Welcome back to the Book Club! It’s a brand new day, and with that comes a new dark romance series from the Queen of Steam Sarah Bailey. We were thrown to the proverbial wolves with her last series, and it’s not unfair to say it’s changed the way I read romance novels after being challenged with its narrative. Can she top herself again with a new group of characters and new romance dynamic? There’s only one way to find out, let’s get busy y’all!
As usual with dark romance novels by any author, please use precaution when considering themes of variable consent, violence, and/or kidnapping discussed conceptually in this review.
Deceived: The Devil’s Syndicate Book One by Sarah Bailey is a brand new series from the author of the “Corrupt Empire” dark romance, employing similar themes but with some fresh new characters and context. Ashleigh Russo, or Ash as she prefers, is the daughter and heir apparent to the infamous Russo crime family. This is not a preferred status for young Ash, as she’s been lamenting the prospects of running this malicious criminal empire, and has been used by family and lover alike. After a bad breakup with a man who was clearly just using her to gain rank in the family, Ash is sulking her way through an exclusive get-together at the Russo compound. Yes, dad, mom and ex are clogging her mind, but this mysterious brooding quartet of handsome men seem to be taking an interest, and it’d be fair to say the feeling is somewhat mutual. After putting it aside, and as Ash looks to retire for the night, she’s suddenly grabbed and drugged, completely out cold until waking up in a cold cell, naked and helpless. The world is turning upside down, but nothing could be as it seems… or could it?
If you’re a veteran of a Sarah Bailey novel, the first notice will be to the chapter length. For the most part, the chapters are shorter, taking pause after each moment and then quickly changing perspectives with each chapter. There are five key moving parts here, Ash of course, and the four men known as the Syndicate Boys: Quinn, Xav, Rory, and Eric. Each character is unique, and I was quite surprised how easy it was to remember the differences between each one, as I often fail in this area in other novels. Each male is important to the story, but the most important focus in Book One is Quinn, the undisputed leader of this antihero group. Quinn’s unique feelings for Ash are for unclear personal reasons, but the goal is simple: tearing down the Russo family; one brick at a time.
The dark romance elements would be clear to any reader, but the notion of kidnapping combined with the lust involved was difficult to process in the first part of the book. I made a snap decision and labeled Quinn as a monster. He called himself the devil and as it turns out, I got sucked in to the character’s own hype. I allowed the character to intimidate me as the reader, and as such became vulnerable to him. With subjects like this, I continue to make the mistake of injecting my own context into a fictional story. I don’t know these people. I’m not their friend, I’m not their lawyer, they don’t live and love anything like I would. What’s brutal and wrong if we heard about it from our friend or family member couldn’t apply the same way here. This author’s Corrupt Empire series started with cold blooded murder, uncompromising and completely chilling. What proceeded the murders could never have been viewed as “worse,” not to mention how soon we learned those people probably deserved to die, with the male protagonist a victim himself. This Syndicate series takes the crescendo approach instead. Ash’s abduction, while scary, was more chilling for its efficiency than any brutality. She wakes up and is duly caged and chained with the calculated finesse of the very worst of humanity. Quinn is captivated by Ash’s sexual energy, and there are some very uncomfortable moments before we learn Ash’s own conflict to the matter. Slowly but surely, we learn not only of how Ash’s personal history leads to her interest in this unique style of budding romance, but how this whole household is about to realize and confront some closely guarded feelings.
Verdict: Deceived by Sarah Bailey is an appropriately powerful start to a fresh dark romance series that’s quick to challenge the reader with their own concepts of love and romance. With five main characters there is a refreshing give’n’take to the dominant character’s feelings, and we can learn more about each one organically. If you can compartmentalize the harsh truths of what brought these people to this moment, the characters themselves each have a level of depth that rewards with every turn of the page. If the lead dom’s antics frustrated me last chapter, maybe his cohort’s toy collections or captivating conservatory will make up for it with creative and even soothing character exposition. While it wouldn’t be a good “pitch” or example of a healthy budding poly relationship given the context, it’s a wonderful examination of the elements that could make it so rewarding. This is a fantastic start to a new series, and most any fan of the genre will be looking to devour what’s next from the quill of the undisputed Queen of Steam.
Special Thanks to Sarah Bailey for providing an advanced review copy of Deceived to TehBen.com. All thoughts and opinions are our own.
Author’s Twitter: @sbaileyauthor
Purchase Link: Amazon (Release Date 4/8/2020)