Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Tell me three things that you are grateful for right now…
- That Ilsa Madden-Mills transitioned from teaching into writing romances.
- That Ilsa Madden-Mills writes heroes who are incredibly masculine but borderline empaths. They are either seen by their heroines or they see their heroines.
- That I’m an ARC reader on Ilsa Madden-Mills’s ARC team.
It would be easy to say, based on the book’s blurb, that Ilsa Madden-Mills’s The Revenge Pact is only a story about loving from afar and a revenge pact for the heroine’s boyfriend’s breakup of their relationship. And her characters point to that revenge pact quite a few times, but this book is much more than that storyline, and this book reminds me once again why I adore Madden-Mills’s romances. There is this pattern with her stories where the first portion of the book seems light. There is usually a level of humor between her heroes and heroines that make you believe her story will be more rom-com than contemporary romance or sports romance. Yet, that isn’t true at all. For this book, Madden-Mills’s stylistic bent works well towards one of the ideas behind the book: that first impressions or perceptions of someone aren’t really the whole truth about a person. It’s one of the first things you observe about River and Anastasia’s interactions. Ana believes she “knows” River when, in fact, she doesn’t. As River lowers his walls around her, and Ana engages with him more deeply, she finds out quickly that River is layered and more complex than she initially perceived. Through this journey, Madden-Mills moves her readers from these very surface-level interactions of anger and disdain between them to something more serious, more emotionally visceral. The intentionality behind this plotting infuses a seemingly romantic comedy with a depth that portends a more soulful connection between these two. Madden-Mills does this over and over again in her stories, and it never gets old for the reader. Her romances become a bit of a “bait-and-switch” in the sense that you expect humor and lightness between her characters, but that quickly evolves into stories with truths about the human condition that steal little pieces of your heart. Each book she writes, The Revenge Pact included in this, makes me grateful that she transitioned from teaching into writing books because she offers up little pieces of herself in her stories for people like me, reminding me of the power in writing about love.
In terms of her storytelling, The Revenge Pact also reminds you that Ilsa Madden-Mills has impeccable plot timing. I’ve read too many books where the author lacks this ability, and the story’s tension absolves at the wrong time. Your feelings move from anticipation to frustration with those stories. That isn’t the case with The Revenge Pact. While this would be constituted as a bit of a “slow-burn,” Madden-Mills has drawn River and Anastasia’s story with impeccable timing. It feels right for their journey, even when the pain of separation feels burdensome for the reader. Nothing feels rushed or drawn out between River and Anastasia; it simply feels right. This is a testament to Madden-Mills’s prowess in articulating the heroic journeys of her characters. This is another aspect of her writing that I am grateful for.
Along with all of that is Madden-Mills’s capacity to write characters in ways that both entertain and challenge her readers. The Revenge Pact illustrates Madden’s adeptness at writing romantic heroes and heroines who are interesting. Her heroines such as Anastasia are quirky, compelling, and usually incredibly independent. Oftentimes, they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They don’t complain about it; they simply take each day as it’s presented to them. In the world of Braxton University where River and Ana find themselves, that world is fraught with mean girls, socioeconomic conflicts, frat boy honor codes, and societal expectations. IMM’s Anastasia easily navigates these issues even when they weigh heavily on her. When she fully sees River, Madden-Mills’s hero, he enters her life and begins to unburden her of that weight. With her careful characterizations, Madden-Mills helps you understand how soulmates work. Even more, through her drawing of River, Madden-Mills exemplifies her best trait as a romance writer: the craftsmanship of a romantic hero. This is a balancing act for mostly female romance writers. I believe that many romance readers of heterosexual romance want their male heroes to read as masculine. Some of us adore alpha-holes even. Yet, we also love a man who underneath his masculinity lies an empath, someone who recognizes the depth of being in his heroine. River is so complex in The Revenge Pact because he, for one, is an uber-representation of maleness as a star football player. Yet, integrity is important to him. Taking care of others bleeds from him. He has an innate ability to see people and anticipate their emotional needs. As Madden-Mills constructs him as such throughout this story, he maintains his sense of what it means to be male without undoing it. His ability to see Anastasia’s truth is the beauty of their story. In the way that Ilsa Madden-Mills constructs these two, their journey together becomes this fated, gorgeous story of choosing love even when the odds are set against them. If you could see the highlights of my story, you would note the bounty of romance that Madden-Mills has brought to this book. River and Anastasia will absolutely steal a little bit of your book soul.
I am grateful for The Revenge Pact. I am grateful for its lessons about choices. I am grateful for its expression of soul-abiding love. I am grateful for an author who seems as though she pours a little bit of her soul into her stories so that her stories can steal little pieces of mine as a way to give back to her. I am grateful for a story that, quite frankly, focuses us back on gratitude in the small things because living during a pandemic can steal our gratitude. The three things I have for you today, dear reader: choose love, run and grab The Revenge Pact and fall in love with Ilsa Madden-Mill’s River and Anastasia as I have, and remind yourself of three things you’re grateful for today.
In love and romance,