The first novel in AE Rought's Broken series caught me completely off guard. I couldn't have loved it more, so when the chance came up to review the second, Tainted, I damn near bit Strange Chemistry's hand off. I should point out from the outset though, I'm not in the YA bracket this series is aimed at. Sadly, I'm A, not YA!
I have an unfortunate history of loving series openers, fan-girling them rabidly and then being massively disappointed in book two. This happened most notably with Rothfuss and Brett, and now I'm always conscious of it being a 'thing' with me. So when I started reading Tainted and found it was missing Em's narrative, I had to stop and have a little word with myself before carrying on. Don't you start now, Markham, give it a chance...
Tainted could not be more different from Broken if it tried. Gone is the slow, languid pace of Em's narrative, gone is the brooding, the swooning, the endearing clumsiness and the deliciously slow build-up to the breathtaking finale. In fact, gone is everything I shouldn't have loved about Broken, but did.
Alex is in the driving seat in Tainted, and his narrative is break-neck right from the start. He takes us through a much darker and crueller plot filled with twists and turns that fling the reader around relentlessly and don't give them so much as a second to sit back and relax. Rought appears fiercely, determinedly cruel to the characters in this one, and there's little time for happiness for either them, or us this time around.
It's ridiculously hard to write this one without spoilers. But I'll try. There's just SO much going on in Tainted you wouldn't believe the number of times I 'sharp intake of breath'd' - in fact, during one of the bigger shocks of the book I was halfway through a chicken baguette on a Brittany Ferry and nearly choked to death. I kid you not. It's like...an absolute explosion of plot that burns through the entire narrative. If you like your fiction fast-paced, you're going to love this one.
Every single character suffers. And every single character fights for what they believe in, in one way or another. And at the end, not all of them make it through. But for those who do, there is at least that one moment of peace, and of reflection, and, most importantly, of hope.
I had a bit of a Kathy Bates moment over one character who I really came to like, and who was given a double helping of adversity here, and that reminded me that although I might well have felt a little out of my comfort zone with the pacing and the perspective in Tainted, it clearly affected me almost as much as Broken because, bloody hell, I cried! (I'm 36, and ashamed, lol)
Really, when I come to think of it, Rought has been genius here. She's given us time and opportunity to fall in love with her characters in the first book, and she's put them through the ringer in the second, and because we love them we stick with them and feel bad for them and wave mental knives at her because we're hooked. Because we care. Any author who makes you genuinely care about their characters is onto a winner. And so, even though the style of this one isn't really my thing, and even though I was desperate for some kind of break in the pace, I can't deny that I enjoyed Tainted and that I'm just as eager for the next one. The difference between 'adored' and 'enjoyed' here is purely stylistic. I love these characters and want to see more of them.