Jack Dalton was born on the wrong side of the tracks. He never knew his father, and after his mother died, the only person he had left was his sister. He learned to make a living off his fists, first as a boxer and then a bodyguard. When Rockley, Jack's wealthy employer, cruelly murdered his sister, he tried to kill the man in revenge, but it all went wrong. Jack was caught and has spent the last five years in prison. When news reaches him from the outside that Rockley will be in a nearby town while hunting, Jack risks life and limb to escape. Going to the inn where he thinks Rockley is staying, he uses his skills as a former housebreaker to get into the room he thinks is being occupied by the man, only to find himself at the wrong end of a pistol being wielded by a beautiful woman.
Eva Warrick is an agent for a covert operation known as Nemesis, Unlimited. Together with her fellow cohorts, they seek justice for those who've been wronged and fallen through the cracks of the system. In an effort to help another girl who was hurt by Rockley, they planted information to get Jack to come to them. As Rockley's former bodyguard, they believe he may have information on Rockley that will assist them in their investigation, and as someone who also has an ax to grind with the man, they think he might be amenable to helping them. Jack turns out to be more untamable than they thought, but with a little coercion, they eventually gain his cooperation. All that wild masculinity heats Eva's blood and drives her to distraction. Despite his lack of finesse, she soon finds herself unable to resist Jack's raw sensuality, but when the mission is complete, she is determined there can be nothing more between them. Eva cannot leave Nemesis as it has become her lifeblood, and as a prisoner on the run, the only way for Jack to stay alive and free is for him to disappear.
Sweet Revenge is the first book in Zoe Archer's new Nemesis, Unlimited series. It is a gritty, historical, romantic suspense unlike anything I've read before. It is almost entirely set in the seedy underbelly of London during the late Victorian era, and most of the characters are anything but nobility. The only other romances I've read that even come close to this type of story are Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, but even they have some noble characters and more upper-crust settings. For this reason alone, Sweet Revenge gets extra points for uniqueness. I really like the premise for the series and how Nemesis, Unlimited is essentially a "Robin Hood" type of organization that helps people who fall through the cracks of the system to obtain justice and perhaps even a bit of revenge. The story gets off to a great start with an exciting prison break, immediately followed by the hero meeting the Nemesis agents, and from there, the action barely lets up throughout. This is a well-written and unusual book that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys lots of action and adventure in their romance.
To say that Jack is rough around the edges would be an understatement. He was a bastard who never knew his father and was born in the London slums where he grew up struggling merely to survive. After his mother passed away, the only person he had left was his sister, and they were very close. Jack grew into a big man who became a scrappy fighter, first earning his living in the boxing ring, and later, as a bodyguard to a wealthy man. When his sister was cruelly murdered by Rockley, the man for whom Jack worked, Jack tried to kill Rockley in revenge, but instead, was caught and spent five years in prison for his misdeed. Due in part to a little manipulation on the part of Nemesis, Unlimited, he escaped from prison, only to feel like he was being placed in another one when the Nemesis agents coerced him into working for them. After all that Jack went through in his life, it wasn't at all surprising that he was a hardened man, but he doesn't really have much softness in him at all. Every once in a while Jack shows some tiny chinks in his armor, such as when he went back for Eva when they first met and were running from the authorities, or when he exhibited some kindnesses toward children and the young woman Nemesis was helping, but overall, I prefer my heroes to show a little more vulnerability. He does have a tendency to put himself down, which Eva frequently corrects (he's far more intelligent and observant than most people, himself included, recognize), but in my opinion, he still didn't come off as being particularly tortured and rarely showed any emotion. While Jack's personality was certainly consistent with his background, I usually like my heroes, especially those in the historical genre to be a little more refined and gentlemanly. However, romance readers who love dark, dangerous, bad boys will probably eat him up.
