to teach the neighbour and her boyfriend a lesson they won’t soon forget.  While Sophie has the urge to kill the neighbour herself for what they did (and didn’t do) to her little boy, she is worried about Ruger’s methods.   He’s fairly unsympathetic.

“Really? You don’t like it? Personally, I don’t like the idea of the next kid getting raped just because he isn’t smart enough to hide on the fire escape,” Ruger said, stepping slowly into her space and backing her toward the wall.

“How ’bout this? You go ahead and feel guilty about being an accomplice, and I’ll go ahead and keep doing your dirty work so you don’t break a fuckin’ nail or something. Then tonight we’ll open a bottle of wine and talk about how today made us feel. Maybe eat some chocolate while we’re at it, then watch The Notebook together. That work for you?”

She hit the wall and he leaned forward, slapping his hands flat on either side of her head. Ruger dropped his face into hers, eyes blazing.

“Shit, Sophie—I think I’m showin’ extreme patience, all things considered. This is not a fuckin’ joke. Noah made it through last night because he stayed awake and alert on that fire escape, not because either of these fucks lifted a finger to help him. They terrorized a little boy and laughed about it. Now it’s their turn. Don’t expect me to feel bad about that. Go. Home.”

Ruger’s methods are… unorthodox but it was difficult to feel too sorry for the couple, in the circumstances.  I think it’s clever the way you show extreme behaviour but in such a way that it becomes more “acceptable” and thus kept this reader on side.

Ruger decides that Noah (and therefore Sophie too) will move back to his place in Coeur D’Alene because it is safer and better and it will give Sophie a chance to get on her feet again.  He is very angry to find that his stepbrother Zach has not been paying child support.  Of course, with Sophie living in Ruger’s house, it doesn’t take long for the unresolved sexual tension to become… resolved.  There are a few “near misses” until the deed is done but they are all smoking hot and a clear demonstration of the chemistry and connection this couple has.

Ruger doesn’t regard himself as a one-woman-man and he’s not looking to settle down.  Sophie is willing to try a relationship but only if Ruger will agree to be faithful.  He says he won’t make promises he’s not sure he can keep – stalemate.  To their credit, they do prioritise Noah at all times and think of what is best for him.

Sophie stands in the place of the reader in some respects in the novel.  She is wary of the Reapers.  She is worried they are dangerous and will be a risk for Noah and herself.  She does not like – at all – that Reaper’s “old ladies” are “property”.  She is no-one’s property but her own.  It is clear that Zach was abusive to Sophie and she has a number of hot buttons around controlling males who think they own her. (Fair enough too.  Even if Zach hadn’t been abusive, many real life women wouldn’t go for this type of guy.  In real life I definitely do not).  And so, Sophie goes on somewhat of a journey through Reaper culture and learns that (in her opinion at least) things aren’t as bad as they initially appear.

I have to say, when Sophie does talk to Ruger about the abuse she suffered at Zach’s hands and how she managed it, I thought she was very brave.  I liked Ruger’s responses too.

There is very little reference to organised criminal activity on the part of the Reapers in this book.  There is some reference to money laundering and stealing – but being as this is from Zach and is to get Sophie her child support, it wasn’t too difficult to turn a blind eye to it.  There was also reference to keeping gangs out of the area and I suspect the Reapers’ methods are less than lawful, but it wasn’t detailed. Again, I think this is clever – because the reader isn’t confronted with overt criminal activity which would ruin the “fantasy”.

There were plenty of references to legitimate businesses and the close bond of brotherhood the Reapers share, that they are willing to die for their brothers and their brothers’ families (and “old ladies” are family).  That they stand for one another. No matter what.  That an old lady wearing a leather vest which says “property of ____” is a badge of honour as well as protection and is akin to the bonds of marriage.  In fact, Ruger at one point explains to Sophie that an old lady wearing her man’s patch is no different (in his eyes) to the common practice of a ‘civilian’ woman taking her husband’s name after marriage.

Like the best of Kristen Ashley’s books, Reaper’s Legacy also has strong female friendships in it.  Sophie’s friend Kimber and old ladies, Dancer, Marie, Maggs and, Picnic’s daughter, Em, all become close and the reader sees what Sophie gets from being a part of their group.  They are fun, loyal and, with the possible exception of Em (who is struggling to identify herself apart from her President-of-the-Idaho-Reapers-father), they don’t take crap from their men.  The men have their secret “Club business” but all the women make it clear that they rule the roost at home.  And, just like in the Kristen Ashley books, the strong female friendships were another huge plus for me.

Sophie struggles with being involved with the Reapers.

