Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I’m going to put this right here, right now: I think Skye Warren is a writing genius. There, I’ve said it. Now, I can move on. Warren is one of the first authors I read who took on the mantle of crafting universes for her characters. In past reviews for her other books, I’ve noted my excitement at her ability to weave in characters from prior books, so that you feel connected to this larger community. When a former character pops up, you know that Warren has taken care to drop us back into a community such as Tanglewood. For all of its darkness, Tanglewood is one of my favorite places BECAUSE Warren makes us want to live there. We want to meet Damon and Penny and Gabriel and Avery and Harlow and Christopher and Hugo and Bea and Blue and Hannah…and on and on. Warren makes us feel like we are life-long friends with her characters, and we hate to leave them. So…thankfully, Warren doesn’t make us.
Enter Sutton Mayfair, one of the devastated heroes in Warren’s Trust Fund series. When we left him, Sutton had been spurned by the loves of his life, Harlow and Christopher. Rudderless and grieving the end of his love affairs with these two, Sutton has fallen into despair, anesthetizing himself and his grief in alcohol. Having agreed to act as Christopher’s best man, Sutton feels overwhelmed and unprepared for that folly. One night, he meets Ashleigh, a prostitute, and he feels a connection with her. As Sutton engages in the wedding festivities for Harlow and Christopher, Ashleigh becomes his lifeline, and she awakens something in him that helps repair his broken heart. However, is it possible for these two to have a future given her occupation and his trepidation about relationships, given his broken heart? Is it possible for the bastard son of an abusive man to find a happy ending?
From its first pages, Warren makes herself known as a poet. There is a lyricism in her words. Since poetry seems to be one of the connections between Sutton and Ashleigh, it makes you wonder if Warren’s own prose becomes poetry as an inspiration for her characters. There were these moments of heavy prose that stirred my little lit student heart. With words like this: “[u]fortunately. Unfortunately, I’ll always be his friend. Unfortunately, there are knives carving the inside of me, writing patterns of loss on the slick side of my skin. ‘Yes,’” you fall deeply into this world of loss and restoration. Every page that turns, Warren’s prose lays bare Sutton’s fractured soul and offers up Ashleigh as his balm. Warren’s words become the catalyst for redemption in her story.
Even in its beginning, there is a tension in Sutton’s story. My heart hurt for him which made traveling through his story at times difficult. Even in the Trust Fund series, you vacillate between the emotion of his eventual rejection and the defenses he raises to protect himself from this rejection. There were times in the duet when I both despised him and hurt for him. Entering Mating Theory, I knew his journey would be a difficult one. I was curious how Warren would transfer our acceptance of Sutton with someone other than Christopher and Harlow. Interestingly enough, she does this with the act of empathy through the character of Ashleigh and the use of repetition to help us better understand his relationship with his past loves. First of all, Warren crafts Ashleigh in such a way that, while she is the youngest character, she reads as the wisest. She sees Sutton’s soul in ways that Harlow and Christopher failed. There is a moment on the day of Harlow and Christopher’s wedding that brilliantly exemplifies her care and compassion for him. It’s here where we begin to understand their connection to each other and its superiority over his relationships with Harlow and Christopher. Even more, Warren, through her use of repetition, illustrates his disconnect from the two. We realize that Sutton has idealized his bond with Harlow. Warren elucidates for us that Sutton doesn’t “know” Harlow as he supposed. Yet, Sutton recognizes Ashleigh’s pain and seems to see into her soul, into the essence of who she is. Warren imagines them as soul-mated, and it allows the reader to accept Sutton’s journey to love Ashleigh. This is necessary because we need to accept a love interest for Sutton beyond Christopher and Harlow, who have chosen each other before him.
For me, this story is Sutton’s story. Ashleigh is a wonderful heroine who is the catalyst for Sutton’s restoration, and she has a clear story in this book. But this is more about a happy ending for Sutton. Don’t get me wrong. I love Ashleigh as the heroine. Again, for me, she’s wiser than the older, more mature adults, and her story is a heartbreaking one. However, I showed up for Sutton. Skye Warren ameliorated Sutton’s life in such a way that the message of second chances is clear. Even after heartbreak, we can find a better path, a richer life, and a deeper love. Moving beyond his past, Sutton finds a brighter future, one he truly deserves. Honestly, I loved Mating Theory a bit more than Warren’s Trust Fund duet because Sutton and Ashleigh’s story could be any of our own.
In love and romance,