Ashwin (Gideon's Riders Series #1)
Kit Rocha / March 7, 2017 / $14.99 print, $4.99 digital
The start of a new series is a tricky thing. It’s not any easier when it’s the extension of a wildly popular, erotic romance series whose rabid super fans are ready and eager to consume every new volume. How do you satisfy the unique elements of a new series while, at the same time, remaining true to the loyal readers who have brought you this far? How do you attract new readers to a dystopian, post-apocalyptic series without losing those same dedicated fans?
Well, fear not. Ashwin kicks off the new Kit Rocha series, Gideon's Riders, and boy, howdy, does it not disappoint.
Ashwin’s core story is about the long germinating relationship between the deadly Makhai soldier, Lieutenant Ashwin Malhotra, and the extremely skilled Doctor Kora Bellamy.
Kora and Ashwin have been dancing around the fringes of the O’Kane stories since Beyond Temptation. Ashwin’s back story is brutal and murky. Designed since before birth to be the perfect, emotionless soldier, he has no toolbox by which to deal with emotions when and if they arise within him. He is wired to purge any and all emotion so that they don’t compromise either his mission or his loyalty. Makai soldiers are also at danger of fixating on a person, taking obsession to perilous extremes, that can end in death for both the soldier and the object of their obsession. Sometimes, these deaths are orchestrated by the military base commanders. Sometimes, they’re the tragic result of the relationship.
Since their debut in Beyond Temptation, Kora has, for a long time, been what Ashwin has considered to be his greatest weakness. At the end of the BEYOND series, Ashwin had determined that his feelings for Kora were too consuming to be allowed to continue. After he barreled through a combat zone, taking down dozens of combatants single-handedly in order to reach Kora who was at the heart of the battle, Ashwin took himself back to the base and insisted on a savage pharmaceutical regimen that would reset his parameters and purge Kora from his psyche.
Or so he thought. When his new mission puts him right at the heart of Sector One to infiltrate the notorious warriors known as Gideon’s Riders, the brutally loyal, fanatically warriors of Gideon Rios, Sector One’s own God on Earth. Ashwin finds Kora has been installed in the royal household as a daughter of the family. She ministers to the needy both inside and out of the defeated Eden and works with Gideon on the hospital they’ve established there. Kora has a near pathological need to heal. Not only has medicine been her constant companion from a very young age, she feels a driving compulsion to serve those in pain and need, an out-sized empathy that often is in danger of consuming her.
After his heroic storming of the barricade (so to speak), Ashwin disappeared, dead so Kora thought. When he shows up amidst the deadly brotherhood of the Riders, it seems like a miracle—until his distance and disinterest are made plain. Kora remains drawn to the soldier who once was her patient and with whom she shared secret moments of empathy and kindness in a world where both were seen as a criminal act when Kora was a doctor on Ashwin’s military base. More than once she put him back together, often defying orders to treat him with compassion and not as some sort of unfeeling machine.
Though Ashwin believes he’s purged himself of the ties that bound him to Kora, being around her again tugs and pulls at those emotional eddies. But Ashwin doesn’t know how to feel or how to deal with feeling. He watches the Riders camaraderie and joie de vivre with friends and lovers, but he has no reference point with which to gauge them. No ability to process what he is seeing beyond its strategic power and combat relevancy. Kora gently walks him through understanding this seemingly incomprehensible emotion. And as he and Kora make their way back to each other under the umbrella of Gideon’s imperfect Nirvana that is Sector One, Ashwin knows he not only is danger of compromising the heart of his mission, but the secrets he holds about Kora’s past and who she really is are dangerous enough to kill them all and send Kora running from him forever.
Rocha has deftly weaved Kora and Ashwin’s long-simmering relationship through multiple books, but nothing about it seems drawn-out or over indulged. Ashwin and Kora have evolved through this timeline, both internally and externally. They both played critical roles in the war between the Sectors and Eden. Now, in the aftermath, as a new world order frames itself from the rubble, they are newly discovering who they can be within that framework and what they might be to each other as well.
There are other stories in this novel, teasers of books to come, and, in established Kit Rocha way, these narratives are plump and juicy preambles that prime readers for what’s coming soon. None of these forays away from the main plot seem superfluous or unnecessary. In particular, Gideon himself has been on the inside fringes of the Beyond story for several of the concluding books. Now, his leadership philosophy and the dark familial burden he bears comes more to light. The strategic maneuvering Gideon does with Ashwin is clever and intriguing. I look forward to seeing more layers of Gideon revealed in future books. And while ostensibly orgy-free, there’s plenty of Kit Rocha’s signature sexy times in ASHWIN to appease O’Kane fans.
Ashwin is a tight book. Kit Rocha’s world building is always super detailed and deep, layered and lavish. Ashwin is no slouch in this department, particularly considering that, in a very real way, Kit Rocha is re-building this world after ripping it to pieces in Beyond Surrender, the final installment of the O’Kane series. Ashwin has the feel of not a word wasted, not a description too flowery or ornate. There is purpose and meaning behind every sentence and it’s quite thrilling to watch this new, old world re-emerge from page to page. It’s this quality of something new within the framework of something well known that allows new Kit Rocha readers to plunge deep into the story without first needing to be up-to-date with twelve books and novellas and three short stories of O’Kane shenanigans. At the same time, Ashwin doesn’t talk down or pander to those of us well versed in those sexy and often bloody events. There’s a lot riding on Ashwin, a lot expected of the first novel in a new series by a popular author that makes it a tricky, tight rope to walk. Kit Rocha deftly skips down that line with skill, respect, crushing emotions, and breath-taking imagination.
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Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. Her debut romantic suspense novel, WILD ON THE ROCKS, is now available. Visit her website at www.kierstenkrum.com and find her regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.