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REVIEW: Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong

Dear Ms. Armstrong,

077043011201lzzzzzzzI know I’m way behind the curve when it comes to this book.   If there had been a bus, it departed weeks ago and I’m the lone person standing on a street corner with only tumbleweeds to keep me company.   There’s no reason it took me so long to pick it up.   I’m a big fan of your Otherworld paranormal series and I like reading books about female assassins.   But even so, it’s languished in my TBR pile for nearly a year now.

Luckily two things recently happened.   We received the sequel for review, and Keishon announced she’d be once again holding the TBR Challenge in 2009.   That was more than enough encouragement for me, so I fished Exit Strategy out of my teetering TBR pile and dove in.   Maybe I should pay attention to signs like these more often, because I don’t regret the decision one bit.

Nadia Stafford was once a good cop, but she retired prematurely when she shot and killed a suspect.   Picking up the pieces, she opened a lodge and made a good attempt at starting a new life.   But as with most new businesses, money was slow to come in and the lodge was in danger of closing only a few years after it opened.   That’s when Nadia received an offer from a small-time mob family to become their personal hitwoman.

Nadia can’t really complain.   She now has the funds to keep the lodge running until it takes off, and business shows signs of doing just that.   She knows the sorts of jobs the mob family wants done and so far, they haven’t been anything that violates her own sense of honor.   Inevitably, they all tend to be jobs involving taking out family rivals or underlings who’ve crossed the line and endangered the delicate balance of power in the criminal underworld.

Then a series of sensationalistic murders hits the U.S., dubbed the work of the Helter Skelter serial killer.   That’s bad enough but what’s worse — all signs point to the Helter Skelter killer being a professional hitman.   As a result, Nadia teams up with her mentor, Jack, to stop him.   After all, a professional hitman turned serial killer isn’t a good thing.   First of all, he’ll attract unwanted attention to hitmen everywhere who are just trying to do their job.   More importantly, if it’s a hitman gone bad, someone’s who succumbed to the power of killing people and the fear that it inspires, he needs to be put down much like you’d put down a rabid dog.

What I liked best about this book was that you gave us a sympathetic female assassin without downplaying the grim realities of her line of work.   It’s not glorified but it’s not minimized either.   Nadia is a tough heroine but it’s easy to see how she came to this point.   She comes from a family of cops.   It’s in her blood.   But just as there are grim realities in being an assassin, there are grim realities in being a cop.   Sometimes the suspect that’s guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt gets away.   Sometimes the system fails to deliver justice.   Nadia learned this firsthand as a child and when she’s confronted with it again as an adult and as a cop, she makes the choice that cost her career.

Because of that traumatic childhood event, Nadia suffers from survivor’s guilt.   It’s what led her to become a cop.   It’s what keeps her code of honor as an assassin.   There’s a fascinating thematic exploration in the book about the boundaries assassins put down, what lines they will not cross, and under what circumstances they will.   One of the things that Jack, as Nadia’s mentor, emphasizes to her is the importance of having the lodge in her life, of having something other than this profession.   Because let’s face it: what kind of person does it take to be an assassin for their entire life?   And is Nadia that kind of person?   In meeting the various assassins throughout the book — from Jack to the Helter Skelter Killer to Evelyn, Jack’s mentor — there’s a noticeable difference between Nadia from them.   Will Nadia retain her code of honor or will she become like them?

Speaking of Jack, the tension between Nadia and him is smoking.   I realize there’s currently a more likely love interest for Nadia at the moment but for me, Nadia and Jack is where it’s at.   It’s not so much the mentor and student relationship because I generally don’t find that dynamic interesting and in fact, many times find it off-putting.   It’s the fact that sometimes I get the impression Jack is mentoring Nadia not because he wants her to be a good hitwoman but because he doesn’t want her to become like him or any of the other assassins he knows in their line of work.

For a book that’s nearly 500 pages long, I thought the plot moved at a fast pace.   It had enough twists, turns, and complications to keep me turning the pages.   As I said earlier, Exit Strategy doesn’t glamorize the life of an assassin.   It shows all the legwork and research that leads up to a hit and all the preparations, planning, and contingencies that must be taken into consideration.   Put like that, it sounds boring and tedious but this book made it interesting.   I enjoy reading details like that; if anything, glossing over such details annoys me as a reader.   And what I liked even more was that the idea of an assassin needing to plan and prepare plays just as big a role in the plot as the idea of an assassin getting drunk on power.

Many thanks to the TBR Challenge for coming along to give me that extra kick in the butt to pick this up.   Otherwise I would have missed out on a really great read.   What’s even better is that I have the sequel, Made to Be Broken, to look forward to.   Sometimes there are advantages to waiting so long to read a novel — no long waits in between books.   A very high, solid B+ for me.

My regards,

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!


  1. Jia
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 06:09:26

    I know what a category romance is! I just didn’t have any in my TBR pile. ::shameface::

  2. Jorrie Spencer
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 07:03:31

    I read this over a year ago and really enjoyed it. I agree that the sexual tension between Jack and Nadia was terrific, and I also thought that Armstrong handled the assassin angle really well. I’ll have to get my hands on the follow-up book. I didn’t know it was out!

