Here we are in 2024, and my first read was Darcy Dahlia‘s The Hunted Mate. I picked it up as an Amazon freebie back in September 2023. I think there was some sort of horror stuff-your-kindle sort of event.
The only thing I want is revenge. I just never counted on the monster that wants me.
The ocean’s seemingly endless depths call to me, tempt me not to surface. I want to obey, to push myself until it’s too late to turn back. For years, I’ve fought the call. But when an accident claims my mentor’s life my resolve weakens. Only my anger keeps my feet on firm ground.
The only thing stronger than my grief is my hatred for the man that so casually takes her place.
He erases her memory and no dares to stop him.
The only thing that can stop my quest for revenge is the monster. When I’m trapped on the beach alone with it I have to admit it’s real. A thing that isn’t just shadows. It’s something that is real, and hungry for me.
Now I’m a woman hunted by something I don’t understand and as much as I want to get away from Jack, I’m drawn to him. Hungry for him.
It’s no longer a matter of revenge, but survival of both my body and heart.
This was a fine—if rambly—read. Often, when I give such vague praise, it’s because I didn’t like the book but can’t explain why. That’s not the case here. I generally liked the book. But I also quibble with both the description (which is accurate but also gives all the wrong impressions) and its categorization of gothic romance. Personally, I would call this light horror. Just because two individuals have sex and eventually become mates does not necessarily make it a romance. I, for example, would not call the ending a happy one. And that is a must for a romance novel.
This paragraph is a spoiler: While on paper, the female character is happy to be mated to Jack at the end, she had been magically coerced and biologically adapted to be so. It is very clear throughout the story that this was not something she knew would happen or wanted. In fact, she was horrified and tries to escape. The fact that she failed and, thus, the transformation was successful was not a good thing for her autonomy. Let’s compare it to brainwashing. If she had been forcefully brainwashed into accepting something that she fundamentally did not want, would we call that a happy ending? I consider free will essential to happiness, so I would not. Thus, this cannot be called a romance, in my opinion (not even dark romance). Others may disagree. But that is where I am.
Further, the fact that she (as a whole person) was handed over to a man as a reward makes me angry. This is such an old trope—going all the way back to the texts of the ‘religions of the book.’ I hate it more than I can speak because it literally treats women as objects to be exchanged and owned. Have we not progressed past this? Dahlia really leans into it in this book, especially in the sex scene, which is, at best, dub-con. I would call it violent non-con myself. I disliked it. I honestly think the book would have been significantly better without the ‘you’ve been given to me’ element. The plot could have remained largely unchanged without it, a sure sign it wasn’t really needed.
In the end, I quibble with the categorization. But as light horror, it’s pretty good. (If I read more horror, I could probably say which horror subgenre to put it in—probably gothic—but I don’t read much horror. So, I’m going to stick with light horror as a hand-wavey descriptor.) I’d read more of Dahlia’s writing.