My review for Surrender by Stephanie Tyler is going to sound a little crazy. That’s because a lot of this book was a little crazy. There was so much going on in this book—SO MANY THINGS. Normally having a crapton of backstory and subplots drives me nuts, but for some reason I found Surrender to be compulsively readable. Even when I was doing squinty eyes in confusion, I was engaged with the book.
Dare O’Rourke is a former Navy SEAL who is not only tormented by his own past, but that of his father as well. Dare’s last mission went sideways, and he was captured and tortured by the enemy. The rest of his team was killed, men he considered his family. Dare suspects that the death of his team was a set up—something that is confirmed when he discovers that the Ranger who rescued him did so against orders.
Dare is hiding from the world, pointedly not dealing with his issues, when a friend of his father’s shows up. Adele used to be in a CIA black ops group with Dare’s father, Darius. The group, Section 8, disbanded thirteen years ago, and Darius is missing and presumed KIA. Dare has some daddy issues. He didn’t exactly have anything like a normal childhood, what with being raised by mercenaries and all.
Adele drops a bomb on Dare. He has a half-sister named Avery, and Dare needs to go rescue her. It seems someone is killing off all the members of S8, and their family members. As if to underscore the point, Adele is shot and killed by a sniper in Dare’s driveway.
So Dare goes to rescue Avery. She’s got her own set of issues—she’s currently wanted for murder. Avery’s mother was raped and killed, presumably by people trying to locate and kill Avery. Avery found her mother’s killers, and murdered them in turn. Yeah. I bet the O’Rourke family reunion is just a great time all around. Jesus.
Also if references to rape and domestic violence are a trigger for you, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. All of the characters have experienced some form of abuse in their past, and while not explicitly detailed, it’s mentioned.
Anyway, Dare and Avery listen to a message Adele gave them from Darius, telling them they are in grave danger (duh). They are supposed to go to New Orleans and find Grace. Darius doesn’t mean spiritual grace, but rather Grace Powell, the step-daughter of S8’s former handler, Richard Powell. Dare believes that Richard Powell is out to systematically destroy all evidence that S8 existed and that Grace is the key to drawing him out.
When they get to New Orleans, Dare leaves Avery in the protection of a tattoo artist named Gunner. Gunner used to be black ops too, but now he does his own private shady business using the tattoo shop as a front.
In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve got seven paragraphs of summary here and we haven’t met the heroine yet. Like I said, a lot of things are happening in this book. A big part of it is set up for the rest of the series, which I can appreciate, but it made the first third of the book drag a little bit for me. The second half was fueled by espresso and rocket fuel though, so I found it worth hanging on.
Once Dare kidnaps Grace (about 10% of the way into the book), and takes her back to a cabin in the bayou, things started to heat up for me. Grace ran away from her Powell's Island compound when she was much younger. Grace is psychic (of course she is), and Powell forced her to use her talent to predict whether his illegal side deals would go smoothly or whether he was in danger. Her gift wasn’t consistent though, and when she was unable to or refused to help him, Powell would let his hired thugs beat and sexually assault Grace. Powell is being added to my list of fictional characters who deserve to be eaten by giant eels.
Section 8, specifically Darius and Adele, helped Grace escape and kept her sheltered (so why would Darius suggest his son go after Grace? Good question). Grace started a new life for herself in New Orleans and worked with a group to help relocate domestic abuse victims.
Despite having just kidnapped Grace, Dare is hit by a serious case of insta-lust for her. I mean, she stares at him with her “gypsy eyes” so how can he help himself? When he realizes that the same people who are after him and Avery are trying to kill Grace, he starts to rethink the whole kidnapping thing.
Grace also gets a fever of plot convenience, that leads to Dare caring for her and seeing her nekkid—cooling baths and all that.
To add to the plot confusion stew, the Ranger who saved Dare against orders, a man named Key (I am not making that up) has tracked Dare to New Orleans. Dare never showed up to Key’s court martial to help defend him, and now Key is mad. Key has also brought along his brother Jem (he’s truly outrageous, truly, truly, truly outrageous). They meet up with Gunner and Avery in a chapter I call All the Future Heroes of This Series Meet Up and Stare Menacingly at Each Other.
Tyler is setting this series up to be sort of like the A-team, except made up entirely of shirtless Bradley Coopers. Now that the team is all together, they can flush out Richard Powell to save Dare and Avery, and every other family member of S8.
Also Grace and Dare can start to fall in love, but given their respective crappy pasts, have to work through some serious trust issues to get there (especially since their first date was a kidnapping). Also Avery, Gunner and Key have some love triangle thing going on that gets dealt with more in the next book.
So. Crazy right? Normally I’d have said “F this,” and moved onto something a little more…coherent. By the time I hit the 30% mark in the book, I was done for. I had to keep reading. So much was happening in a compressed time frame that it was hard to keep track of, but I was still blowing through chapters.
I will take a minute here to complain about the character names. Dare? Key? Jem? Seriously. Can you not have a multi-syllable name in S8? I’d like to add my suggestions for future character names: Thrust, Fang, Harp, Whisk, and Snood.
I think I was willing to set aside the names and plot craziness because I found myself really liking the characters. They weren’t people I would want to hang out with in real life, but they were definitely interesting. I liked the band of misfits that Tyler was putting together. Her characters own their dysfunction in a way that’s kind of liberating, and a lot of fun.
Avery and Grace are both strong, fierce, and fearsome women. They are not undone by the giant shitstorm swirling around them—if anything, they give the testosterone lineup of Key, Jem, Gunner, and Dare a run for their money. While both Avery and Grace had some real pain and tragedy in their pasts, they are never victims.
Also the personal tragedies that Dare and Grace suffered were so awful (torture, rape, betrayal by parents, the military, etc) that I wanted a happily ever after for them all the more. I mean, Dare had his fingernails pulled out while his hands were nailed to a post. He should get like free puppies for life or something, poor bastard.
Dare is not a nice person (although he does a 180 from scary kidnapper to caring nurse for Grace in a suspiciously short amount of time). He never really came across as an alpha-hole though, more like someone who was really, brutally hardened by life.
Dare is one of the dark, morally ambivalent anti-heroes that are now en vogue. I’m not sure how I feel about this trend. I cut my teeth on the tortured, menacing heroes of gothic romance, but they were often misunderstood, traumatized heroes who just needed time to lick their wounds. The new romantic antihero being bandied about is not misunderstood. He’s tattooed, foul mouthed, vaguely (or explicitly) criminal. He doesn’t operate according to society’s laws, but rather a more primitive set of rules based on physical dominance and possession.
In some ways these “new” heroes remind me so much of the old alpha heroes from early historicals. I’m thinking particularly of the Wolf and the Dove, where the hero conquers the heroine’s people, enslaves her mother, and claims her for himself. He’s an invader, and he acts like one, laying claim to what he wants by virtue of his physical superiority. The new antihero seems to operate in the exact same way as the old Viking or pirate marauder, although without the forgiveness given for acting within the bounds of a historical period.
Surrender is a dark book about dark, tormented people, and it’s crazy, but it’s also fast paced and intriguing. I’m not sure I want Dare to be my hero, but I enjoyed reading about him. Unbreakable, Gunner's story, is the next book in the series, and I’ve just started it now. If you’re looking for something light and easy, this book isn’t it, but if you like your heroes dark and your plots twisty, Surrender fits the bill.