Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
At first glance, CD Reiss’s Mafia Bride is simply a mafia romance, complete with an arranged marriage or kidnapped bride, a groom both violent and compassionate in equal measure, and a world replete with the customs and traditions of the “old country.” As you read, it feels 100% like a CD Reiss romance, a promise of sexualized violence at every turn of the page. Yet…yet, over halfway through the book, there is a change, a profundity slithers through the story. It becomes more insightful, and if you’re paying close enough attention, you’ll read Reiss’s tertiary intent for Mafia Bride. It becomes more quizzical and questioning. And it’s there where the heartbeat of this story lies, I believe. Reiss has a distinct voice in romance: aggressively alpha heroes with heroines who are intelligent but also a bit haphazard in their sense self. She mixes her heroes and heroines into worlds where $ex is supreme and aggressive and possessive, meant for the pure titillation of her readers, and you find yourself like any voyeur watching an accident on the highway/freeway – you can’t turn away because the destruction is delicious. But…but there is always some gravity floating beneath the surface of her stories, something “more” than pure titillation and destruction. For me, Reiss is a romance writer who uses the framework of romance to challenge societal ills. A book such as Mafia Bride (and the other two books of the DiLustro Trilogy) is never “just” a mafia romance; it’s an opportunity to magnify something deeper than the brazen acts of fornication that you’ve come to expect from her stories. In Mafia Bride, she is challenging the ideas of tradition and culture, gender norms, and identity.
Everything you love about mafia romance with an arranged marriage is here: the violent challenges of the mafia world, the scared and virginal, but also defiant heroine, and the mafioso hero who is ready to raze the world on her behalf even though he hides that weakness. In Mafia Bride, Violetta’s voice is the strongest, mostly because Reiss provides her with more chapters than the hero, Santino. This does two things: (1) it leaves the reader in the dark for a majority of the story, and (2) it makes you pine for Santino’s POV. There is one word for this first book of the trilogy: slow. Unlike her other stories, the physicality of Mafia Bride is more threat than reality. You will wait. Additionally, in offering more of the story through Violetta’s voice, like Violetta, we are not instantly privy to the details. The pace of the story feels fast, even though the details are divulged slowly. In fact, in the end, in the face of a devastating cliffhanger, you still don’t know too much about Santino. For me, this feels natural to this trilogy. Mafia Bride is delicious decadence in its storytelling.
Now…the depth of the story is its charm. So, we live in a society right now that is trying to find better ways of viewing tradition and culture. In upending pervasive cultural norms, people are attempting to find new identities, new ways of thinking about identity. In a way, Reiss considers this challenge and journey through the scope of Violetta. There are epiphanies in this story that rock Violetta’s foundational beliefs, and it allows the story to explore mafia romance in more meaningful ways. It is in this space where I fell in love with Mafia Bride. Until these moments, I weaved through Reiss’s story, fully expecting more but ready to accept the story she wrote. I know there are two more parts of the story for Violetta and Santino, but at the beginning of Mafia Bride, it was like every other mafia romance.
Until it wasn’t.
Reiss does what she does best: she surprises you. She made my lit brain turn on, and, whether it was her intent or not, I started to see allusions to the challenges of our society. It was there where my excitement and interest in this trilogy grew.
Needless to say, I’m ready for more of the DiLustro Trilogy. Be prepared: you will not have the answers to this story. You will end CD Reiss’s Mafia Bride with more questions and a greedy soul, ready for more Violetta and more Santino.
In love and romance,