BY TILLIE COLE
With Reap, the second in her Scarred Souls series, Tillie Cole takes the crown as the queen of dark romance. She was pretty damn close with Souls Unfractured, published earlier this year, but Reap takes her over the top and into a seat of royalty.
In Raze, the series’ first book, we were introduced to the world of underground death matches run by the Russian mafia, or Bratva. Men, conditioned to kill from a young age, ruled the cages, the kill or be killed mentality forced on them and all that they know. Just as in Raze, Reap is the story of a man kidnapped from his home at a young age and raised as a killer. Even worse, 221, the fighter we meet in the prologue, has been used for drug testing, which has left him without memories and completely obedient to his “master”.
***spoilers for Raze ahead***
When 221 is rescued by Luka Tolstoi, the famous Raze of book one, he is led into a life stolen from him over 20 years ago. Basically an animal, he is revealed to be Zaal Kostava, brother of Luka’s only friend and an enemy to his family. When Luka’s father balks at Zaal entering his home, he takes him to the family’s beach house to go through detox of the drugs that have been forced on him and to see what is left of the boy stolen all those years ago. Not realizing his sister, Talia, is also there for an extended vacation, Luka has no choice but to leave Zaal locked in the basement, away from her.
Talia is the rebel of the family, doing what she wants rather than tow the “perfect Bratva female” line. Despite knowing that Zaal is the son of their father’s greatest enemy, she is intrigued by this giant of a man (he’s 6’ 6” and looks like Jason Momoa, Hello!). She watches him every day on the security cameras, following his progress as the drugs leave his system. When Zaal appears to die, the detox too much for his system, Talia makes her way to the basement to get a closer look and care for his body. Not dead, when Zaal awakes he’s immediately taken with Talia, believing that she is “for him”.
It can’t be easy to live in Tillie Cole’s head. As queen of dark romance she doesn’t hesitate to take a risk to tell her characters’ story. We see that time and again in the Hades Hangmen series which deals with, among other things, pedophilia and abuse. Reap, like Raze before it, digs deep into the human psyche, addressing the very real issue of child trafficking. I’ll be honest, I haven’t and never plan to do the research to know how accurate these scenarios are, but I suspect that Cole (and her editors) wouldn’t create a world based on fact that used made up details. That makes this a tough book to read, but well worth it.
Reap, at its heart, is a story about how love can heal. It’s about soul mates finding each other when the odds are against them. And, yes, it’s violent and heart breaking. But Cole does this so well that you want to read Zaal and Talia’s story, cry through their happy ending, get hot and bothered through their smoking hot (and sweetly romantic) love scenes, and rage at the injustice done to children everywhere. Cole has a singular talent for getting into the heart of things without being afraid to address serious issues and how they affect people. That she can do this and show that even those that are damaged, that have lived far from perfect lives, can still find that endless love…well, we all need that.
The characters of Reap are well done from the story’s H/h to the supporting cast, especially Luka and Kisa the stars of Raze. In a very real way, Reap is also their story as Cole easily weaves them into the storyline, giving the readers a glimpse into their married life and how Luka’s past plays a role in it. Zaal, aka 221, is a strong, gentle presence in this book despite his violent history. Coupled with what we learn about his past, it’s easy to see the man he would have been had tragedy not befallen him. Talia is a strong female lead who readily faces off against those who would have her live less than a happily ever after. Cole’s writing is concise and fast paced with multiple first-person POVs.
I have very few complaints with this latest addition to my Tillie Cole library. The nature of the story isolates the H/h and I miss the H having a sense of camaraderie with others, though we are promised that at the end. I felt as though I needed to suspend belief in Zaal’s fairly easy transition from fighting machine to gentle lover. If Cole could change one thing I would have liked to see Zaal take more time to become the man he is. But, at the end of the day, this is a beautifully written, romantic tale that I happily give 4.5 stars to.
Reap was published in November 2015 by St. Martin’s Press
Want to add Reap and Raze to your library? Click on the book covers for more details.