Welcome back to the Book Club! Ah geez… it’s the last Book Club entry of 2019! All good things must come to an end, but it’s really unfortunate to see a series we’ve loved reach its inevitable conclusion. Thanks to this author, the Club has discovered the benefits of Dark Romance fiction, and we feel enriched for it. The Empire isn’t as corrupt as it once was, but it’s not letting us off easy. Let’s dig in and close things off with a bang.
Protect by Sarah Bailey is the seventh and final book in the Corrupt Empire series. We’ve examined every other sibling, but for the finale we dig into the remaining identical twin girl, Jen. While experiencing no less trauma or hardship than anyone else in this family, Jen’s personality seems to use a rougher edge as a coping mechanism. She’s been called everything from a “handful,” to a “maddening woman” to something I’m sure could be akin to “bitch,” but one person has seen through most of that. Brent, who we first met as a bodyguard of sorts for the Benson siblings, took a special shine to Jen when they first met. A few days shy of 16, and after unspeakable sexual abuse from her own father rendering her temporarily mute, Brent rightly bottles down those emotions and focuses on protecting this family on the brink of collapse. Still, you can’t be this close to someone and hide from those feelings forever. With Brent’s own embarrassing family pushing him closer to the Bensons on a personal level, and the rest of Jen’s siblings finding their true love, can we fight the inevitable? Fuck no we can’t!
It’s not like true love is going to come easy of course. This is dark romance with Sarah Bailey at the helm after all. Jen is locking her feelings away and comes off to most people as someone who is cold and rough. She makes claims to hate Brent as a defense mechanism, but deep down, she can’t fight how she feels. Her therapist can only help so much, especially as his heart belongs to Jen’s twin sister. By this point, the number of moving parts involved would crush the sole remaining uncoupled family member if she didn’t have someone to begrudgingly lean on like Brent. The conflict Brent has to endure is the most relatable, despite the crazy circumstances. An instant mutual attraction to someone “not quite” legal. To literally have to protect that girl from the evils of the world. A household that can’t stop finding new and taboo ways to fornicate. What the actual fuck did we think was going to happen?!
The writing in these tales is top notch when it comes to conveying mood. This impossibly rich family can’t seem to stay out of trouble as a certain business relationship permits the chance for the Benson deep dark secrets to come to light. What’s most frightening is how easily the Benson family exposed themselves to this potential. At times I find this family fucking bewildering, this yearning to be normal despite having infinite money and an amount of skeletons in the closet that would make Charles Manson blush. And to this point, the antagonist is clearly taking advantage in the same way the classic late season cop show character that gets the inside track on all the misdoings of the antiheroes. Max, the business associate/bad guy is his own brand of scum, but it can’t excuse the family’s past on its own. The family needs saving from themselves, and quite frankly no blood relative should be up to this task. This is what makes Brent such an important character. To an outside observer, he’s a hired goon for the 1%ers, keeping as much of this family’s past locked away. However, his love interest (and thankfully to the reader), his meager beginnings are portrayed with chilling accuracy through his vice-addicted family provide balance to the series’ conflicts. Jen has to see how the most unfortunate live, and briefly experience the turmoils of alcohol abuse and poverty instead of billion dollar blackmails and blood contracts. Much of what made the original trilogy of Corrupt Empire so charming (in it’s fucked up way) was the use of blue collar spirited “fixers” as the true heroes. There’s nothing more infuriating in fiction than an over privileged little bitch lauded for saving the day with his ability to hold all the cards and take care of business serving his own interests. This empire needed a roughneck antihero to survive in the first place, and to persist once and for all the call to action rings again in the exploration of Brent, and its marvelous.
Verdict: Protect by Sarah Bailey is a fitting conclusion to a magnificent dark romance series (and sub series) tying a wonderful bow around a memorable family of characters. The varying degrees of “dark” elements over each of the novels keeps the reader in perpetual suspense, and allows us to simply enjoy the ride instead of presuming the variables, with this novel being no different. This is the last battle for the Bensons, but it’s one that if defeated, could ruin everything we’ve spent the last year of our real lives falling in love with. Without the kindness of others, this family couldn’t be saved from themselves. This high task is met by a fantastic character that seems most suited to save not only the Bensons, but save his own family as well. Brent is everything we need in this male lead. No selfish endeavors, no personal blood oaths to his own accord, he’s simply here to save the day. The Happily Ever After is there as promised, but maybe not how you’d imagine it from page one. Maybe it’s best we don’t get our conclusions served up exactly the way we anticipate them. At the end of the day, most every reader might rather want to exclaim #iWannaMarryBrent.
Special thanks to Sarah Bailey for providing an advance review copy of Protect to TehBen.com. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Author’s Twitter: @sbaileyauthor
Purchase Link: Amazon (Release Date Dec 13, 2019)