  3. Jane
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 08:26:27

    @Jia I’m just playing with you girl. You could have done Concubine by Jade Lee. Wasn’t that in your TBR pile? Or is that a February release?

  4. carolyn jean
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 09:25:07

    Great review! It seems like nobody read this one. I liked it too, and I’m happy to see another one is out.

    In a way, I craved romance between Jack and Nadia too, and really, people who want to see some hot action won’t get it here, but I thought this book was super well written and interesting. The characterization was fabulous, too! Armstrong really takes a lot of care with that, especially with speech patterns–they are so distinct from one character to the next, you almost don’t need dialogue tags!

  5. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 09:46:02

    If there was a bus, I missed it, too. Haven’t read this or heard of it, but it looks great.

  6. Jory Strong
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 10:03:17

    It’s off your TBR pile, but I’m adding it to mine. Sounds good!

  7. Renee
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 11:04:07

    I loved this book, and can’t wait for the next one. It really does seem like it’s a book that got lost in the popularity of her Otherworld series. I was so glad to see your review! She is such a consummate writer, and capably handles the complicated plot of Exit Strategy.

  8. Jia
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 11:20:21

    @Jorrie Spencer: Oops! It’s not out yet. It comes out at the end of February.

    @Jane: Yeah, yeah, you’re just picking on me as usual. ;) The Concubine is a February release.

  9. JulieLeto
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 13:46:29

    Well, damn. I bought this book, but it languished on my TBR pile so long, I ended up giving it away. Now I’m drowning in RITA books. Sounds awesome, though! Perhaps I will buy another copy for my Kindle.

  10. Janine
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 16:42:21

    Thanks for this review. This book sounds really good, and I love to read about assassins. I think I’ll have to look for Exit Strategy.

  11. Bree
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 17:06:02

    Oh man, I loved this book and am dying to get my hands on the sequel. And even though I loved the Boy Scout… I have to agree about the Jack/Nadia tension. It is smoking up the pages.

  12. cecilia
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 17:12:18

    Add me to the list of people who loved this book and have been waiting for what seems like a really long time for the sequel. I myself didn’t pick up on a love interest other than Jack – I’d be kind of disappointed if it was someone else, to be honest.

  13. Marg
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 17:47:30

    I was a little concerned at being able to find an assassin a convincing heroine, but Kelley Armstrong totally managed to do it. I am so excited at the prospect of the sequel. And there is definitely smoking chemistry between Nadia and Jack.

  14. orannia
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 18:21:36

    Ohhh, thank you Jia for missing the bus and thus bringing this to my attention. Kelley Armstrong is a new author for me (I missed not just the bus but obviously every form of public transport :) and while this isn’t normally the type of book I would pick up your review has me very intrigued.

    I just checked my library’s catalogue and it has 13 of Kelley’s books *hangs head in shame* including the Otherworld series that you mentioned. I’m just wondering which I should start first, her contemporary or paranormal books?

  15. Jia
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 18:32:36

    @orannia: So far to date, this is her only contemporary. The rest are paranormal, including one YA novel which is set in the same world as her Otherworld series. From that point of view, you have much less to catch up on if you start here.

    They’re very different from each other, in my opinion. In some respects, I think Exit Strategy is better plotted than the majority of the Otherworld books. Of course it is a different sort of book. It depends. While I do like the Otherworld books, they can be uneven since they rotate and shift narrators from book to book and I like some characters better than others. It’s all a matter of preference. Personally I like the books featuring the werewolves (Bitten, Stolen, Broken & No Humans Involved) best.

  16. Keishon
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 19:06:54

    Thank you for reviewing this because I am reading it after… a couple of other books but I am reading it! Thanks Jia.

  17. BlueRose
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 23:48:57

    Im a long time Armstrong fan, since I stumbled over a hardback copy of Bitten in the library with an extremely unlikely cover.

    I too prefer the werewolf books, tho I quite like the first couple of witch ones as well. The later demon ones are less engaging.

    I was quite interested to see what she would do with Exit Strategy. I really liked it, the pace is excellent, the action is good, the plot is twisty and the chemistry is potent.

    If you like the Otherworld series, I would also recommend Kim Harrison (Rachel Morgan series), Carry Vaughn (Kitty Norville series) Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson series).

  18. Evangeline
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 15:39:41

    I bought this when it was first released, but grew bored after fifty pages. However this year, I needed something to read and had no money to buy any new releases, so I grit my teeth and pulled this from my bookshelves (I don’t get rid of books I can’t finish). Needless to say, I loved it. I can’t wait for Made to Be Broken. And I agree on the Nadia/Jack thing. I do like how Armstrong inserted another love interest, and how she wrote Nadia’s reaction to him, but Jack is it for me.

  19. Annmarie
    Jan 23, 2009 @ 20:12:19

    I loved this book and adore this author. I’m a horrible fan girl that squeals when I hear her name.

    I have everything she’s written and pre-ordered everything I can.

    BTW, Jack is it for me too. I lust for him.

  20. REVIEW: Made To Be Broken by Kelley Armstrong | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Feb 24, 2009 @ 16:00:10

    […] I’m quite familiar with your Otherworld novels, your non-paranormal Nadia Stafford books are a recent discovery for me.  But as I said in that review, sometimes being late to the party can have its […]

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