THE DARKEST SURRENDER
(Lords of the Underworld #8)
Available September 27th
Received from publisher for review
Strider, keeper of the demon of Defeat and one of the Lords of the Underworld responsible for opening Pandora's Box, is big on winning. In fact, if he's challenged and loses–whether something big or small–he writhes in pain for days. To avoid this scenario, he tries to steer clear of people who might provoke his demon, but unfortunately the one person who challenges him most is a woman he finds himself unable to stay away from.
Kaia, a harpy and gifted fighter, wants a man who doesn't want her back. After being repeatedly shot down by Strider, she decides to turn all her focus and attention on the Harpy Games, a series of events where the different clans battle one another for supremacy and the honor of being the best and strongest fighters. Unfortunately for Kaia, she has an unpleasant history with her fellow harpies, a mistake as a child earning her the nickname The Disappointment, a moniker that's stayed with her for a thousand years.
When Strider learns Kaia is to fight in the games and would benefit from having a consort, a man who could support her and share blood with her in order to accelerate her healing, he lets his protective instincts take over and goes to her side. There, he learns that first prize is one of four artifacts that can destroy Pandora's box, and by extension the Lords themselves. Battling the desire to secure the artifact with his desire for Kaia, knowing stealing the prize would result in not only her banishment from her kind but very possibly her death, Strider enters into his greatest challenge yet.
The Darkest Surrender is the latest foray in the the realm of the Lords of the Underworld, a group of damaged and tortured alpha men so brilliantly executed their stories play out in crisp detail in our minds while our emotions are teased, tested, and tormented. Many times in a series of this length the books can become tired, following a set formula with characters and conflicts substituted in each installment, but Ms. Showalter manages to avoid this pitfall and keep us invested on every possible level. While there is the basic romantic formula of two characters with problems they must overcome in order to be together, each of the different relationships featured in this series feels unique, the romance progressing at a speed that suits both protagonists and their personalities, and the individual battles they fight forward the overall story arc beautifully. We are always left satisfied with the couple we've just read but are also undeniably craving the story of the next characters in line.
Kaia is perhaps one of the strongest heroines yet, her combination of sharp wit and even sharper claws with an underlying stark vulnerability making her a pleasure to read about. She doesn't play games or seek to hurt Strider through his demon as many a lesser woman might, instead making her feelings known despite the rejection she knows she'll face. She craves and desires him without ever crossing the line into pining, she supports him and his quest for the Paring Rod without smothering him or forcing her opinion on him, and she fights for what she wants while accepting the possibility that the outcome may not be in her favor.
Strider is a true match to Kaia in every way, meeting her strength and stubbornness with equal intensity and offering her the same blunt honesty she gives him. His truths are laced with a touch of unintentional insincerity, however, as he attempts to vehemently deny the depth of his attraction to her, thereby being truthful in mind while lying to himself in heart. The romance between the two of them is incredibly and deliciously slow-burning, the passion continually igniting and then being snuffed out with quickly exhaled breaths of fear on both sides until finally the flames begin to raze their impressive defenses, swallowing all the trepidation and hesitation with the incandescent burn of formidable love. As we read, we continually check the pads of our fingers for blisters the heat emanating from them is so strong, making the possibility of it manifesting itself physically through the conduit of the paper pages a very real one.
In addition to a gloriously tense and fully combustible relationship, Ms. Showalter also entertains us with her trademark sense of humor, forcing us to experience the gamut of emotions while reading as we laugh at their antics, ache at the emotional distance separating them, and then glory in the warmth of their happiness. Strider's continual self-adoration and mental ego-checks keep us giggling aloud as do Kaia's interactions with her hilarious sister Bianka, providing us comforting moments of levity in the midst of a very serious and dark world. A breathtaking cast of secondary characters rounds out this highly recommended read, giving us snippets of individuals whose stories have been slowly building book after book and are finally making the move toward center stage without ever overshadowing our leading couple.