*This review will contain spoilers!*
First things first I need to say a massive thank you to Wicked Whale Publishing for accepting my request to review this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
When I requested this book on NetGalley, I didn't realise it was a prequel to K. R. Conway's Undertow series; I thought it was a standalone with an extremely intriguing cover and a unique and compelling synopsis, so I requested it. I found out it was a prequel when I went to start it, so I looked up the first book in the Undertow series, and the synopsis didn't grab me, so I questioned whether or not I really wanted to read this book.
In fact, I questioned until this morning, when I decided to start it... And then finished it in one sitting.
'Cruel Summer' tells the story of Ana and Kian (who I'm guessing are minor characters in the Undertow series) and how they met. I was expecting to struggle with this book and I was extremely apprehensive, but I was grabbed from the word go, which is where we meet Kian driving along the road with the dead drug dealer in the trunk of his car. YEAH. That's what I thought; it's unexpected, question provoking and damn gripping. When Kian's car breaks down, the guy who stumbles across him lets him know that his friend is a mechanic and that she will come and have a look at it for him, to which Kian scoffs "A girl? Your mechanic is a chick?". This automatically annoys Ana, who hears him from the other end of the phone, and their relationship jump starts on the wrong foot - or at least it does for Ana, but Kian has strong feelings for her from the moment he sees her.
However, their characters are both so deep that they are developing throughout the entire novel: it's not a case of insta-love that grates and irritates. Ana is a strong and independent teenager who finds it hard to trust people due to her alcoholic and abusive father, only having one friend in the form of MJ. Despite the fact that she's strong, kicking Kian to the curb at multiple times when his ego gets too big for him, she also really loves her father, painting a picture of the abuse victim who constantly believes her abuser can get better. It really is heart-wrenching stuff, seeing Ana get her hopes built up and crashed down around her multiple times, like the waves that she rides when she surfs every day to help relieve her emotions. Instead of the victim being written in a condescending way, constantly questioning why they stay and making their escape route completely obvious, Ana's character is written in such a way that you really do empathise with her decision to try to help her father - you can't see any other way around the situation, because you can tell that her father does love her, or at least he did once upon a time. As well as Ana being a victim of abuse, she's also partially psychic - partially meaning that she can't read minds but she can read emotions - which adds yet another layer to an extremely multi-dimensional character.
Meanwhile, Kian isn't just any normal psychotic murderer - Kian is a Mortis. The Mortis are soul sharks, who live off of the energy that they can suck out of their victims: immortal, beautiful, dangerous creatures. Most Mortis feed solely off of humans, as their souls contain the most energy, but some can live off of animals. Kian is one hundred and eighty two years old, but he looks like a twenty year old, so it's not too surprising when him and Ana begin falling for each other.
I was worried about the romance aspect of this novel, because it does seem as though Kian develops strong, almost obsessive, feelings for Ana a bit too quickly, considering the fact that he's had a hell of a lot of time to look for a woman. However, Ana's feelings for him are written extremely realistically; she doesn't want to trust him, but when he shows how much he cares for her he breaks her defenses down and she can't help but fall for him.
I was so happy that it seemed that their relationship was going to work out, because every hurdle they came across, they faced together. At points I felt myself verging on rolling my eyes, like when Ana accepts the fact that Kian is a Mortis with hardly a blink of an eye, but she is such a strong character you can imagine that she would be able to make up her own mind about that kind of situation within a matter of minutes. However, with their separation at the end of the novel I was left shouting, desperate to know how their relationship ends up and what happens to them.
K. R. Conway's writing is very good at encapsulating realistic emotions, and I highly recommend this novel because, unlike some dual perspective novels in which the characters sound similar and it's easy to get confused, both of the characters have extremely strong voices and personalities, making them very easy to fall in love with. If you're looking to read this as a standalone I wouldn't say that's a good idea: for one, you won't be able to resist reading the rest of the series, and for two there are a few things left open at the end of this book, events that I'm sure will be wrapped up in the main bulk of the series. I've definitely reconsidered my aversion to the 'Undertow' synopsis and I'm definitely going to look into reading it - it's not something I would have attempted before, but because I really like K. R.'s writing I'm definitely going to pick it up as soon as I can.