Reviewed by Donna
SERIES: Fall Trilogy #1
AUTHOR: Kate Pavelle
PUBLISHER: Dreanspinner Press
LENGTH: 270 Pages
Sexual assault doesn’t discriminate. Aikido instructor Sean Gallaway learns that when he falls prey to a violent stalker. Asbjorn Lund, a karate sensei on campus and a Navy vet, yearns to teach Sean how to survive. How to overcome. How to recover. Sean feels hunted and alone as the stalker escalates, testing his boundaries. With the entire dojo at his back, Sean resolves to play bait. He will catch the animal stalking him and reclaim his sense of self if it’s the last thing he does. Yet Sean’s hunger for justice clashes with Asbjorn’s protective streak, and their budding romance might not survive their war of wills.
Before I start I’m going to warn you all that this review is going to contain some major spoilers. I’ll warn you again before I get to that bit but I thought I’d let you know from the start in case you catch a glimpse as you get closer. Normally I avoid including spoilers, at least any important ones, but having given such a low rating, which I hate doing and have only done once before, I feel the need to explain myself. Obviously, as always, this is just my opinion.
I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Kate Pavelle’s books. Well actually no, until this book, hate would have been too strong a word. So why would I choose to review one? They’ve always annoyed me a bit, I think it’s the way the characters speak, but at the same time I like the plots she comes up with and the way she always includes information about topics I’m definitely no expert on. For example I loved the rock climbing angle she took with Zipper Fall and Wild Horses was horse training which I always enjoy reading about. The obviously extensive research she does into these topics results in a bit of an info dump but I’ve always found it interesting before. When I saw that this story was about martial arts I figured it would be similar to the previous books, an interesting backdrop for the book’s plot. Instead the martial arts overtook the story to, I believe, the detriment of the plot. It was not an information dump, it was an absolute avalanche that buried me in so many rituals and details that I just couldn’t keep up with what was going on. It was like parts of the story were written in another language and I ended up lost. On top of that some of the parts I did understand felt almost preachy. I get that some martial art styles include a lot of spiritual aspects but still, it just felt too heavy for this story.
Now onto the plot which will likely be interspersed with rants about the two main characters. And there will be some spoilers here but as the blurb already mentions that Sean is attacked these aren’t any major spoilers.
Sean and Asbjorn are both martial arts instructors in different types of styles. They meet when Asbjorn enrolls in Sean’s class and doesn’t mention who he is. He and Sean become friends and find themselves attracted to each other despite the fact they’re “not gay”. This bugged me. Asbjorn admits he is attracted to men but seriously never seems to consider that he might be gay. And Sean is attracted to a particular woman because, let me count the ways, she reminds Sean of her brother. What annoys me is that neither man is stupid and neither man has a hard time admitting that he’s gay (eventually) but it just never seems to occur to either one that finding men attractive could mean that he’s gay. The result is an on again, off again relationship that carries on throughout the whole book and I grew more and more frustrated with the men as it went on. Maybe if they were teenagers I could have bought their insecurity and idiocy but not in two grown men who are apparently mature enough to be martial arts teachers.
The attack on Sean was handled fairly well. Considering he behaves like a complete idiot when it comes to most things I expected him to be an idiot in this too. He promises the attacker he won’t call the police and I cringed thinking he is actually stupid enough to keep that promise, but I was pleasantly surprised. I also like the way all of the secondary characters react to the attack. Good or bad, their reactions are fairly realistic. What I didn’t appreciate was coming across what I consider a rape scene involving a main character without warning. The blurb mentions sexual assault but in my opinion there is a big difference between sexual assault and rape. Some readers may not consider it rape because there isn’t any anal penetration but I consider what occurred rape and the victim, Sean, refers to it as rape. I really think there should have been a content warning because if there were I wouldn’t have chosen to read this book.
This next bit contains the spoilers I mentioned at the start. If you don’t want to know (very specifically) what it was that pissed me off so much then stop here.
Since we’re discussing content warnings, here’s where I’ll bring up cheating. I don’t read books with cheating if I can help it. Ever. It doesn’t matter how much someone wants to assure me that the story is absolutely wonderful, if there’s cheating between the two main characters then I refuse to read the book. Cheating at 80% is just totally fucked up and the way it was handled in this book was just like rubbing salt in the wound. So, let me share. I’m sure some people will say it’s not cheating because the two men were in one of their “off again” phases, but! That’s just how their whole stupid relationship goes. On, off, fighting, loving, together, apart – annoying but there it is. Sean had already begun the whole get back together again song and dance but Asbjorn decides he’s still too pissed to get back together yet. So he gets drunk and has a threesome with two of their friends instead. What pissed me off most is that these two previously “straight men” are experiencing all their “gay firsts” together and suddenly out of nowhere Asbjorn is allowing another couple to tie him to the bed and claim his ass virginity. All the while feeling guilty and sad because he’s cheating on Sean who he’s in love with. Umm, ok, what the fuck ever. Meanwhile Sean is waiting for Asbjorn to come home and almost freezes to death after he falls asleep on his doorstep. And as much as I hate Asbjorn by this point I can hardly blame him for that because what sort of absolute tool decides to nap on a doorstep in a snowstorm? Asbjorn manages to defrost Sean then despite Sean’s upset at his confession of sex with their friends, Asbjorn starts hinting at how great the sex was and teases that maybe he’ll tell Sean all about it one day. Or maybe Sean can just experience it himself because Asbjorn wouldn’t mind a foursome with all of them. I really truly hated these characters. If the bad guy wasn’t a serial rapist I probably would have been cheering for him to win the day.
If this hadn’t been a review copy I would have DNFed. Perhaps even before I reached that point but definitely after reading that. But since I was already at 80% at least there wasn’t too much more to go, and there was still Sean’s attacker that needed catching. I was damned relieved when the story finally ended, though the semi-cliffhanger was irritating because there is no way in hell I’m going to be reading the sequel to this.
Pheww, now I’ve got that off my chest I feel so much better. I actually read this book a week ago but I’ve been putting off writing the review in the hope that I’d calm down and maybe see it all a bit more objectively. The best I can say about this is maybe if you’re martial arts obsessed you’ll enjoy it. And I mean obsessed, a slight interest isn’t likely to cut it.
Oh, yeah. I’m adding a P.S. to this review because I forgot to mention the biggest WTF moment I’ve read in a very long time. (I figure if you’ve gotten this far you’re ok with the spoilers.) One of the female characters is told she shouldn’t fight in their secret “fight club” because she’s had a baby so she whips out her breast and sprays the guy in the face with breast milk. I shit you not. True story. Read at your own risk. You’ve been warned.