I accepted a copy of Daniela Romero‘ Wicked Savage Wolves as part of its blog tour, hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. The book has also been featured over on Sadie’s Spotlight a couple times. You can find author details and the schedule for this particular tour here.
Three full-length books in one from USA Today Bestselling Author Daniela Romero
The wolves of Hellbound High are more beast than man. They’re savage, sinful, and everything a girl with a good head on her shoulders is told to avoid.
But, to Isabella, Jo, and Meiying, they’re so much more than they seem.
They’re the boys with the power to break their hearts but put them back together again.
If they decide to.
They’re the ones who make them suffer, make them bleed, but can also make their hearts soar to new heights.
The heir, the bad boy, the brother’s best friend.
They’re three grave decisions Isabella, Jo, and Meiying are on the verge of making.
And faced with the consequences of their decision, they’ll realize that a chance at love means risking it all.
Their health, their happiness, and most important, their hearts.
And in the end, will it be worth it?
***This is a dark, paranormal bully romance. Proceed with caution. You won’t
find a magical school filled with your future besties. At Hellbound High, life
is dangerous, cutthroat, and only the strong survive. Wicked Savage Wolves
includes 3 stories, each featuring a different M/F couple. ***
I have so much to say, some general and some specific. I’ll start with the fact that these books were originally written as contemporary romance and later re-written with the addition of paranormal elements for PNR readers. I don’t know how I feel about this—no, that’s not true. That’s like someone asking if you like a food they’ve offered you and you say it’s “interesting,” instead of that you don’t like it.
I don’t like seeing books written into various versions. When I read a book, I want to read The Book, not a version of the book. I don’t want to be left wondering if I’d have liked another version better or worse than the one I read. It creates an uncertainty that I do not desire. I feel the same way about abridged books or authors that publish PG and spicy versions of the same book. THIS IS 100% A ME THING. But I’m putting it here because where else would I get to say it? I’d have been happier not to have known, honestly.
Next, well, we just have to talk about the realities of Bully Romances. Like Dub-Con, or a lot of Dark Mafia or Mars Needs Women books (where women are basically just kidnapped) it’s problematic as hell. You have to accept that the plot-line will likely be along the lines of “He’s attracted to her, so he hurts her. Somewhere along the way there’s a precipitating event and he doesn’t like the consequences of his own actions and is forced to grow as a person in order to earn her forgiveness.” But the whole thing is gendered as hell and almost unavoidably predicated on her being hurt and then being the bigger, forgiving person.
But like Dub-con and such, a reader has to be willing to accept that, yes, this would be reprehensible in real life. But within the safe confines of fiction (especially romantic fiction that guarantees a happy ending) it is possible to set the realities of toxic behavior aside and explore the play of power and control, as well as any other element an author chooses to incorporate. And there is a place for this in the romance genre.
Now, about the individual books…
At the broadest level I enjoyed this a lot. I liked Isa as a character. One would have a hard time saying they liked Rafe, but he was a sexy alpha a-hole lead. And I didn’t feel like the shift from bully to romantic partner was too rushed. There was enough growth between them for it not to feel too artificial. Plus, I very much appreciate that there wasn’t just a blooming lust to love relationship. Isa formed strong platonic relationships too. (Though it might have been nice to see a few females in there.) I also really liked that both characters were Latinx and the importance familiar, cultural food is given in the story.
I did have trouble with their ages. They’re supposed to be 17-year-old high school students. But they all seemed to have easy access to alcohol (even being served by adults at times), are covered in tattoos, and have some fairly explicit (and practiced), on-page sex. So, they felt older than they should have for me. This wasn’t a big deal, but it did pull me out of the story a bit. Similarly, I found myself frequently pausing to notice how similar this paranormal world and the language used to describe it is to some other series I’ve read—Ilona Andrews‘ stuff especially.
More importantly for me, if I never ever have to read another book where all the women not in the heroine’s immediate circle (of which there is one, who is the heroine of a future book in the series) are represented and treated as slutty trash (little more than sentient fleshlights) I will be a far happier reader. There are some seriously gross messages about the value (or lack of value) of sexually available women built into it. Add in the aspect of gleefully hurting each other over the attention of the men who callously treat them as disposable commodities and I start to want to burn things to the ground (especially when this is written by female authors).
I acknowledge that in the context of exploring power dynamics there is unavoidably an aspect of resource guarding involved in this trope. But I feel like too often it’s used more as an easy, pitting women against women in the way we’ve all been subtly taught to never trust (or value) each other than in any sort of thoughtful exploration or subversion of the patriarchy’s favorite trick. (It’s the whole, ‘divided they fall,’ right?) So, can this cliche just go die a quiet, grisly death somewhere where I never ever have to see it again? Please!
This isn’t so much a critique of this book or series, since this is such a common element of contemporaneously written romances, as it is a general plea to the universe. But I do feel that this particular trope was especially heavy here and I, I don’t think, used subversively in any manner.
Despite these latter complaints, I found this well written and worth reading. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
This second review will be short than the first, simply by virtue of “ditto.” A lot of what was true in book one is true in book two as well, and I don’t see any reason to repeat it all. Jordy is a different sort of alpha a-hole than Rafe was and my complaints on the treatment of women are reduced by at least a third. Rafe, after all, has found his forever mate—his one woman worthy of being treated with respect—and Jordy is chasing his. But much of the rest is still true.
Despite all that, I think this is a stronger book. I was pleasantly surprised when, early on, it took an unexpected turn into something significantly more interesting that the blurb let on. (I won’t spoil it though.) Jo and Jordy are characters with a lot on their individual plates, each with their own additional baggage. The writing is clean and easy to read. I enjoyed the cultural characteristics coloring the narrative, and I like how the plot wrapped up.
I did find that explicit, on page sex involving a 16-year-old is my personal ick limit. I suppose everyone reading the book won’t be old enough to be the characters’ mother. But I found that, for me personally, though I don’t mind knowing teens have sex (of course they do), I felt all sorts of skeevy reading a hot sex scene from a 16-year-old’s point of view. Nope. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been written, just that it hit my personal perv limit.
All in all, I liked this more than I expected and look forward to book three.
Cruel Wolves & Devious Deceptions:
Meh, this was my least favorite of the three stories. Both because I didn’t really feel Des and Meiying’s hot and cold, antagonistic relationship and because it’s the only book to end on a cliff-hanger. It felt half finished. Plus, there’s the whole fact that Des had been lusting after her (and more) since she was like 14. The world establishes that shifters are more tactile than humans and start experimenting earlier, but it was still squinky as hell for me.
But I did think the writing was good, the dialogue especially. I’d be interested in finishing the series and reading more of Romero/Annett’s writing.