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Book Review: From Lukov With Love by Mariana Zapata

Book Review: From Lukov With Love by Mariana Zapata

The words ‘TikTok Sensation’ feel like they accompany nearly every new book on the market at the moment, but when it comes to Mariana Zapata’s From Lukov With Love, newly-published in the UK over four years after it was originally self-published by the author, it’s a term that definitely feels justified. Step into the romance community of any BookTok or Bookstagram account, and it won’t be long before you find a post celebrating Zapata’s enemies-to-lovers slow-burn romance and, after finally getting a chance to pick up this novel for myself, it’s not hard to see why.

After seventeen years of training, competing and performances, figure skater Jasmine Santos knows that her window to compete professionally is coming to a close. The last few years have seen her struggling to place in podium positions and making the switch to the teams category before her partner Paul went on to drop her to work with another skater instead, leaving Jasmine to struggle through what she sees as some of the worst years of her life. That all could change, however, when skating champion Ivan Lukov approaches with the offer of a lifetime: Jasmine and Ivan will partner up for one year only, and at the end of it Ivan will help Jasmine find a new partner.

Working with the arrogant, handsome idiot who’s been tormenting her for the last decade won’t be easy, but it’s worth it for Jasmine to get another chance at competing in the sport she loves. Faced with a year of all-day training sessions, endless workout schedules, new routines and endless one-on-one time with her aggravating new partner and former bane-of-her-life, however, Jasmine learns that she might have to reconsider everything about her figure skating career – including Ivan Lukov himself.

I didn’t want someone to pat my cheek and tell me everything was going to be okay. I wanted this man who would never take my shit, who would never let me quit, and I had a feeling would never quit on me. Not ever.”

On its premise alone, the appeal of From Lukov With Love is undeniable. An enemies to lovers sports romance holds with it the promise of some brilliant tension, and for the most part this book delivers. Jasmine and Ivan’s relationship is built on snippy comments, the exchange of insults and a whole lot of forced proximity to give these two characters enough time to spend together so their feelings can shift and their heated arguments can develop into tongue-in-cheek, playful banter that both Jasmine and Ivan feel comfortable dishing out and taking.

When the novel finally gets to a place where that understanding is reached, the slow burn of their relationship is an utter joy to read and experience. The journey that Jasmine and Ivan go on from partners to friends to more, and the build of trust, affection and support they begin to share, is beautifully done – but the relationship develops so gradually that the shift in feelings between them is almost as much of a surprise to the reader as it is to Jasmine herself. Zapata works hard to build the chemistry between the pair and solidify their trust in each other and their friendship before it ever progresses into anything romantic. But it’s a groundwork that’s so solidly built that it’s debatable whether that romantic connection is even needed, as Jasmine and Ivan’s friendship feels entirely earned and gratifying in and of itself.

The trouble is, From Lukov With Love really is a slow burn, but it’s one that lacks any of the excitement. The first half of this novel doesn’t feel like the romance novel it advertises itself as at all, and instead focuses entirely on Jasmine as an individual, documenting her struggles with her anger, her lack of self confidence and her bitterness over the way her career has turned out. Jasmine’s drive and determination to succeed is inspiring, and the book’s overall focus on the idea of being better and doing better by embracing the things you love, making time for the people you love and letting go of all the things that hold you back is in itself a story worth reading. The second half of the novel, meanwhile, shifts that focus, honing in on the development of Ivan and Jasmine’s relationship, introducing lighter, fluffier scenes of domesticity and training as Ivan pushes to get to know Jasmine on a personal level too.

There are two great stories wrapped up in From Lukov With Love, but it doesn’t always feel like they necessarily mesh well together. The story is overly long, repetitive at points and feels disjointed at times too, veering so wildly between personal and professional conflict that the narrative can feel abrupt and jarring. This novel is stronger when it focuses on Jasmines journey of growth, forgiveness and understanding, not least because Jasmine’s first person perspective throughout doesn’t give readers a chance to get inside Ivan Lukov’s head at all. Its the romance in this novel that makes it an internet favourite, however, and while Jasmine and Ivans development as a couple is a slow burn that is, ultimately, worth the payoff (even if it is only brief), if you pick up this book solely for the romance element you will probably be disappointed.

Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable story anchored by a main character who’s spiky, direct and honestly just refreshing to spend time with, and whose love of ice skating and passion to succeed is present in every page. At nearly 500 pages, From Lukov With Love is a bit of a commitment, but if you’re looking for a contemporary sports novel with a lot of heart, passion and an undertone of hate to love romance simmering in the background, this is the book to pick up.


From Lukov With Love was published by Headline Eternal on 30 August 2022

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