“Oh, I’m definitely moving out,” I told him. “Not even you can think this is healthy, Ruger.”

He smiled at me with the eyes of a predator.

“I don’t care if it’s healthy,” he whispered. “Whole damned world’s unhealthy. You think all those people living in giant houses on the lake have happy, pretty, perfect lives? You think those bitches aren’t backstabbing each otherwhile their husbands fuck interns on their lunch breaks?”

I shook my head.

“My friend Kimber’s not like that. Her life’s nice and normal and not crazy at all.”

“Then she’s one in a thousand,” he replied. “Because I swear to you, sometimes the nastiest shit happens behind the prettiest doors, while everyone laughs and smiles and pretends everything’s okay. Here’s the thing about my world. We’re fucked up. We own it. We take care of business and move on. In twenty years those ‘healthy’ people you’re so jealous of will still be backstabbing each other, and their kids will, too.”

Things become dangerous for her when there is trouble between a rival club, the Devil’s Jacks and the Reapers and it is everything Sophie feared.  But, when it counts, they are there for Sophie.

I don’t think it’s spoilerish to say that Ruger realises he IS in fact a one-woman-man, but he has to convince Sophie that being his old lady isn’t a bad thing, that he will be faithful and that the Reapers will look after them both.

I so enjoyed reading this book.  I felt like I was on a wild rollercoaster ride. The build of tension in the story, between the Devils’ Jacks and the Reapers and between Ruger and Sophie, was superb.  The story had moments of laugh-out-loud funny for me and the things which may have made me shy away were either absent, veiled or, presented in such a way as to make them seem not so bad.  (That’s not an endorsement, but I could still see Ruger and Sophie as heroic and root for their HEA is all I’m saying).

Ruger is pushy and controlling but Sophie does stand up for herself.  She draws a line in the sand and will not cross it.  If Ruger can’t be faithful, well that’s a deal breaker.  And for all Ruger’s pushiness and controlling behaviours, he did respect her line in the sand (well, he had a plan to change her mind of course, but in the end, guess who won?).  Ruger is completely loyal to Noah and Sophie and that kind of devotion is attractive to me to read about.  Even though it includes extreme and borderline (and sometimes not-so-borderline) stalker behaviour.

Yes there are problematic things.  It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea.  The fact is, the Reapers don’t acknowledge the authority of the ‘civilian’ law. They are criminals.  Their culture is very misogynistic.  Club business is only for the male club members.  Ruger isn’t shy about using physical intimidation to get Sophie to do what he wants her to do.   I acknowledge all those things as being problematic.  I liked Reaper’s Legacy anyway.

Those readers who, like me, enjoyed Reaper’s Property will undoubtedly enjoy Reaper’s Legacy.  It’s a better book, in my opinion but very much in the same vein.  And the next book promises to be another cracker.  I loved the way Sophie pushed back against Ruger and held firm until she got what she wanted.  Even though Ruger was definitely an uber-Alpha, Sophie was no doormat.  And, hidden amongst all the Alpha stuff, Ruger sometimes managed to be very sweet.

“Can I borrow something to wear?” I asked, trying not to yawn. “I’m too tired to go get dry stuff.”

“I’d rather you sleep naked.”

“I’d rather you go fuck yourself, but seeing as that’s not an option, can I borrow something to wear?”

He smiled at me.

“Knock yourself out. Shirts are in the top drawer, underwear in the second one down.”

I left the bathroom and looked around to find his dresser. Sure enough, the top drawer held a variety of T-shirts. I found one with a Reapers symbol on it and pulled it out. Then I moved down to the next drawer. Most of his stuff was black or gray, but a fl ash of pink in the back caught my eye.

What the hell?

I pulled out a pair of silky, pink panties.

“Jesus, Ruger,” I said. “Is there anywhere in this house women don’t leave their lingerie? It’s like a damned Victoria’s Secret in here!”

I turned to him, holding the panties out with two fingers, disgusted. He cocked his head and gave me a strange smile.

“Those are yours, actually,” he said slowly. “You left them behind.”

“What are you talking about?”

“That first night,” he said. “With Zach. You left them in my apartment. Had ’em ever since.”

I froze, and studied at them more closely. It’d been a long time, but they did look familiar. I’d been so sad to lose them, because I’d bought them special . . .

“I can’t decide if that’s just a little bit creepy or really, super creepy,” I said fi nally, glancing over at him. He shrugged, eyes holding mine steady.

“You asked me the other night if wanting you was a new thing,” he said, his face free of mockery for once. “It’s not a new thing, babe. Not a new thing at all.”

Grade: B+

regards,
Kaetrin

 

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