Author: Kit Rocha
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Page Length: 266 pages
My Rating: 5 / 5 stars
Lieutenant Ashwin Malhotra is a Makhai soldier–genetically engineered to be cold, ruthless. Unfeeling. His commanding officers consider him the perfect operative, and they’re right. Now, he has a simple mission: to infiltrate Gideon’s Riders, the infamous sect of holy warriors that protects the people of Sector One.
He’s never failed to execute an objective, but there’s one thing he didn’t anticipate–running into Dr. Kora Bellamy, the only woman to ever break through his icy exterior.
When Kora fled her life as a military doctor for the Makhai Project, all she wanted was peace–a quiet life where she could heal the sick and injured. The royal Rios family welcomed her like a sister, but she could never forget Ashwin. His sudden reappearance is a second chance–if she can manage to touch his heart.
When the simmering tension between them finally ignites, Kora doesn’t realize she’s playing with fire. Because she’s not just falling in love with a man who may not be able to love her back. Ashwin has too many secrets–and one of them could destroy her.
Ashwin is a new story in in a spin-off from the Beyond series! The Gideon’s Riders series takes place a month after the epilogue in Beyond Surrender. While, yes, this series is something new readers can pick up with, I don’t think I would recommend doing so. I would highly recommend reading the Beyond series first to get the full scope of Ashwin and Kora’s relationship. There’s a lot of moments where their interactions are mentioned from the Beyond series, and I think readers will just be missing out on the build-up to this book without having read the other series first.
He could remember feeling. He simply couldn’t remember what it had felt like to feel.
We first meet Ashwin and Kora in Beyond Jealousy, where Ashwin kidnapped Kora in order to save a man they’ve never met. Ashwin is part of a genetically engineered group of soldiers for Eden as part of Project Makhai. He’s been raised and told his entire life that feelings aren’t something Makhai are supposed to have, and having feelings is explained away with saying they’re facing destabilization. The only way to cure that is by subjecting their soldiers to torture until it’s burned out of their system. Until they are blank soldiers for the Base to use once more. For years now, Ashwin has become…attached to Kora. Kora was a doctor on the Base who oversaw the soldiers’ injuries and patched them back up. Ashwin has monitored everything about Kora. Every camera feed, everyone she dated, her search histories, Ashwin knew everything about her. He knew that was he had for Kora was wrong, and when Kora walked out of Eden, of the life they’ve known, Ashwin asked a favor to keep her away from him. To keep her safe.
Being irrational made him feel human.
Out in the sectors, Kora found her home in Sector One with Gideon Rios, his Riders, and his followers. Gideon is the god-king of his people in a religion and following started by his grandfather. When Ashwin arrives in the sector on a mission from the Base, he encounters Kora again after months apart, and being recalibrated for his destabilization, Kora rips it all apart.
For a soldier meant to be free of emotion, he was growing in impossible feeling.
Both Ashwin and Kora products of Eden’s upbringing on the Base, but Ashwin was subjected to a tight regimen, every movement monitored for the good of those above his rank making the decisions. Makhai are feared among the other soldiers on the base, a not so secret project, but men and women flee in the other direction when he walks by them. Ashwin has always been cold and calculating, appearing and disappearing whenever he liked in the Beyond series. Here, we see that his own battles with life outside of the one he’s always known is enlightening, in a way. With time away from the Base, he gets to see the life that Gideon Rios has created in Sector One. A loving, caring home for everyone he meets and cares about. This extends to Kora, who was welcomed into his sector and he cares for as a sister. Kora was raised by a man who adopted her, but someone who was too cold for her to ever call “dad”. Her life wasn’t ever entirely under the scrutiny of the Base and Eden, and she’s grown to be a caring healer. She’s always wondered about her birth parents, her search for their names dating back years.
Every spark between them was a lit match in a room full of explosives, but without access to the full truth, she only saw the comforting warmth of the flame.
So, this book could have gone two different ways from what we know about Ashwin and Kora. Ashwin’s affections for Kora are borderline toxic in the Beyond series. His obsession with her only stopping when a friend shoots him in the knees to stop him from pursuing her further and when he frightens Kora trying to drag her to safety, away from the gunfire in the midst of the war. She was trying to save a life, and he wanted to drag her away into his safehouse and lock the two of them away from civilization to keep her safe. All he wanted is to keep her safe. WELL. After his recalibration, he’s toned down a lot. His ultimate goal and mission in life is too keep her safe for most of this book, but main focus no longer revolves around solely Kora. It gives him purpose with his new family with the Riders and the people of Sector One. He recognizes where he went wrong and would never purposefully want to hurt Kora in any way. I think the relationship started on some loose threads for me, but by the end, I liked their relationship and felt comfortable reading about them.
I liked Kora. She’s a doctor and has some nice scenes with characters who get the main focus in upcoming books. I don’t know. I didn’t really connect with Kora all that much. She’s likable. The chapters about her are enjoyable to read, but character-wise, she’s not a fighter or someone out to rule the sector, so she’s just sort of…there. It’s fine, but I just feel like Ashwin has more story and scenes that I enjoyed more. I still love Ashwin and Kora as a couple and finally getting their HEA though.
This book sets the tone for the rest of the series. It’s not quite like Dallas O’Kane’s debauched parties in Sector Four, but still manages to contain some sexy scenes between Ashwin and Kora. Ashwin is unintentionally hilarious and I love it. His comments are a bit detached from what everyone around him thinks or acts, so I did find some more laughing points in this book than any of those in the last series. There’s lots of POC characters in this book, but an issue I have with this book is where the story waited until almost until the end to tell us a main character’s ethnicity? It’s kind of obvious from Ashwin’s full name (Ashwin Malholtra), but not at all obvious from the cover picture that his birth mother is Indian, so he would be half-Indian, at least?
The Riders are fun to read about, and I’m still waiting on a mention on Zeke getting a book! I want to know more about Samson too (the closest Makhai Ashwin could call a friend). The war is over, or at least between the sectors and Eden, so I’m interested in seeing where this series takes us. There were maybe glimpses of it in this book regarding the refugees from the war heading in droves to Sector One, and mentions of Gideon’s prominence over his people that give the people on the Base some concern, but where is the story going exactly? I guess we’ll have to see!