I’m always on the lookout for new-to-me authors to add to my growing list of must-reads, and as a huge fan of military romantic suspense, erotic romance author Sophia Roslyn’s HER SPECIAL FORCES caught my eye with its retired Marine heroine, former Navy SEAL hero, kidnapped kid, and promise for scorching sexytimes. Whilst it possesses all the attributes I look for in a military or RS novel and is an emotionally challenging read with its raw, no-holds-barred take on the emotional and psychological aftermath of war—uniquely dealing with how PTSD affects women in combat—I wasn’t particularly blown away by it. The protagonists are (for the most part) well developed, with a compelling emotional arc, and the love scenes are frequent, hot, and poignant, but the plot feels like an afterthought rather than a driver to complement and ratchet up the emotional tension and the writing is a bit disjointed. Probably just the growing pains of an author on only her sophomore novel, but they turned what could’ve been a great read into simply an average one for me.
Heroine Kacey O’Donnell, U.S. Marine Corps Viper attack helicopter pilot (now retired), is back in her idyllic small New Hampshire hometown after a bitch of a last deployment in Afghanistan drove her to take a leave from the Marines: an off-base night of passion with sexy Navy SEAL Captain Nathan Weatherly immediately followed by an incident during a mission that downs her helicopter and kills her co-pilot/gunner and the news of her parents’ deaths stateside. At a crossroads in her life and with Nathan and his team having gone wheels up the moment they were back on base, there’s naught for Kacey to do but return to Winterpine alone and try to adjust to civilian life. But the memories won’t leave her alone and she’s neither eating nor sleeping and is merely going through the motions of existing rather than living. A textbook case of PTSD, but she’s unwilling to admit it or seek help and instead tries to push everyone away—especially former lover Nathan, who follows her to Winterpine after putting in his 20 years with the Navy. Kacey’s struggles are emotionally draining (in a good way) for the reader, and it’s refreshing to see this heartbreaking issue from a woman’s perspective, but her behaviour—especially toward Nathan—makes it challenging to like her. For the bulk of the novel, we know she has issues and witness her conscious attempts to sabotage her chance at happiness, but we don’t know why. It’s not until the very end that she finally opens up to Nathan and we learn the whole story and can finally genuinely empathize with and understand her and the strength she truly possesses.
Nathan is also a mixed bag of a character. For the most part, he’s the typical super sexy Navy SEAL alpha male with a badass edge, mile-wide protective streak, and unwavering sense of honour. His conviction that Kacey loves him as much as he does her—despite ditching him in Afghanistan and doing her best to shut him out and reduce their relationship to nothing but sex—and his commitment to helping her come to terms with, and get through, her PTSD is heartwarming. He’s the type of bloke you’d take home to meet mum, and I genuinely liked him… but half the time his speech made him seem like an anachronism. There’s simply no way a forty-something retired Navy SEAL speaks like that (to his woman; his banter with his SEAL mates was typical bromance), and it was definitely a bit jarring. The chemistry between him and Kacey sizzles and the love scenes are super hot, and the fact that they don’t have an easy go of it had me rooting for their HEA.
The plot is where it all falls rather flat. A Senator’s 11-year-old daughter kidnapped from her bed, an elite FBI six-man CARD team taken out during the attempted rescue, a hastily-cobbled-together backup team of former SEALs plus a Marine helicopter pilot… it has all the makings of an action-packed, white-knuckle thrill ride of a plot but doesn’t really deliver. The focus is primarily on Kacey and Nathan and the plot feels like a backdrop for them to have something to do in addition to being mired in relationship angst. The kidnapped girl, Gemma, is completely unrealistic—an 11-year-old who can drive, fly, speak a bit of Russian, and doesn’t completely freak out after being kidnapped and rescued? Come on!—but if you suspend all disbelief, she’s great fun and brings out a side of Kacey and Nathan that we wouldn’t otherwise see. I guessed the identity of the villain pretty early on (but I read a LOT of suspense!), but Ms. Roslyn throws in enough twists to keep it interesting… I just wish she’d devoted a bit more time to fleshing out the story to give it more substance.
HER SPECIAL FORCES was an enjoyable enough read for me—nothing to write home about, but not something I actively disliked either. It’s an intensely emotional read with a lot of heart cloaked in a thin suspense plot and a good choice for readers who like erotic romances with a good amount of angst and a hint of action.
**ARC provided by Publisher**
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