Monday, July 4, 2016

In Total Surrender

The title: In Total Surrender
The author:  Anne Mallory
Publication: Avon, 2011
Got it from: Library book sale

This is one of those books that I have had sitting on my shelves for a few years, and I kept telling myself I should read it.  And then I did, and I have to tell you: this book is INSANE.  It was not what I expected AT ALL.  I thought, yeah yeah, it's going to be your typical dark romance, he's king of the underworld, she's the light that will redeem him, it will be enjoyable and predictable and safe.  I don't even know how to describe how much that did not happen.  It was like stepping on a monorail and expecting a monorail ride, but instead finding yourself upside down in the Scrambler and hanging on for dear life and screaming, "what the hell is happening to meeeeee?"

This book was crack.  I honestly had no idea what to expect from one page to the next.  I mean, beyond that the hero and heroine would get together eventually, of course.  But other than that, this book took every single romantic trope, turned it upside down, whacked it with a stick, and then turned the trope inside out and sewed it back together and still left you going,WHAT IS THIS?

Andreas Merrick is bad.  Really bad.  A bad and mysterious head of a murky crime underworld in Georgian Regency Victorian old times?  Phoebe Pace needs his help to save her family's company from ruination.  Also, because she is a woman with a pulse, she finds his hotness/badness intriguing and sexy.  It's obvious from the very first scene that she wants him bad, and the rest of the book is basically her trying to wear him down while he resists, resists, resists letting her get close.  Her attraction only intensifies in the opening scene when five men come to kill him and Andreas takes them out without a second thought, saving her life in the process.
Most of this book is actually from Andreas's perspective, which is great because otherwise he would be unfathomable.  The book does a fantastic job right away at establishing his character. In the opening pages, he's reading a letter from his brother, who is on his honeymoon (he's the hero of the previous book):

Dear Brother,

Charlotte and I arrived in Italy to a bloody fantastic...

Blah, blah, some festival drivel, blah, blah, happiness, blah.  Andreas skimmed the barely legible note - a page full of sentiment.

As the plot moves along, more and more backstory gets revealed, including Phoebe's motives and her reasons for trusting Andreas.  The interactions between the two are hilarious, with her cheerful unflappability up against his stoniness. Their interactions in the first few chapters are priceless.  You have to give Phoebe credit for standing up to him when he acts like a total ass to her for the first half of the book.  She meets his bad humour with the best of spirits:

"I am a vile man."  He gave her a feral smile, letting the darkness rise.  "The absolute worst you will ever meet."

"That is absurd, Mr. Merrick."  The darkness froze, then began undulating, snapping at an unseen threat.  "How do you know what kind of men I might meet in the future?"

Tilting head, tilting head, tilting would feature prominently in his nightmares tonight.

The fun ratchets up when Phoebe infiltrates his world by winning his men over with smiles and baked goods, much to Andreas's annoyance.  The amusing "win over the thugs" plot is a favourite trope of mine.  It leads to some un-romancelike swearing on Andreas's part, which I found totally hilarious and which I know will probably horrify a lot of romance readers.  In one of my favourite scenes, Andreas is questioning his lackeys to determine just how much Phoebe has won them over and is very displeased with the findings:

Two boys tumbled into the room, one large and fearful, one reedy and eager...The third stalked behind, small arms crossed, jagged scar the length of his forehead.  Belligerent little fuck.

...He turned to the little shit, Tommy, to continue his questions, but a croak emerged from the hulking boy.

"She said my cooking is good," the low voice whispered, some sort of apology edged with defiance, then wrapped in a terrified package.

He looked closely at all three faces, eyes narrowed.  His lips pressed together hard enough to hurt due to what he read there.  They had claimed her as one of their own.

He thought of six ways to insult a man's mother.

I also loved, in another chapter, how frustrated Andreas is by the difference between himself and Phoebe.  After a night of arson, fighting off assassins, and protecting Phoebe's home, he turns up in the morning looking like crap and finds her there:

And here Miss Bleeding Sunshine sat, looking as if just this morning she'd been attended by fairies, baked with elves, and had tea with a unicorn.

This book is not without its problems.  For instance, the business aspect is discussed in great detail at the beginning of the book, but there's not a lot more about it later on to justify all the explanation.  There's also the problem, as many reviewers have pointed out, that the sex scenes are vague and disappointing, especially given all the tension before it.  Phoebe also tilts her head a lot, so much so I was worried she was going to get neck cramps.  The ending also left something to be desired.  Things got wrapped up much too neatly, and I really didn't need a "twenty years later" scene.  It's a pet peeve of mine, and I wish romance authors would stop doing that.  I also know that the fact that Andreas is pretty much a villain will turn a lot of people off.  But I still love this book.  Not in spite of its weirdness, but because of it.

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