by Charlotte Stein
Series: Dark Obsession #1
Published by Loveswept on July 21, 2015
Sub-Genre/Theme: Contemporary, New Adult
Format: ARC, Ebook
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I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley.
Beatrix Becker spent most of her life under the thumb of her controlling, abusive father. And now that she’s free and attending her dream college, she has no idea how to act like the normal crowd: partying, going on dates, even having a conversation. Then she meets Serge Sorensen. Big and surly with a whole host of riotous tattoos, Serge is supposed to scare the hell out of her. But beneath his harsh exterior, Beatrix discovers a kindred spirit who knows what it’s like to be a misfit. Most exhilarating—and terrifying—is what he does for a living: illegal street fighting.
There’s nothing like the rush Serge gets from the intense athleticism and brutal glory of combat—though his chemistry with Beatrix comes close. Slowly at first, he introduces her to his world, where he lives by instinct, passion, and desire. He even helps her out with her equally traumatized brother. But when Serge gets in too deep with the wrong people, he ends up paying in blood. And suddenly, just as Beatrix has been drawn into Serge’s perfectly sculpted arms, she’s thrown once and for all into the fight of his life.
If I sound like a broken record about Charlotte Stein’s books at this point, it’s because her writing is consistently good. I’ve realized that Stein has become one of my desert island authors, hands down.
There’s a theme in Never Loved that can be found elsewhere in Stein’s books–that of a heroine who has grown up with an abusive father. In Sheltered, the father is a religious zealot. In Never Loved, religion is not the motivator, but the abuse is no less regimented and sinister in nature.
Beatrix is a college student who has spent her life knowing what it means to fear. She has also spent that time trying to protect her younger brother, Tommy. Throughout their lives, following the death of their mother, their father regularly locked them in the basement as punishment, on top of inflicting physical and mental abuse every day.
When Tommy gets into trouble with the wrong people, Bea meets Serge, an imposing kind of guy who she probably should be afraid of. But when Serge offers to help Tommy with his troubles, Bea sees through Serge’s intimidating physical appearance into his goodness and kind heart.
Once, a guy helped me. He helped me without any expectations. Without demanding that I be grateful, or not frightened, or anything other than exactly what I was. He just did it, as though that is the way things are meant to be. People are meant to help people.
Bea has absolutely zero experience with men, but she is instinctively drawn to Serge. After an initial misunderstanding about Serge’s identity, she gets to know him better and finds herself intensely attracted to him, sexual inexperience be damned.
Even after Serge reveals how he makes a living–through underground fighting–Bea is not scared off. On the contrary, she only wants to know more. It’s through this curiosity that Bea learns about Serge’s past and discovers that the two of them have much more in common than she ever could have guessed.
Bea learns to trust her instincts about Serge even before their relationship becomes physical. Serge intentionally holds back in the beginning, especially since he’s aware of Bea’s inexperience. But the more she explores her desires, the greater her confidence grows, to the point where she becomes the initiator.
When I finally manage to speak, my voice is shaking. And they are not the words I ever imagined myself saying. They are the words of the person I am becoming.
Also present in Never Loved is Stein’s distinctive narrative voice. Serge and Bea fall for each other pretty early on in the story. I think I’ve said this before about Stein’s characters–even when they fall in love quickly, it’s written in such a way that, to me, doesn’t feel like insta-love. Because the writing is so deeply introspective, the emotions feel very credible. I know that first person, deep POV doesn’t work for all readers. However, I find it effective and genuine.
Something also worth mentioning is that this book probably falls into the New Adult category since Bea is in college (even though Serge is almost thirty). I’ve struggled with NA in the past, but honestly, while I was reading, the book didn’t strike me as a typical NA novel. I was too busy being emotionally invested in the relationship to slap labels on the book in general.
I loved seeing Bea’s transformation over the course of the story. Together with Serge, she discovers who she really is–and finds that she’s no longer a scared victim. She’s a survivor who welcomes risks in life, rather than running from them.
You have no idea how badly I want some kindness, and if you had never shown me any I would have stopped thinking about you the very day, the very minute, the very second, we met. But you know that isn’t true. You know that no one has ever been kinder to me than you.
Now that I’ve thoroughly gushed about what I liked, I think the only thing I didn’t like is that the resolution felt a bit rushed to me. On one hand, I was glad that the conflict wasn’t dragged out unnecessarily, but I think it could have been fleshed out a bit more. That’s probably the only complaint that I have and it’s a small one.
Ultimately, the writing here is a mix of brutal honesty about the characters’ traumatic pasts combined with wild hope for their future. I think that might be the thing that I love most: that although the characters have gone through their respective hells, they’ve found redemption through love. That’s a crazily optimistic and euphoric experience for me, as a reader.
In case it isn’t obvious at this point, I loved this book and highly recommend it.
Rating: 4 stars