Vanquish by Pam Godwin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thankfully not as dark as the first, but still dark
This series deals with dark (as in pitch-black) subject matter. This second book details the attempted redemption of Van from the first book. In the first book he was unforgivable. Selfish. Cruel. He did incredible damage to Liv as well as over half a dozen others. Without remorse. Right at the end it seemed that, somehow, a tiny seed of a conscience had sprouted in one of the dark cracks of his soul. I was definitely intrigued, and couldn’t wait to read the second book to see how that played out.
True to form, Van struggles with his actions and feelings in this book. In the beginning he still stalks, physically and sexually abuses, manipulates, and disrespects boundaries. Given that is what he’s known his whole life, and what he was rewarded for/made to do as an adult, it makes sense. I don’t like it, but it makes sense.
Enter Amber. I thought it was pretty brilliant that the author wrote it so that, both of them profoundly damaged, they helped heal each other. Van consciously tried to help Amber whereas her helping Van was more subconscious/a side effect, but it helped all the same. It also worked because a healthy, well-adjusted individual never would have made it with Van- he simply would have been in prison. His initial actions toward Amber are shocking, and as a reader I couldn’t see how that was going to be forgiven. And quite honestly I did think the initial turn of the tide of Amber’s feelings toward Van was a little abrupt. After what he did to her in their initial (ahem) “encounter,” she softened toward him and willingly allowed it to happen again way too fast to be believable to me.
That said, clear character arcs are visible for Van, Amber, and even Liv with this book. Arguably, even for Josh. The suspense in this book isn’t due to a tangible villain, but instead the villains are the damage/mental illness of the two main characters. Usually I want an actual villain in my books, but this worked for me. I wasn’t on board with what I consider to be the physical abuse of Amber at Van’s hand, but to be fair that is a whole subculture that I don’t understand, and find completely unappealing. My being repelled by it doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. That said, if mutual consent isn’t achieved I do have a big problem with that. And, while the first time Van hauls Amber outside and punishes her he doesn’t seek consent first, the author does write about Amber’s subsequent feelings in response to it, and she is surprisingly okay with it. Again, not my cuppa and I sure don’t understand it, but hey… to each their own.
Outside of that component (which I just chose to overlook when it happened) I did enjoy the development of the trust between the main characters, and the gradual improvement in their disorders/issues. I also liked that Amber’s back story included multiple attempts at traditional medicine because that would have otherwise been my immediate reaction (“she needs a doctor, not a sadist!”). Since the author mentioned that Amber had tried that, unsuccessfully, it took that argument away. It became more of a situation where it was imperative that she do something about it, and fast, as she was an agoraphobe with no family or friends who was about to lose her home. To be dumped out onto the street in that condition with no support or hope would have been unfathomable. She never would have recovered from that. So it could be said that, as awful and misguided as Van’s initial intents/actions were, he saved Amber. And she saved him back. He was alone, and totally unable to build relationships (see his “relationship” with Liv in book one where he can’t figure out why she doesn’t love him back) until Amber came along.
All in all, this is a seriously dark read with triggers, but that’s not all it is. It doesn’t read as a book that is shocking strictly for the purpose of being shocking- there is more to it than that. And so if you can overlook those darker components I do recommend this for an interesting read about Van and Amber’s journey.
TRIGGER WARNING: non-consent, (what I consider to be) physical abuse, emotional abuse, mental and emotional illnesses, domestic abuse.
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Vanquish by Pam Godwin