Forged in Desire by Brenda Jackson

Forged in Desire by Brenda JacksonI was of half a mind not to review this book as I read it. The characters are interesting, the space they’re in is complicated, and I liked the premise of this new series. So why was I wavering? There’s a lot going on, and a lot of scene setting. I could have accepted that, but at the same time, I was being told a sexual tension was there and not feeling it. The encounters, though detailed and explicit, felt too analytical, more a laundry list than two people uncontrollably drawn to each other. And the telling isn’t limited to the sex because though both the threat and attraction are real, they didn’t seem that way for the longest while.

Yet, here I am reviewing it, and I’ll tell you why. The people are good people. I can understand both what horrible circumstances brought them together and why they’re acting the way they are. The bodyguards have all been wronged by the system in one way or another, and yet came out of it wanting to fix the problems rather than destroy the system in part because of the intervention of a man with a wonderful outlook on life. The conflict between Striker knowing Margo is related to his friend and boss but being unable to reveal it to her offers a nice tension on its own. I even noted at one point that I hoped the informant wasn’t someone who had been mentioned but we hadn’t met yet, because there was potential for a later book dealing with that couple. From my notes, there is no question I was committed to the characters.

Basically, all the people and situation stuff is strong, raising questions and creating tensions that don’t feel artificial. There’s a lot going on in this book, with multiple people out to get Margo for various reasons that have to do with her doing her civic duty, punishing clear wrongdoing in creative ways, or just being herself. There is history, and history with an impact on the book’s present day.

Then, about 70% of the way through the book (yes, rather late, so it’s good the other stuff carried me), what had been all about sex on both sides for different reasons changed. The characters grew as they became aware of and accepted their feelings, but more than that, the description became intense. The analytical approach to their encounters vanished and not just with the sex scenes. Every encounter held real tension as they had something to lose.

I’m glad I stuck with the book, because by the end more than just strong characters offered a satisfying conclusion. I realized part of the problem was the action and suspense barely touched the main characters, who were in isolation doing little more than having uncomplicated sex all the time. It isn’t until they started accepting their feelings that the suspense plot and the risk to Margo turned real. So, ultimately, the book paid off and the characters are interesting people with a lot of history to manage. It just took a while for the sexual aspects/love story and the thriller plot to coordinate themselves, the last being largely the territory of people who will populate later books.

If you’re patient, it’s a worthwhile read, and I’d guess at least some of these issues will not show up in the later books as the setup is now known. It’s just a pity things were rough in the beginning. You also have to be open to hearing about some seriously dark stuff, as the portrayal of the characters’ lives does not stray far from the harsh realities of real life.

Note: This is an African American romance, so I did wonder if part of the disconnect in the beginning was different genre expectations. This is not my first, nor will it be my last, but the majority of my romance reading is “mainstream.” So bear that in mind as you consider my perspective.

P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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