Eva is a very unique woman, who in many ways, seems to think and act more like a man. She can shoot, fight and exact revenge every bit as well as her male counterparts in Nemesis. She is tough as nails and isn't really flustered by anything, including bearing witness to brutal violence. In fact, seeing Jack going head to head in a brawl kind of turns her on. Eva is very intuitive, which is something I typically love to see in a character, but in some ways, it felt overdone here. It was almost like she could intuit anything about Jack without him saying a word, which stretches the bounds of credibility. It also leads to a lack of uncertainty about the other person and eliminates the need for meaningful conversation, which to my way of thinking, is essential to building a true romance. The thing that bothered me the most about Eva though, is that she remains an enigma for the entire book. Even after turning the final pages, there are still things I don't know about her. I spent the whole story thinking that something more was going to be revealed, but it never was. She guards her heart almost zealously, like a woman who has been hurt in the past, yet nothing of that nature ever came to light. She has no fear of anything, and therefore, no real vulnerabilities, but I didn't know if this was simply a part of her nature or if she learned to be that way due to past experiences. The entire backstory of how she came to work for Nemesis was so cursory, it was over in a heartbeat and shed little light on her character. She is an extremely independent woman who lives alone and works to support herself, which was somewhat unusual for that time period, yet there is no explanation of why this is the case. With her parents being Christian missionaries, she came from a pretty conservative background, but she is obviously a hot-blooded, passionate woman who is anything but an innocent miss. In fact, she is said to have had several lovers before Jack, which seems not only at odds with her upbringing but also with the historical mores of the era, yet no explanation is given for her out of the ordinary sexual behavior either. There is something of a tacit admission that she only ever truly let her sensual side out with Jack, which left me wondering if her other lovers didn't satisfy her or what. When it came right down to it, Eva couldn't even admit that she loved Jack and wanted to be with him until faced with losing him entirely, and even then, it took her co-worker's intervention to get her to act on her feelings. Overall, Eva was a very closed off heroine who was somewhat frustrating to read about and rather difficult for me to connect with.
The other thing I thought was rather lacking was Eva and Jack's romance. I think they were both a little too much alike with their I-am-an-island personalities, which made it difficult for them both to express their feelings. It's abundantly clear that they were physically attracted to one another right from the start, but I didn't really sense anything beyond lust for most of the story. Their relationship simply lacks the kind of sentimental sweetness that I typically associate with romance. There are no loving words or romantic interludes between them. In fact, Eva is turned on by Jack's barely leashed savage nature and his straight-talking ways, which she likens to poetry. Unfortunately, neither of these things is a big turn-on for me, so I had a hard time understanding where she was coming from. Their love scenes are imbued with a raw and almost feral intensity that borders on the erotic, not because they're particularly rough or kinky in any way, but because they don't really express any emotion. It was a fiery, torrid sexuality that didn't really lend itself well to softer feelings or tender interactions.
As I mentioned before, Sweet Revenge is the first in a series. Readers are introduced to some of the other Nemesis operatives who could end up becoming main characters in future stories. My personal favorite was Simon who is slated to be the hero of Dangerous Seduction, the next full-length novel in the series due for release in November (2013). He was more to my liking, because of his gentlemanly behavior toward women, so I'll definitely be looking forward to reading his story.
Sweet Revenge was my first read by Zoe Archer, and I can't deny that overall, it was an exceptionally worthy effort if for no other reason than because of its originality. There is nothing else out there like it in the historical genre that I'm aware of, but despite that, I'm not entirely certain that it was quite my cup of tea. I'll admit that it kept my attention engaged, but the lack of relatable main characters prevented it from earning keeper status from me. However, the series premise, as well as the potential of Simon as a hero, has sufficiently intrigued me to continue with it when the next book is released.
Note: This book contains a significant amount of strong and/or explicit language that I've typically only seen in the erotic sub-genre and which may offend some readers.
I received an ARC of this book from the author via GoodReads FirstReads in exchange for an honest review.
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