Review: Arden St. Ives series by Alexis Hall



I got an ARC of the final book in the series, so I binge read all three books in a week. What an emotional journey this has been. As usual I find myself lost for words when it comes to reviewing Alexis Hall’s books, so this won't be a very eloquent or coherent review, I'm afraid. I tend to have a very emotional reaction to his stories which makes my reviews more personal than usual.

On the surface and judging by the titles ans covers this is a billionaire m/m romance but the more I read the more I saw it as a story about two people with troubled pasts find their ways to each other. A bildungsromans of sorts for Ardy in particular, but very much for Caspian too.

The story is told exclusively from Ardy's POV and I loved the easy flow and multitude of things going on that made me eager to keep reading in order to find out how it will end.

Something, Alexis Hall does really, really well in my opinion is the creation of characters who feel real, human, with flaws and strengths. And this was very much the case here. It's not just Ardy and Caspian but almost every minor character was interesting and I got engaged in their stories. 

I found Ardy so easy to relate to - we see him navigating University, graduation, first serious job, making new friendships and keeping close the old ones, first attempt at a serious relationship. And the pressure there was not because Caspian was a billionaire, it was because of who Caspian is- a trauma survivour riddled with guilt and shame, refusing to accept his past, desperately trying to be someone different than who he is. 

It's a very emotional story both for Ardy and Caspian. Lots of mistakes get made and it's one of the things I particularly liked int he story. The way none of the characters are perfect and they don't always know the right thing to do/say but Ardy is very keen to listen and to learn, Caspian is more reluctant but still ready to make sincere apologies and amends for his mistakes. Even Nathaniel whom I got hate at some point despite understanding the terrible position he found himself to be, so even he is not malicious and only had the best intentions and is ready to admit he has been wrong/misguided in his approach to everything. 

I want to say a few words how trauma is handled in this series. It's not there for shock value or for tragedy p0rn, it's presented a complex issue that needs professional handling, one that affects the deepest corners of one's soul. There is no easy way to deal with it and no magic peen can cure it.

On that note, I am very happy to say that despite the heavy emoptional content of the books none of it due to queerphobia. The issues the characters deal with have nothing to do with them being gay. And the books are so effortlessly queer, it's a joy to read. No token marginalisation, no fetishising, lots of queer characters interacting in multitude of ways - as friends, lovers, in professional capacity. 

I also want to mention how much I loved Ardy's family and how important I found the episode with his biological father. It was disturbing but also very much needed to show a different aspect of Ardy's personality. We get a first-hand look at how powerful manipulation can be, how dangerous people like Ardy's father can be and how Ardy is noting like that.

Caspian and Ardy spent most of book 3 apart, they are both involved with other people, they cheat on them. It was a wild ride, I cried and laughed and wanted to hug them and make it all better for everyone. But I also see how they needed that time apart, how it was important for them to work through their issues on their own before trying to be together. Because we know they can be good together, we saw that already in the previous book.

All in all, I love how Alexis Hall takes apart the conventions of the romance genre and re-arranges them to come up with an unforgettable romance. It's nothing like I have read before, yet it's very much a tropey, swoon-worthy romance.

Just a couple of words on the supporting characters, Ellery, Bellerose, Nik, Nathaniel, George - they are all colourful and unique and give this richness and depth to the world of the books. The romance between Caspian and Ardy doesn't happen in isolation, like real people they are busy doing other things while falling in love.

One of the most loving episodes in the series for me involves Ardy taking care of Bellerose. It encapsulates everything good in this world (together with so much of the bad in it). It's about love and care in its purest form.

The trilogy ends with the sweetest epilogue, full of tenderness and promise. It's the beginning of a long process for Ardy and Caspian of learning how to be together and be happy. And it's why I read romance, for this ultimate moment of hope - love is possible, happiness is possible, the darkness can be defeated.

CW: Assault, sexual abuse (in the past). attempted rape, death of a parent (in the past), stalking and manipulation, drug use, car accident (secondary character), cheating, panic attacks, unprocessed trauma 

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  1. What a great review. Thank you. I loved this series too. Alexis Hall is a stunningly good writer.


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