To start, I must confess that I am largely unacquainted with erotic romance stories. Due to this, I am not in a position to compare Kimber Delaney’s Wayward, the first entry in her A Soldier’s Heart series, to other books in the genre. There is far more to Wayward than its steamy romance, however. There is a great mystery at its centre, and some true humanity to its characters, as seen through the toll that military service can take on soldiers.
Wayward tells the story of Audrey Linser and Simon Carwell, who find each during their time working in the US Army together. What follows is a romance story with many of the tropes you would expect to find in the genre, with drama following them as they work out if the other is indeed the one for them. As I mentioned above, this is an erotic romance, full of steamy scenes. The sex portrayed in Wayward is fairly graphic, so if your preference is for PG-rated romance, this likely isn’t the book for you. However, as erotically charged as these scenes are, Delaney has presented each sex scene as a thing of beauty. It leaves very little to the imagination, but these scenes are all written delicately and tastefully. Delaney expertly guides the reader through these scenes, and through their heat, both the characters’ passion, and their feelings for one another shine—and burn—incredibly brightly.
Wayward’s exploration of these characters moves well beyond these love scenes. One of the great strengths of this novel is the characterisation, whether it be the two leads, their friends, colleagues in the military, or the villains. While the majority of these characters are likeable, the villains truly made my skin crawl. Each one is clearly defined, with even the most minor characters feeling three dimensional, like living, breathing people. Every single character reads exactly like someone you could meet—or have already met—in real life, bringing a true sense of believability to the world she has created.
While all Wayward’s characters shine, Audrey and Simon shine the brightest. As the book’s protagonists, they have the most page space dedicated to them, but they don’t flourish by the simple virtue of being placed front and centre. These are characters who are damaged from the courses their lives have taken, and this damage is realised in beautiful, realistic and heart-wrenching ways. Through these characters, Delaney explores themes about trust, abandonment, depression and post-traumatic stress. Regardless of the plot and romance throughout, the stunning character work and honest representation of these issues drew me in, eagerly swiping to the next screen, desperate to see how these stories would play out.
While I am not a military expert, the realism throughout Wayward extends far beyond the characters and their relationships. I am unable to provide a fact check as to what it gets right and wrong about military life, yet throughout the novel, it is evident that the author has taken a great deal of care to portray it accurately. Every facet presented feels realistic and not a single aspect had me questioning its basis in fact. As this story within the US Army unfolds, it does so in an entirely grounded fashion that doesn’t feel at all embellished.
The grounded realism holds true for the mystery driving the narrative forward. The mystery is sure to keep readers turning the page. While I aim not to provide spoilers in my reviews, there are personal connections between the lead characters and this mystery, and at no point did I find myself having to suspend my disbelief as I read along with it. It is a satisfying mystery with a strong threat while feeling completely realistic without a single aspect feeling out of place.
Much of the mystery’s success can be attributed to the pacing. The author sets the scene in the background during the opening act and continues to build it through the second. Once Wayward enters its final act, it is front and centre as it builds to a wonderful crescendo. At 279 pages in paperback and an estimated 281 swipes on Kindle, the book runs at an average length, which gives the plot plenty of room to breathe without ever overstaying its welcome. It is a true testament to Delaney’s skill that she has paced Wayward so expertly, considering the novel isn’t just a mystery, it is a great character piece, as well as predominantly a romance.
These elements are connected through brilliantly written prose that does exactly what the reader needs it to do, when the reader needs it to do it. The meet cute early on feels as though it stepped out of a romantic comedy, the thrilling ending is an intense pay-off to a creeping mystery, the character studies throughout let the readers right into these characters’ heads, and the sex scenes are beautifully erotic. There are so many disparate elements in the book; however, the narrative blends them together beautifully. Not a single element feels out of place; they all come together, drawing the reader into this wonderful whole.
As Wayward’s subtitle indicates, it is the first book in the A Soldier’s Heart series. If you’re wary of this being part of a series, don’t be, it stands alone perfectly. Having taken a look at the second in the series, Untamed’s, Amazon listing, it shifts the focus to another character from this book, Antony Ramos. Much as Audrey comments about wanting to see “the next Marvel,” as these books continue, I can imagine raiders wanting to read the next Soldier’s Heart.
To get it out of the way, if you have a distaste for steamy romance stories, Wayward is probably not the book for you. But if you either like your romance hot, or if you’re ambivalent about that aspect but enjoy strong mysteries and excellent character work, you will be drawn into a wonderful package.
Audrey watched as Simon and Antony walked out of the office and then rubbed her eyes as she tried to focus on her monitor. She didn’t know what made her feel worse, Simon flat out ignoring her, or Antony smiling at her sympathetically. Either way, this was some bullshit. She might not be innocent in all of this, but he sure as fuck had no business on his high horse either.Wayward: A Soldier’s Heart, Book One, Chapter Eighteen
Wayward: A Soldier’s Heart, Book One was gifted for the purpose of an honest review.
Wayward is available in paperback and on Kindle, exclusive to Amazon).
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