After scientists stumbled across an anomalous human hormone present during moments of emotional intimacy, further research created the ability to harness the direction of living energy and pinpoint when two lines will merge. Personalized chips are now implanted beneath the thumbnails of every infant, where glowing numbers count down to the moment they will meet their soul mate.
Fate is now a calculation.
But loving someone isn’t.
When Shannon Wurther, the youngest detective in Southern California, finds himself face-to-face with Aiden Maar, the reckless art thief Shannon’s precinct has been chasing for months, they are both stunned. Their Camellia Clocks have timed out, and the men are left with a choice—love one another or defy fate.
See this review on Goodreads.
This book hit my radar last year but I really didn’t have the time for it, so here we are!
Details at a glance:
Title: Fortitude Smashed
Series/Standalone: Series (book 1)
Author: Taylor Brooke
Genre: Contemporary (plus one little science fiction-esque element)
First published: 2017
Pairings: M/M, side M/F
Sexual content: Non-explicit on-the-page sex
Rep: Queer adoptee MC with dissociative dysthymia and anxiety (pansexual by Word of God), queer MC (bisexual by Word of God), fat supporting character, Latina(?) supporting character, black supporting character, queer Chinese supporting character (her surname is apparently a Cantonese transliteration but she speaks Mandarin; I don’t know enough to know if that’s an issue)
Ownvoices: Yes for bi/pan (even though the rep isn’t explicit), dysthymia, and sexual assault survivor
Content warnings: Ableist language (minimal), anti-fat language, sexual assault (some of the warnings in my edition were inaccurate as the chapter 18 case of sexual assault, nonconsensual kissing, occurs on-the-page rather than off), panic attacks, dissociation, suicidal ideation, suicide jokes (not condoned), ableism (not condoned)
This book took me a while to read so it’s hard to get some coherent thoughts together.
Overall, I found it to be a good read though I did feel there were some weaknesses in the worldbuilding. While it’s good that queerness isn’t a big deal, I did feel a serious lack of discussion about what this soulmate thing actually entails. Is it always romantic or can it be platonic? Some people never experience sexual or romantic orientation, and may or may not be interested in romance. Apparently the author has discussed this in social media chats, but it doesn’t show up in the book itself. Maybe that’ll be better addressed in the sequel. There is a throwaway mention of polyamorous triads, which was nice.
In short: I would’ve liked less Word of God regarding the worldbuilding, and even characters’ sexualities, and more actually explaining things in the book.
The two POV characters, Shannon and Aiden, were both engrossing. Shannon is a police officer who is afraid of having to shoot a suspect, and Aiden is an art thief. Aiden also has dysthymia as a result of losing his parents a few years ago, and much of the narrative is about learning to navigate that. Aiden’s mental illness isn’t cured by his relationship with Shannon; he’s just another person he can lean on for support. Aiden’s friend Daisy is far more familiar with his illness. But much of Aiden’s arc is about dealing with his illness for his own sake, not because of the people around him.
I could’ve done without Aiden calling his cat anti-fat names.
Aiden was adopted as a baby into a Black family, and still has a living brother, Marcus. He was fairly prominent for a while, but then kind of dropped off the map for the rest of the story. The ways Aiden and Shannon’s lives intersect regarding the people in their lives does result in some pretty amusing scenes.
I had a hard time with Shannon’s ex, Chelsea, at times. At first, she’s really just there to complicate things with Shannon and Aiden. She did grow on me after a while, but I had to wade through a fair amount of frustration first. Just as well that improved, since she and Daisy are the focus in the sequel.
I found the plot a bit random and jumpy at times. The writing was good, but something about it wouldn’t let me focus properly sometimes. The characters are strong enough that the book was still engrossing, but I do wish the plot had been a bit stronger in places.
Slight nonspecific spoiler:
There is a particular scene late in the book that involves sexual assault that I’m really not sure even needed to be there. The plot would’ve been fine without it, and it did feel like it was being made to be about the characters who weren’t assaulted. I’m not super happy about the whole thing and I know I’m not the only one, but the author is a sexual assault survivor herself and the situation will apparently be unpacked better in the sequel.
I’m not a huge fan of having to wait for sequels for messy things to be unpacked, but that’s what we’ve got.
Edit: I’m not sure is the author paraphrased me or whether they were quoting another reviewer, but reviewers are allowed to dislike things. I don’t think it was written super well from a craft perspective and I don’t like having to wait for sequels to unpack things like this because an author promising to unpack it in a later book doesn’t always eventuate, and all I’ve got to work with is what I have on the page here. If it’s dealt with in the sequel, I will give credit where it’s due… but not before.
It’s the author’s right to handle it like this if they want, but it’s also the reviewer’s right to critique the way it’s done. I’m not the only person who feels it wasn’t done super well and I’m really annoyed by the author getting so angry about readers’ opinions. Once a book is published, it is no longer yours alone.
Yes, the author is a sexual assault survivor AS I HAVE SPECIFICALLY NOTED, but if you’re going to put sexual assault in a work of fiction, readers will have opinions about it… and while I may not be a survivor, other reviewers likely are. I’m not about to engage with the author over this but it does seem like she should stop reading reviews if they bother her this much.
I’ve also mentioned in this review that the plot jumps around a lot in a way that is rather irritating. This is another part of that. I’ve actually knocked a star off the generous Goodreads rating I gave, because the more I think about the plot, the more it annoys me. The plot is the weakest part of this book, and this particular scene, in many ways, is just a symptom.
Also: fiction has to follow more rules of logic and plot than real life does unless you’re deliberately writing a plotless mess.
I also had some trouble figuring out some characters’ ethnicities at times… like, just say it outright rather than dancing around it.
This review is sounding way more negative than I intended. I love the dynamic between Aiden and Shannon and their respective character arcs. I adore Daisy, the massive nerd. Shannon’s coworker Karman is a single mother who never fully dealt with losing her soulmate, though she is back on the dating scene. Karman has some great dialogue, but she’s also there in opposition to Aiden in many ways due to her general refusal to actually confront her problems, and her impatience with people who are struggling with theirs. There are hints that Shannon’s father is touch-averse. Oh, and I love Shannon’s parents, especially his mother.
I’d go as far as to say that characterisation is clearly Taylor Brooke’s forte.
There are so many cute scenes between Shannon and Aiden, especially once they’ve dealt with the initial WHAT THE FUCK phase of their soulmate clocks pointing them to each other. Aiden can be prickly and confrontational, and Shannon isn’t always sure what to do with that. Fans of the Captive Prince trilogy will probably enjoy their dynamic (and there’s no slavery in this book to contend with).
Fortitude Smashed is a pretty solid first book for the series and I am interested in reading more and have rated it fairly highly on Goodreads despite my issues. Just as well, because I requested–and was approved for–the ARC to the sequel before my copy of this had arrived.