Book: All Knighter by Em Petrova
Age/Genre: Military Romance
Preferred Reading Environment: Curled up on the porch swing.
Reading Accoutrements: Some gumbo or jambalaya and sazerac (see recipe following the review)
Content Notes: This book contains some brief moments of POW torture and combat-related PTSD, as well as other high-stress-job-related PTSD.
I “purchased” All Knighter (the first book in the Knight Ops series by Em Petrova) on Kindle and I put “purchased” in quotation marks because I paid 0 dollars for it. This is one of those things that Kindle does to get people to try new authors – they make the first book in a series free so that you’re hooked and then you have to buy the next one and so on. It’s a trap, but I fall for it every time because 1) Reading is an expensive hobby and free is free, and 2) I like reading new authors and finding new series to obsess over.
In All Knighter, formerly retired marine, Ben Knight, suddenly finds himself captain of a new marine elite, top-secret, anti-terrorism security team operating within the United States called OFFSUS. The catch? Four of the other five members of the team are his brothers and he is now responsible for leading their missions. On the bright side, he can stay close to the city where he met Dahlia, the one-night stand he can’t stop thinking about.
Dahlia is a 911 operator with friends who have all recently married. She internalizes a lot of the emotions from her job and needs to cut loose every once in a while, but her friends keep ditching her in favor of their new husbands. When she runs into Ben again, she expects a repeat of their one-night stand and for him to be on his way.
Ben has other plans. He knows that he’ll never get Dahlia out of his head; now he just needs to prove to her that loving a man with a dangerous job is worth the risk.
Let me start out by saying that this is a military romance, which is not to be confused with military romantic suspense, action, or mystery. When I first picked up this book, I thought it would include tension of some kind involving a terrorist plot or criminal organization threatening Dahlia because of her involvement with Ben. In my defense, the description of the book on Amazon ends with, “When he comes sniffing around again, her libido makes her jump into action-and straight into a world of secrets surrounding Ben. Leading her to question whether her heart can withstand a life with a man who might not be alive tomorrow.” I figured if she was jumping into the “secrets surrounding Ben” – whose job is literally top secret – she had to somehow be involved in or threatened by those secrets.
Instead, I got a book about how hard it is to love someone who is constantly leaving to put his life in danger for the greater good. Dahlia’s father is a military man, and she grew up watching her mother worry endlessly over his safety until the day she died. Growing up in that world made Dahlia wary of the toll that could take on a person and a relationship. She promised herself that she wouldn’t marry someone like her father (which anyone who has watched a romcom or read a romance novel knows is completely futile – when it comes to romance, you are what you try not to be…or love who you try not to love…or whatever). Don’t get me wrong, the plot is valid and I enjoyed reading Dahlia and Ben’s story. It just wasn’t as action-packed as I’d expected.
Before we get too far, it’s important to note that this is a military romance that takes place in a fictional USA, with a fictional marine unit operating within the country’s borders. I say this because, as many people know, there are very few circumstances where the marines could “deploy” on American soil. It would almost take an act of congress for the marines to be able to legally operate in the contiguous 48 (per the Posse Comitatus Act), so an elite unit of marines clandestinely deploying to take out terrorist camps in Texas or capture wanted drug lords entering the US would…not happen in our current political climate…
ALSO, it is rare for siblings to be in the same unit in the US military. It can happen – during WWII, five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, were killed when a torpedo hit their vessel and three brothers were deployed to the same forward operating base in Iraq in 2006 – and family members can ask to be separated if they so wish. But the military is huge and it is rare for multiple family members to be in the same unit, let alone deployed together. The likelihood of four brothers ending up in the same special forces team is really low. The likelihood that they’d pull the fifth and final brother out of retirement to be their captain? This is where suspension of disbelief comes in handy.
Now that we’ve established that this is a military romance work of fiction, let’s get back to the plot, shall we?
Dahlia, as I mentioned before, is a 911 operator who becomes emotionally invested in the outcome of her calls. That job is draining enough without feeling the stress of the people on the other end of the line every time the phone rings. She is dedicated to this job because she feels that she uses her talents to help people in the best way she can. And to blow off some steam at the end of the day, she goes out with her friends, dances, flirts, and generally has fun. Now that all of her friends are married, she doesn’t have anyone to cut loose with on her days off (lame friends). The book starts with her psyching herself up to go to a club by herself.
Can we just talk for a second about how irritating it is that she is uncomfortable going out alone? Putting aside the “safety in numbers” rape culture bull****, Dahlia is a grown woman who feels the need to be with at least one other person when she goes out in public. Why? Because she’s never been alone in public before and she’s worried about how it will look. I, personally, have never looked at a woman alone at a bar and thought, “Oh, how pathetic. A girl out having fun by herself. She must not have friends.” And even if someone did look at her and think that, who cares? The bottom line is that dancing, having fun, and connecting with people is how Dahlia copes with the stress of her day-to-day life. Why should she let a hypothetical public stop her? I’m just saying, people shouldn’t feel weird existing alone in public.
Okay, I promise I’ll get off my soapbox now. Back to the review.
At one point, Ben is captured on a mission and tortured for an undisclosed amount of time before he and the others he is with (a different spec ops team, not his brothers – it’s a long story, just read the book) escape and come home. Petrova throws in a couple of lines here and there about Ben feeling the phantom pains of his injuries being inflicted again or seeing his team members shot and pulling himself out of that train of thought before something bad can happen. Basically, Ben is aware that he probably has PTSD but he doesn’t want to acknowledge it. Instead, he uses a relationship with Dahlia to relieve his tension the same way Dahlia did clubbing at the beginning of the book. In the end, the two become sort of co-dependent – both using the other to prevent a crazy emotional spiral resulting from their high-stress professions.
I wouldn’t call this coping mechanism healthy, exactly…Although, I am not a mental health professional. Regardless, common sense says that these two aren’t exactly role models for a healthy romantic relationship. The way PTSD is handled in this book is…pretty much not at all. Don’t read this book for tips on PTSD or being in a relationship with someone suffering from PTSD. If that’s the kind of book you want, there are so many better options. I reviewed one by Eddie Cleveland in November and you can read the blog post for it here.
On the other hand, the plot of this book kept me engaged (despite the need to suspend my disbelief) and I liked the main characters individually. I might even like them as a couple if they got counselling. The side characters made me want to continue reading the Knight Ops series and I have a couple of their stories on my wish list for later. As a bonus, Em Petrova is an editor in her “not-so-spare time” so there aren’t a lot of the grammar errors you might expect from a free independently published work.
If you want a book with a sexy cajun marine who knows what he wants, a sassy heroine with daddy issues, and some really (really really) steamy sex scenes, All Knighter would be a good choice.
¼ oz Absinthe
1 ½ oz cognac or rye whiskey
1 sugar cube
A dash (or three) of bitters
Rinse a chilled Old Fashioned glass with absinthe and fill with ice, then set glass aside. In a separate glass, pour remaining ingredients over ice and stir until mixed. Dump out the ice and excess absinthe from the first glass and strain the contents of the second glass into it. Enjoy!