The first book from this author from a male point of view?? And a heavy mystery plot?? Kristen Ashley is really branching out, and I'm here for it.
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
Writing style: It's a KA book, so keep this in mind as her writing style is Very Dramatic and she loves a good one-sentence paragraph (like, REALLY loves it)
The Girl in the Woods is the sequel to The Girl in the Mist. Yes, you could start with this one first as it's a new story arc—but it's a richer reading experience if you read them in order.
Rus is an FBI detective on the hunt for the Crystal Killer. He's tired, he's jaded, and he's pretty sure he's done with FBI work in general. And he's definitely done with murderers.
But when the Crystal Killer strikes in Misted Pines, a small town in the Pacific Northwest that's already seen their fair share of shit, Rus has no choice but to make the trek.
And it's another murdered girl. (Rus is bone-weary of finding cold girls in the dark.)
Unfortunately for Rus, there's a twist to this murder: while it's done in the style of his Crystal Killer, it's not...quite... right. So now Rus has a copycat killer on his hands AND the worrisome wrath of the real murderer to come once he finds out someone's got his calling card.
Suffice to say, things are not going well for Rus.
But things look up when he meets the local burlesque club owner, Lucinda (Cin) Bonner. She's everything Rus could want in a woman, and she's a level of competent that he can't help but want to have at his side.
Misted Pines might have more for Rus than just his ticket out of dodge. It might be what he was looking for all along...
Y'all, this series continues to be unlike any of this author's prior works. It's obviously a KA book—swoony men, drama-drama, and her characteristic writing style that drives me nuts but keeps me coming back--but there were several things in this one that really shook up her canon. And I loved it.
1.) The ENTIRE story was from the male perspective?? Rus is running the show, we don't get Lucinda's POV. This was fresh for KA and honestly fresh for most indie romances I've read. Rus was a very interesting and clearly male gaze for us to have. I liked it, I wouldn't mind seeing more of this.
2.) Of all the Kristen Ashley romances I've read, this pairing was the most mature and lowkey of all of them. Lucinda was an adult who made sound choices, Rus was an adult who made very reasonable choices, and their romance itself was solid. No spoilers, but let's just say there is usually more drama in the romance itself for KA stories. (I love that drama, but this was interesting and I liked it more than I thought I would.)
3.) It completely blurred the line between a mystery/thriller and a romance story. Was it romantic? Yes, as much as I could find a sole-male POV window romantic from my cis-het female perspective. Was it also a gory, descriptive, and pulse-pounding thriller? Also yes. In fact, if I had to pick one shelf for this series to sit, I'd actually place The Girl in the Woods on my thriller shelf, because that's the more natural spot for it to sit. The romance took a backseat to the plot in this one. Which ALSO surprised me, by fact that I loved that too more than I assumed I would.
Overall, another winner in the KA index for me. (I am a very biased audience.) Pick this up if you like male POVs, thrillers, and well-rounded romance leads.
Thank you to the author for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was an addictive read--fun and flashy, yet still a normal "competition" fantasy romance...until it surprised me and ripped open into something devastating and shiny. Then it became a new favorite.
Before we begin, a rambled note on TikTok:
In my opinon, TikTok is an odd zone for the book community. It's large, obviously, and a lot of people love it. I love that for them. But overall... I struggle. I almost never agree with the flashy/quick recommendation videos based on hype and aesthetics vs. actual similarities between books. I think they're formed on the fly in the hype culture of fast recs vs. quality recs, and I also think it's often the same books in the rec pot across the board. (This isn't a TikTok specific hate, I've always grumbled about Instagram and YouTube too when it comes to "if you like this, try this" content.) So usually, I avoid all TT recommendations like the plague until someone I trust and/or actually know takes a bite of the apple.
In a totally unexpected and surprising turn of events, Amy read a TikTok-recommended fantasy romance. (Did you hear that? It was the reality paradigm, it cracked in half when I typed that sentence.)
No, seriously, it's true. This ridiculous anti-platform gremlin/stick-in-the-mud reader picked up The Serpent and the Wings of Night because it refused to leave her alone, and there was something deep down that made her go... maybe they're right, maybe this is awesome.
And it WAS.
Imagine if you took everything you liked and stirred it into one pot. For me, it's a combination of the following ingredients (let's make a potion together):
-A deadly game, competition, or high-stakes survival scenario
-A female protagonist with *actual* hard edges/reasons to be a badass
-A male love interest who has more character traits than 1) I Am Powerful/Deadly/The Black Sheep, and 2) Relentlessly Attracted to FMC" (it's amazing how many SFF men fail this test—even some of my favs.)
-A unique world, bonus points for a clever twist of the usual tropes
-A sense of actual doom/high stakes/death impending
-A well-done, slower-burn romantic pacing
-Decent dialogue for the steamy scenes
-Great writing all around
-More than 1 side character with a backstory and personality
And that's it. I'm a simple girl, with simple needs.... and a longgg laundry list of things that need to hit right for me to love the fantasy romances. I usually love books that include at least two thirds of my list—it's not like I sit there with my checklist, but anecdotally, I've noticed I tend to follow this list subconsciously in my book selections.
The Serpent and the Wings of Night hit every. single. one.
I read this book in ONE DAY and then read all of book two two days after that. Don't sleep on this one, fellow fantasy fans and those who like those things on my checklist. This book has it all.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.