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Book Review: These Twisted Bonds by Lexi Ryan

Book Review: These Twisted Bonds by Lexi Ryan

When it comes to duologies and and multi book series, it’s usually not the opening book that’s the most difficult to write. It’s the sequel that presents the biggest challenge for an author. They’ve already introduced their main characters and created a backdrop for the story. They’ve invited readers into their fictional world and – with any luck – left them yearning for more. Now they have to pen something that lives up to everything readers loved about the previous book, whilst offering up enough to make it not feel like a complete rehash. These Twisted Bonds, the conclusion to These Hollow Vows, might not hold the same intrigue, split loyalties and delicious tension of the first book in Lexi Ryan’s YA fantasy romance duology, but there’s still a lot for Fae fans to enjoy here.

Picking up exactly where the These Hollow Vows left off, we follow Abriella as she flees the Golden Palace after being betrayed by the faerie Prince Ronan – better known to readers as Bash. Hurt, furious and desperate to get as far away from the royal friend and lover she put her trust it, Brie finds herself in the Wild Fae Lands under the protection of the devilishly charismatic and telepathic King Misha. Brie might want nothing more than to never see Bash again, but with both the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court facing chaos and devastation, she doesn’t have the luxury of running away. Brie must confront both Bash and Finn, the rival faerie Prince vying for her heart, if she wants to help save the throne she’s unwittingly become bound to.

These Hollow Vows was all about bewitching world-building and conflicted loyalties. Brie despised the faerie realm but she loved Bash, and that – combined with her mission to save her cherished sister Jas – was what fuelled her decisions, for right or wrong. Now, with both her heart and her trust irrevocably wounded, Brie is no longer tied to her original allegiances. She might be bonded with Bash but she spends the best part of the novel either hating, resenting or pitying him, which turns the once self-possessed and compelling Prince into a bit of a pathetic character. Most of his time is dedicated to lamenting the loss of Brie, which translates to a lot of begging and sulking. If Lexi Ryan wanted to make readers lose any remaining empathy they might have still had for Bash, it very much worked. It’s just a shame his character had to lose all of his nuances in order to allow Brie to follow her heart.

Everything’s different. Now I know what it’s like to take a life and to lose my own. I know what it’s like to plunge a blade into the heart of a king and feel no remorse. I know what it’s like to die and be brought back through excruciating magic of a sacred faerie potion. I know what it’s like to love so deeply and have that love used against me.”

With Bash sitting on the sidelines for large chunks of the novel, there’s more time for Brie to explore her relationship with his Fae brother, Finn. He was a particular highlight in These Hollow Vows and he continues to be the best part of the story here too. Every page devoted to Finn is a page well spent, even if it does feel as if this concluding book prioritises the romance aspect over the overarching fantasy plot. And that’s the main thing that stops These Twisted Bonds from being quite as compelling as its older sibling. It lacks balance. There’s a lot of talk about having to make huge sacrifices but, until the final chapters at least, there’s very little sacrifice going on. There’s also an incredibly intriguing cast of characters, in particular the Wild Fae, but they don’t get nearly enough growth because any and all development is focused solely on Brie and Finn.

Most trilogies could easily have fitted into a duology but with this story, it’s the other way around. This is a duology that deserved to be a trilogy. These Twisted Bonds is a well paced story overall, but the end – whilst featuring a genuinely surprising twist – is rushed and the conflict too easily wrapped up. There’s not enough time dedicated to Brie learning to control her fascinating shadow power, and next to no page time devoted to the evil Queen threatening both courts. If readers are going to fear a villain, they need to actually see them in action. A few passing mentions and a brief appearance is not enough to make Bash’s mother feel like the big threat we’re supposed to believe she is. Finn’s merry band of misfits are also relegated to the background – considering how vital they were to Finn’s mission in the first book, their limited presence here feels like a genuine loss.

If you came to this sequel for the court intrigue and the complicated love triangle that made the first book such a stellar read, you might find yourself finishing the last page with some measure of disappointment. It’s Lexi Ryan’s fault for giving us such loveable characters – you can’t help but feel short-changed when they’re not given the page time or development they deserve. Yet for those devoted to the sexual chemistry and romantic shipping of Brie and Finn (honestly, who could have read These Hollow Vows and not fallen in love with their dynamic?), this book fulfils all those previously unfulfilled wishes and hopes. Nobody writes unbridled desire and tender pining quite like Lexi Ryan. So, whilst These Twisted Bonds isn’t quite the epic conclusion some readers would have been hoping for, it will still keep you pinned to those pages like your mortal life depends on it.

★★★½

These Twisted Bonds is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 19 July 2022

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