Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️++
“I signed on for you, whatever that means, wherever that takes us.”
Throughout my life, I’ve read the works of women whose books infected my soul with their truths. From Austen to Alcott to Morrison, these women infused the truth of their own societies into their storytelling in a way that challenged my thinking and left me altered. It’s these moments when writing is most powerful when people’s truths are articulated decidedly, as a willful act for change. It’s hard to believe that the genre of romance, so often ridiculed for its light and erotic fare, could proffer these same lessons, these same truths. And yet, we see it often. Kennedy Ryan is flaying her soul open and offering us the, often painful, truths of our time. Her most recent book, The Rebel King, along with its counterpart, The Kingmaker, leaves its poignant mark on the romance community and on our thinking. At least, like my favorite books of my youth, she’s made me question my thinking on privilege, the climate, politics, and the necessity to connect your soul with another’s.
The Rebel King, the second book of her duet, All the King’s Men, is the place where you, the reader, fall more deeply in love with Maxim and Lennix. The Kingmaker introduces us to their character, their passions, their burgeoning love. The Rebel King sets us on their journey towards building a future together, replete with action, suspense, political campaigns, and sensual bedroom action. There is something here for everyone.
At its core, and at its best, Ryan’s The Rebel King’s hero and heroine are its endurance. Is there anyone like Maxim? He is a controlled heroic characterization of intellect, alpha-male, sensitivity, sensuality, emotional adeptness, etc. Above all of that, he’s sweet. He washes Lennix’s hair, meets her needs WELL in the bedroom, and he makes her a priority. Maxim’s character has the soul of a poet. In him, the man of white privilege, we find the rule, not the exception. Ryan crafts him to illustrate the best response to marginalized people from a person in his position. And she completes this with one of her swooniest male heroes to date.
Without Lennix, there is no essence of Maxim. These two are soulmates, the yin to the other’s yang. Lennix’s passion and fire match Maxim’s passion and fire. They are wholly complete in each other. What I love most about Lennix’s character in this book is her need to maintain her identity. Maxim’s charisma dominates the room, yet Ryan makes space for Lennix as his complement and his contrast. She’s bold, intelligent, unapologetic, effective, resolute, and Maxim’s perfect match. I believe Olivia Pope of Scandal provided a minor influence for this character. From my perspective, Lennix’s character is better. She isn’t petty, and she thoughtfully considers the best for Maxim, sometimes at the expense of her own happiness. These soulmates sense the needs of the other and provide it without question, without personal needs being met. Time and time again, I felt deliciously overpowered by their love and adoration for each other.
In terms of other characterizations in The Rebel King, Ryan creates gradients of character. In the Kingmaker, Warren Cade seems the villain. His dislike of Lennix and his inability to accept Maxim’s life choices make him unlikeable. Yet, after this book, Ryan carefully illustrates true evil. She makes it possible for the reader to accept Warren Cade when it’s appropriate for the story. She carefully creates the gray area of character as a reminder that most of us are flawed in our intentions, yet most of us still exude humanity.
Even more, Ryan is inclusive in this world. She recognizes all points of view, shining a magnifying glass on our differences. While she might privilege some of them, she does so through the logic and clarity of her research. It’s clear, in this book and the former one, that she is well-read for the politics of her book. It makes her credible and lends believability to her characters. We are challenged by them. The diversity of thought in this story isn’t overbearing; instead, it seeks to remind us that sides can disagree, but harmony can be reached through mutual respect and the need to listen. This is a necessary lesson of Ryan’s book for our world today.
Beyond her characterization, her story, and her message is Ryan’s style. It’s important to note because it is one of the driving forces of her writing. There is an intentionality in her writing choices. To ramp up the tension at the beginning of The Rebel King, she shortens the chapters. This adds tension to the action. She is a magician with words so elemental to her storytelling that it’s become an expectation of her writing now. She uses the eloquence of language to build Nix and Maxim’s lovemaking, the tragedy of this book, and the urgency of its action. Whether it’s alliteration or metaphor or allusion, Ryan’s words, her style, drive the meter of this romance, feeling as though the pages turn themselves.
Time and time again, Kennedy Ryan reminds me of my favorite female authors of the past. Her insistence on finding a voice TODAY for the marginalized, for women, for anyone who struggles feels necessary and honest. I was absolutely looking forward to The Rebel King, but, quite honestly, I didn’t expect to come away with it attached to my mind, heart, and soul. This book is about the tattoo on Maxim’s body: endurance. In The Rebel King, Kennedy Ryan is reminding those of us who are troubled by our world, fearful for the future, that we can and will endure, working towards making it better. Just as those who have come before us, endurance is the key to fighting the good fight and loving with all of our souls.
In love and romance,