The premise of Kate Stewart’s Flock is a tale as old as time within the wonderful world of romance novels: girl moves to small town, girl meets boy, girl falls in love… but that’s where things start to get a little different. This is a novel that leans towards the darker side of romance, delivering a gritty, steamy take on the genre that offers plenty of mystery, suspense and grey areas to get lost in. But despite being billed as a modern day take on Robin Hood, Flock only offers hints about how that storyline will take shape. Instead, there’s no doubt that the heart of this novel lies in nineteen-year-old main character Cecilia’s social and sexual liberation, and that, coupled with the small town vibes, the simmering tension and the dangerous undertones felt throughout, make sure Flock is a wild ride of a novel that is almost impossible to put down.
When Cecilia Horner arrives in the small town of Triple Falls to live with her estranged father for a year, the plan is simple: she’ll keep her head down, work at his factory and leave a year later with her college tuition paid for and in the possession of a small fortune that will mean Cecilia can finally help her single mother in a significant way. What Cecilia doesn’t plan for is Sean, the sexy local she meets on her first day of work and who quickly introduces her to his mysterious close-knit circle of friends, including the quiet, enigmatic and devastatingly handsome Dominic.
With the year in Triple Falls to get through and an entire lifetime waiting beyond that, Cecilia decides that now is the time to shake off her cautious tendencies, let loose and embrace new experiences for her final summer of freedom – not to mention explore her growing feelings for both Sean and Dom. As sparks fly, Cecilia quickly learns that her summer of new experiences is leading her towards some thrilling new prospects and she’s determined to follow them all, even if the secrets that Sean and Dom are keeping threaten to bring down everything around her.
Even when I’d sensed the danger, I gave in. I didn’t need a single warning. I went in a willing captive. I let love rule and ruin me. I played my part, eyes wide open, tempting fate until it delivered. There was never going to be an escape.”
A lot of the conversation around Flock will tell readers that it’s best to go into this novel with no expectations and to just enjoy the journey for what it is, but honestly that advice feels like more of a consequence of the book than anything else. It’s difficult to have any substantial expectations for the plot of a book that actually has very little plot in it, and it isn’t until the final quarter of the novel that the action, as it were, finally begins to come into play. Before that, Flock is the definition of ‘no plot, just vibes’, centring on Cecilia’s growing closeness first with Sean and then later with Dom, who takes a little longer to let Cecilia into their world, and exploring the shifting relationship between all three of them. It’s a dynamic that’s a little dark, a little dangerous and entirely compelling, and the promise of exploring these connections and seeing how their dynamic shifts over time is more than enough to keep you turning those pages.
For a novel that relies so heavily on its characters and their relationships, however, the individual characters themselves are something of a mixed bag. Cecilia is strong-willed, bold and funny, but she’s also stubborn, naive and blinded by her feelings, which leads to her ignoring a lot of red flags as she dives deeper into her relationship. In fact, Cecilia is viewed almost primarily in relation to the men in her life, and these are men who either ignore her, impose questionable rules on their time together or keep her in the dark more often than not. Meanwhile, Cecilia herself rarely questions any of this and feels like more of a passive character within her own story – although, it should be noted that Sean and Dom in particular are very committed to making sure that Cecilia always has a choice.
As for the men in this novel, for the longest time they’re defined purely by a love of fast cars, parties and the tattoo they all share, while the secrets they’re keeping result in endless loops of clunky, cryptic conversation that Cecilia unsuccessfully attempts to unravel to find out more about this circle she’s found herself in. It makes for a frustrating read at times, and Cecilia feels this just as much as the readers. What begins as mystery is taken just a step too far into repetition, and when the answers finally start coming they’re revealed in lengthy chunks of dialogue in snatched moments between characters and delivered too close to the end of the novel for any impact to really be felt.
In this sense, Flock feels a little adrift and unfocused at times, unsure whether it wants to focus on the romance or the mystery and struggling to combine the two. For all its frustrations, however, there’s still something incredibly addictive about this novel and the self-proclaimed “dark twisted fairytale” story it’s telling. Although it opens with a framing narrative of an older Cecilia returning to Triple Falls after several years away in order to confront her past, the fact that this is quickly forgotten about is testament to the immersive nature of Stewart’s storytelling, even while it serves as a reminder that, however this story unfolds, readers are definitely in for a dark and twisted journey.
Flock is a quick, compelling and spicy read that ultimately leaves you wanting more, and it’s one that’s sure to appeal to fans of Penelope Douglas, particularly if you enjoyed Credence or the Devil’s Night series. If you like your romance novels dark, steamy and filled with tension, Flock is easily a story you can get lost in – and luckily for those readers that find themselves hooked and eager for more, that cliffhanger ending will quickly be followed by two more books in the Ravenhood Cycle set to hit shelves in the UK next year.
Flock was published by Pan Macmillan on 27 October 2022