Posted in: AztecLady Reviews, Caine's Reckoning
Tags:Hell's Eight, Sarah McCarty
I have known Ms McCarty for a while—at least in the sense of online interactions—but I confess that I hadn’t read any of her work until now. However, after reading all 472 pages of Caine’s Reckoning overnight, in one sitting, I find myself hooked. I will definitely be reading more by her—I can barely wait for the release next month of Sam’s Creed, the second installment in her Hell’s Eight series.
Set in the Texas Territory the mid 1800s, Caine’s Reckoning is marketed as an “erotic adventure” right on the cover, but for my money this is an excellent character study more than anything else—though it is a really good romance in its own right. I have to warn readers that there is also some violence—both the blood and gore kind, on screen, and sexual violence, in Desi’s memories.
Here is the back cover blurb:
The Hell’s Eight is the only family he’s ever needed, until he meets the only woman he’s ever wanted…
Caine Allen is a hardened Texas Ranger, definitely not the marrying kind. But when he rescues a kidnapped woman and returns her to town, the preacher calls in a favor. One Caine’s honor won’t let him refuse.
From the moment he beds Desi, Caine knows turmoil will follow. Desi might have the face of a temptress, but she also has a will of iron and while she needs his protection, she’s determined that no man will control her again. They establish an uneasy bond, but it isn’t enough for Caine. He wants all Desi has to offer. He wants her screams, her moans, her demands… everything. Yet there’s still a bounty on Desi’s head, and keeping her sexually satisfied is proving easier than keeping her alive.
It is very difficult to discuss the book without giving some of the plot away, so if you are one hundred percent spoiler phobic you should not read this. Really, don’t.
Okay, with that out of the way…
It takes a few chapters, but we quickly learn what happened before the novel starts: Desdemona aka Desi has survived much more in her short life than most people could. After being raised in the lap of luxury back East, her parents and brother are massacred by Comancheros right in front of her and her twin sister. Both of them are then raped and beaten and abused for a while, until a group of white men “rescue” her by buying her from her captors—leaving her sister behind.
Desi feels by turns guilty that she was saved instead of her sister, and hopeful that now that she’s free she can get her saviours to go back for her sister. Until the reality of her situation is made clear to her: turns out these men bought her in order to abuse her themselves, and use a crooked circuit judge to declare her incompetent and name one of them as her guardian. For the next year or so Desi exists as a sex slave for them all, chained to a bed, starved, beaten, abused and degraded, almost succumbing to hopelessness.
Then something unthinkable happens: a group of outlaws raids the town where she’s been held, and they take Desi along with a trio of “respectable” wives. The townspeople call on a group of Texas Rangers, known as the Hell’s Eight, to bring their womenfolk back, and Desi’s desperate situation—and her bleak outlook of life—are turned upside down.
Caine and the rest of Hell’s Eight have a long history together, which is touched very briefly by Ms McCarty. They were all orphaned some fifteen years ago during a bloody attack that pretty much obliterated their town. In order to survive, they banded together and little by little found a way to create a better life for themselves, creating a family in the process.
From the point of view of structure and whatnot, I would say that there are a few inconsistencies in the book—nothing major, things like Caine and the others waiting for weeks before sending someone to track Ari, Desi’s sister, down even though they know her situation, if she’s alive, is beyond desperate. Also, the men’s background and their current circumstances are a bit too sketchy, particularly when compared to Desi’s backstory.
There are also a couple of other plot threads left hanging, clearly meant to be followed in successive installments, as part of the overall plot arc of the series.
All that, however, fades when compared with Caine and Desi’s characterization—particularly hers.
How far can a person be driven by desperation? How far can negative past experiences scar and damage one’s soul? How much influence does one’s upbringing have on one’s perception of oneself? How does a passionate and sensual person regain her sense of self after being abused for so long? All of those questions are explored and answered with Desi, in ways that resonated profoundly with me.
Desi’s nature is anything but passive, yet her spirit has been almost extinguished by the abuse. More than simply the sexual abuse, it is the emotional one that has taken the bigger toll on her soul. Unexpectedly, in an instant, she finds herself a (respectable) wife instead of a whore; further, she is now married to a man who will protect her with his life, living among people who will follow his lead simply because she is his…
Suddenly nothing makes sense when compared to the hell that her life has been for the past year, and she has to fight against her knee jerk reactions, her memories, her fears and her assumptions to reach a measure of inner peace. For his part, Caine won’t be satisfied with half measures; he wants the sum total of who Desi is inside, and that means her facing her demons, sharing them with him, and trusting him not to abuse this knowledge.
In her life before, Desi was raised to be a decorative and “proper” wife. In context, this means a truckload of baggage regarding sexuality. She was supposed to submit—without deriving any enjoyment—to her husband’s base nature, because that was part of marriage and the burden of wives. Her mother stressed this to Desi for years because apparently she feared that Desi wasn’t as proper inside as she should have been.
After her captivity, Desi doesn’t know how to feel about her physical reaction to Caine. Are these feeling appropriate (i.e., normal) or a consequence of the sexual abuse (i.e., she’s now a whore through and through)? Even worse, are her sexually submissive responses natural or a perversion? And if she gives in to her desires, if she lets go… will Caine accept her or shun her?
Regardless of the time frame, frank conversations on sexuality between partners do not seem to be the most common thing, hence I could very well relate to Desi’s inner conflict. Caine’s reactions were equally human, for me. He knows that he may well hurt her more as he tries to help her; he doesn’t delude himself into thinking that he has all the answers to every question. Yes, he’s a confident man in most areas of his life—he’s had to become a self assured individual simply to survive, let alone to carve a place for himself and his chosen family in such a hostile land. But he is intelligent enough to doubt himself when it comes to Desi.
There is plenty of graphic language and sexual descriptions in this novel, which may shock some readers out of the story. As far as I’m concerned, though, these scenes both further and highlight Desi and Caine’s developing relationship, the deepening of the trust between them, and their increased understanding of themselves and each other.
The dialogue is another hit with me—there are no flowering speeches, no long winded expositions. Most of it is short and to the point. Here’s one snippet from relatively early in the book; Desi is pleading with Caine to let her go, for both their sakes.
“If you let me go, they’ll leave you alone.”
“If I let you go, you’d have no protection.”
“I could hide.”
“Sweetheart, no matter where you ran, men would find you and you’d be back in bed.”
“I don’t want a man.”
“I don’t remember mentioning that you’d be there willingly.”
Caine is not mincing words, nor is he exaggerating; in that time and place, that would be exactly what would happen to Desi. Again.
The rest of the characters are less well developed, with less screen time, but there is enough interaction with three or four of the other Hell’s Eight to make them intriguing. The reader is left wondering whether they’ll find Ari or not, and under which circumstances; whether they succeed in making their ranch a going concern vs scraping by and saving every penny. We want to know how Tracker got his scar and why Ed is around.
The villains, who tend to be the weakness in many a novel, have little on-screen time, and are therefore rendered with broader strokes. They are still very human—with one exception, they are simply dishonorable and greedy, instead of cartoonish, black and white eeeeeeeevil. The other exception… let’s just say that he’s one of the threads left dangling for future installments.
Caine’s Reckoning gets 9 out of 10 from me, and Ms McCarty has a new squeeeeeeing fangrrrrl
(Karen’s review is here, if you are interested)