As the developmental editor for this urban fantasy series for adults, Secrets of South Whidbey Volume 1 (see book info here), I’ve been a part of this book’s production from a mostly-finished draft to the very polished final version. The writer asked me to contribute a review, and I’ve complied with the knowledge that I am in many ways biased. I will not pretend objectivity! I will simply tell you from an editor’s perspective why I thoroughly enjoyed working on this book and why it stands out from among the rest to me.
The quick summary: Sarai, a budding potions witch, thinks her romance with her still-fairly-new husband Bram was meant to be a forever bond between the two of them. But Bram, himself an up-and-coming wizard, wants to experiment with more than one partner, and she must submit to the man of the house. Meanwhile, Sarai’s high-school sweetheart, Emmet—who disappeared suddenly several years ago with barely a word of explanation—has reappeared in town as though nothing between them has changed…and Bram doesn’t want Sarai to have anything to do with him.
The aftermath of Bram and Sarai’s experiment, conducted at such an emotionally fraught time, is a slowly building whirlwind of tension that expands and draws in more members of the magical community in their small town, all of whom harbor their own passions, desires, and secrets.
What sets the beginning of this series off from other romance books for adults and urban fantasy romance books I’ve read so far is in part the writing style—which is fast-paced, sharp third-person present-tense, often through the male POV (point of view), and still manages to be lush, making the weather into an elegant reflection of a given character’s mood and the beautiful scenery around him or her. It is one of the best alternating POV romance books, moving through multiple narrators. It’s also certainly how much the book joys in the bad decisions its characters make and revels in every painful lesson they have to learn. One of my favorite aspects of the book is that, in at least one way, it’s the opposite of what you’d expect from a romance novel—it focuses on the gritty details of losing a relationship before it gets to the joys and stresses of starting a new one. (That’s what the next book is for! Or so I fervently hope!)
And yet it’s still undeniably hot. Don’t even let me get into the style in which this erotica thriller was written, namely the erotic scenes. When you read a lot of erotica, as I have by now, all of those body parts can start to sound pretty blasé, so it was a joy to read Knightley’s take on it. The language explodes with creativity, making each scene an exploration of sensuality that leaves you reconsidering your sense of touch. Nobody I’ve read talks about shape and texture quite like Knightley, and that is a pretty high recommendation.
Real and sometimes stressful themes come up in the book, which I appreciate from a psychological perspective. Especially if you are a female reader, you may get passed through an emotional wringer. I admit, when I read through the first draft there was a character I just wanted to smite off the face of the earth, and certain of his toxic perspectives came a little too close to home for me. Anyone who doesn’t want to read extensively about an unfaithful partner, from their own perspective, should probably read something else. For me, this was part of what made the story so interesting. While there’s plenty of judgement to be passed, (and some revenge, too!) the story is more interested in exploring the reasons behind the characters’ mistakes than turning them into one-dimensional villains. The character interactions are realistic, sometimes a little too familiar. Sarai ignores the truth until it is staring her in the face. Bram makes excuses until he starts to believe them. Lindsay has consciously chosen to take what she wants without regarding the consequences for others, but there’s still a price to pay. And Emmet… well, Emmet hasn’t entirely played his hand yet, but he’s made some bad decisions of his own.
This isn’t truly a story of a romance yet—and it’s not even quite a story of lust gone wild. It’s a story of a failing relationship that fails spectacularly. It shows both perspectives, even allows us to understand where they’re coming from, before one character decisively gives in to their flaws and becomes the villain. And then, it tangles all of these half-baked passions and misguided intentions up with a powerful enchantment that can go horribly wrong if misused. Which, spoiler alert… As an editor, watching the lines of tension in a book get crossed and yanked at exactly the right times is supremely satisfying, and in this story, Knightley does it right.
And, almost hidden underneath this fascinating psychological exploration, this story DOES have all of the elements one wants in a paranormal romance series: it has a woman growing her magic powers as she learns to stand up for herself; a secret witches’ lair underneath the cliffs of South Whidbey; a hot, guarded ex-lover who comes back to town with a dangerous secret; a sassy best friend who hunts vampires; a seductive redhead woman who will do anything to get what she wants; and a villain that we love to hate because we were with him every step of his descent into madness. There are magical confrontations, mysterious pasts, and lots of deliciously-written sex scenes. Be aware as a reader that you’re going in for a wallop of questionable decisions and scenes from the perspective of the perpetrators. And be aware that it’s going to be worth it to see how it all comes out. And, of course, enjoy the ride.
Find Secrets of South Whidbey, Vol 1 here.
Learn more about the author, Ryan A. Knightley