Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
“We’re combined in the most elemental way. We’re forged in fire in front of that hearth, as bright as the stars. We move together, ocean waves pulled by the moon, salt licking at the sand. In that moment of blinding heat, we find forever.“
There is just something special about Skye Warren and her dark romances. She finds this way of taking heroes, well, actually anti-heroes, and cajoling us through her word and style to embrace them. She places them alongside incredibly capable, intriguing, empowered women who, at first glance seemingly under the spell of the hero, are actually the impetus for humanizing her anti-hero. Through this process, as one of her devoted readers, you find yourself torn between loving and hating her hero. It’s this struggle that engages you in her storytelling until she offers you respite in a happy ending of sorts. Skye Warren and Amelia Wilde’s newest tome, Audition, is no different, and it makes for a slow-burning, fraught, sexy, devil of a reading ride.
Warren intertwines her characters, Joshua and Bethany, in her books, Concerto and Sonata, the two books preceding Audition. Their chemistry is palpable in those books, yet Warren gives us little more than their devout attraction to each other. Going into Audition, we really have little more than their inability to stay away from each other and Josh’s propensity towards protecting Bethany. As you traverse Audition, you recognize quickly that Audition is a “second-chance” romance, as Bethany and Josh have a past. These two have history, and their history informs their present and potential future. In this story, Bethany has received letters from a possible stalker. Worried over her safety, Josh insinuates himself into her life as protection. However, given that he’s a Warren hero, he “can’t” be with her. Everything in his being is drawn to her, but his past and sense of self compel him to deny himself of his interest in her. This situation creates quite a story of unspoken dreams and love and tension. Is it possible for Joshua North to love Bethany? Will he ever allow himself to do so? Can they find their happy ending?
Additionally, beyond their romance, Warren and Amelia Wilde have crafted Bethany as a woman desired for her body and talent. She illustrates womanhood fraught with her purpose in life. She’s someone who has fought for her talent and art while struggling with the challenges of an impoverished daily living. There is an innate discussion in Audition about suffering for one’s art, about only being seen as a body, not a person, and about one’s worth. Through the characterization of Bethany, we must question whether our power comes from our appearance or our internal beauty. As a dancer, Bethany struggles to be seen as someone more, to be taken seriously for her talent and intelligence.
Along with this discussion of the objectification of women is a deeper discussion about the influence of our past on our present. If you haven’t read the first three books of the North Security series, this is a bit of background. It’s not a spoiler necessarily, but it does inform Joshua and his brother, Liam’s, stories. The North boys encounter horrific abuse as children at the hands of their father. It changes their chemistry, and it impacts the decisions of their present and future. In the character of Joshua, we see the power of this abuse in his inability to acknowledge love. He seems broken. I’m always reticent to write that, though, as it isn’t that he’s broken; instead, he’s changed. He’s complicated. And he’s a lock. He’s closed up and locked up that he moves through life emotionally repressed. It’s these traits that exemplify him as a Warren hero. There is only one key that can unlock the deadbolt of Joshua North, much as we see with Warren’s other heroes, and the key to the lock resides in Bethany. Their chemistry, their reticence around each other, and the denial of their passion for each other is the compelling force of Audition’s romance.
As Warren and Wilde move us through Bethany and Joshua’s romance, they use the tension of their denial to drive each chapter forward. On the one hand, you hate turning the page because the abuse meted out on Bethany through Joshua’s dismissal of her feels painful. Yet, the reader intuits his love and interest in Bethany even when he refuses to declare it. It’s the promise of his revelation of his feelings for her along with his acceptance of those feelings that keep you turning the page. Even in the midst of the darkest places of the romance, it’s the kiss of that promise that keeps you engaged. Once I picked up Audition, I couldn’t put it down even though Josh made it difficult to read for its emotional turmoil. Yet, this is the genius of Warren and Wilde. When you think you can’t take any more of their story, they craft nuggets of hope in order to endure it. And that’s the pay-off. For me, the emotional roller-coaster of the storytelling makes a romance “good.” Audition exemplifies what makes dark romance a profound sub-genre of romance.
There were a couple of moments in the chronology of the storytelling where I found myself confused. Given that the storytelling utilizes flashback chapters to offer us the depth of Bethany and Josh’s story, it’s not uncommon for this to happen. Overall, however, I found myself engaged and invested in their story. To be honest, it was refreshing to read a North Security story that began and ended in the same book. And Bethany and Joshua’s stories are important ones. They are reminders to find our worth from within, dependent on character traits such as perseverance, intelligence, and compassion, not the traits of our outer beauty. The emotional characterization of Joshua’s background is also an admonition about child abuse and the toll it takes on the development of a child. People aren’t broken; instead, they are forever changed in ways that can be devastating. Together, though, Bethany and Joshua find wholeness, a completed soul. It’s the beauty of their coupling that makes Skye Warren and Amelia Wilde’s Audition a must-read to end 2019.
In love and romance,