Reader Discretion Advised: Today’s book selection deals with some very intense and heavy subjects related to consent and graphic sexual violence. We promise this isn’t a joke warning, and we ask that you please consider personal sensitivities before consulting this review, as this review is about as NSFW as a review can get.
Betrayal, by Sarah Bailey bills itself as a “dark romance,” which is one of those classic genre definitions that varies greatly on your own perspectives. Let’s try not to beat around the bush with this one though, when they say this is “dark”, they sure as shit mean it. Avery is a twenty year old heiress to the Mitchell Holdings “real estate” fortune and is dining with her parents in their fabulous penthouse one morning. Events quickly transpire, and her parents are killed, murdered, and Avery is stolen away by the lone gunman. Avery soon wakes up inside a concrete cell, chained and unaware of what awaits her. A man named Aiden approaches the cell, it’s time for redemption…and he’s got a plan. Step 1 is complete, now it’s time for Step 2: It’s time to make Avery his.
Yikes. Okay, let’s take a second to unpack this a little bit. Before we address the content itself, I want to examine the stylization choices. Betrayal is a back and forth POV, switching between Aiden and Avery, frantically moving the story forward with each chapter. There is no “all knowing” narrator, and that results in more intense and engaging storytelling. First-hand accounts of the proceedings will chill and excite the reader the whole way through. The turmoil of Avery’s trauma, and the painfully slow exposition of Aiden’s backstory make the entire length of the read hair-raising. With content as intense as this you’d expect a lot of machinery cogs turning in multiple directions to explore it all, and the narrative is quite well done through the lens of only two characters.
(Minor spoilers from here on)
What rattles me the most about Betrayal is that I find so much of it to be completely believable. In a lot of novels of this type, there exists a cartoonish vibe that pats you on the back every now and then to let you know this is all a crazy fantasy, or that there’s a more mythic quality you can use to explain away some of the more darker elements. To its credit, Betrayal never lets off the gas pedal, and it’s a gritty and realistic exchange throughout. The characters themselves can be a challenge to the reader, but for remarkably relatable reasons. Aiden, setting aside his most of his conduct, is a pained but cocky little fuck that struggles with basic human emotion beyond his own selfish drives. Avery, on the other hand…well I can’t really talk about what I think about Avery when she’s in a situation like this. How could I critique the feelings of someone that’s been kidnapped and broken through what can only be described as mental torture in a prison cell? I assure you, there was and is a reason for all this. Aiden is not a sadistic murderer and captor solely for his pleasures. He’s working for a higher purpose…and Betrayal suddenly becomes a question of ends justifiable to their means. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Avery’s family works in some very illicit dealings, in which no detail is spared in their description. The reader is slowly exposed to what leads each of the characters to the present situation at hand, and the back half of the novel will keep pages turning as you crave every last detail. So much detail in fact, that you almost forget there’s romance to be had!
We’ve just discussed the very worst of humanity, and now we have to find a way to discuss romance. It’s crazy to try and explain it, but the author does an excellent job of executing the possibility of this over the course of the story. If you hadn’t figured it by now, there’s a veritable cornucopia of tension from the NON-sexual content of the novel, and sexual tension is spliced in at just the right moments, without the cheese factor. Aiden is a monster in many ways, but he’s an angel in others. Whether that’s just another layer of mental torture or not, Avery slowly melts for it and things eventually get hot and heavy. As a reader, there is an underlying question of consent. Can a literal captive victim truly ever give consent? Aiden needs Avery’s heart, but at what cost to her soul? After confronting this issue, the sexual side of things can settle into what you might expect from a traditional piece erotica, maybe even a little too much. At one point Avery learns of Aiden’s sexual desires, and we reach a moment when I truly question what’s going through the character’s mind. Of allllll the things happening in this story either to the main characters or others: murder, rape, mental torture, physical torture, conspiracy, and fraud, Avery seems most taken aback by one thing. Anal sex. It’s almost as if Avery is saying, “woah there…capture, mental re-programming, and a complete exposition of my family’s unspeakable crimes leading to my personal self hatred are one thing…but nobody said anything about butt stuff!!” To be fair again to Avery, she’s mentally broken by everyone’s admission…but damn girl, let’s focus on some priorities!
Verdict: Betrayal, by Sarah Bailey leaves me feeling a number of emotions. This isn’t just simple erotica with a hard edge, as the author is more detailed and talented than that. There is so much I hate to confront about its content. I’m appalled, bewildered, frustrated, and weirdly touched by the character dynamic throughout the course of the entire story. Of all these things that I feel, I simply cannot look away. I’ve never discussed a book more with my peers, and I’ve never needed to know what happens next in a series more than with this selection. This in many ways makes the novel a controversial work of art. To put it simply: I’m all-in.