He wanted her. More than he’d ever wanted anything else.
It would be so easy. Closing the distance. Confusing and conflicting all of the very real and necessary barriers that stood between them. That she had tried her damnedest to break down. He wasn’t a fool. And part of him—most of him—wanted to give in. To surrender everything to her.
But there were barriers that she didn’t realize existed. And that was where the true danger resided.
So often in romances, the story is essentially about the woman surrendering to the man. He’s the one who chases, seduces, gets her to succumb to his wiles, and in the end, she pushes to get what she wants as well: a declaration of love and his singular devotion. In Total Surrender was interesting because here that standard equation is reversed. There is no need for Phoebe to ask for Andreas’s devotion or adoration, because she already has it, yet he resists surrendering to her. He wants to—oh, how he wants to!—but he fears that such a surrender would reveal secrets and horrors that would make Phoebe turn away from him forever.
In Phoebe, we’re given a heroine who is both “innocent,” but also in pretty dogged pursuit of the hero. She is sweet and likable—smart, caring, and trusting—but she’s also burdened by her responsibilities to her family. She has only herself to rely on and while she’s clever, most people see her as a little silly or foolish. Phoebe is intrigued by Andreas (can you blame her?!) and is very persistent in trying to reach him, to get under his skin and have him open up to her. It never reads as overly aggressive—far from it actually, she’s rather … timidly aggressive. Subtly so.
One of my biggest complaints is that for the first third of the book we are only given Andreas’s POV. Andreas is fantastic and I loved having that access to him: due to the fact that he is so undemonstrative, reserved, and completely unreadable to others, this allowed us to really get to know him. Nonetheless, not hearing anything from one of two main characters for 1/3 of the book—and at the beginning of the story, no less? It didn’t work for me. Phoebe went from being odd to annoying and I feared she was going to be like those heroines who give the impression they’ve been lobotomized. We don’t know her motivations, so she seems either incomprehensible or naïvely stupid. My opinion changed completely once I started to hear her voice and get insight into who she was. I loved that she’s uncertain, feels vulnerable and exposed to him, yet doesn’t back down and refuses to let him push her away.
Andreas is a terrific hero—definitely one of my favorites. He seems to belie John Donne’s assertion that “no man is an island, entire of itself.” He is the epitome of the lonely, mysterious, rough, tortured, bad boy hero. Honestly, if that’s the kind of hero you love, look no further—Andreas has got it all in spades. What’s so fantastic is that not only did Mallory decide to make her hero this way … but she actually did make her hero this way. So many times we’re told a heroine is supremely intelligent, yet are only shown her unbelievable stupidity and monumentally bad decisions; or we’re told that a hero is a prickly recluse who never laughs, yet within ten minutes of meeting the heroine he’s cracking a smile and confiding in her.
That’s not the case here and not only is Andreas “as advertised,” but his progression with Phoebe is not immediate—as well it shouldn’t be. There are only two people in the entire world whom Andreas truly trusts and cares about. He holds everyone he meets at a distance and never laughs or smiles. He assumes every person he encounters is a potential assassin, every meal he hasn’t prepared poisoned. He is kind of an asshole and tries to avoid as much as possible interacting with people. He’s prickly and rude and doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. And he clearly and repeatedly tries to resist Phoebe and the literal and figurative temptation she presents. We get to enjoy this resistance much more than Phoebe does, because while he’s outwardly trying to push her away, we get to see the absolutely delicious thoughts and feelings he’s struggling with internally.
Aside from the POV problem, my other main issue was with the subplot. This is the third Anne Mallory book I’ve read so far—the others being books 1 and 2 in this series—and I know her propensity to keep plot details murky. Usually, both main characters have secrets that neither the other nor the reader knows. When done well, this can be utterly fantastic, like in Seven Secrets of Seduction, the first in the series. There’s a fine line to walk so that things are not too mysterious though, and that’s where she failed here. I felt so lost. One Night is Never Enough is the second book in the Secrets series and much more tied to this one, since it centers around Andreas’s brother, Roman. Going in, I thought this would be a case where reading the previous book was recommended, if not necessary. Turns out, it doesn’t matter either way, because I read it three months ago and was still clueless. As with her others, the subplot ended up being an interesting one, but the reader is left in the dark far too long.
The ending was not fully satisfying, feeling rushed and anticlimactic. Also, the sex scenes left something to be desired. While Mallory’s books have never been very heavy or explicit in that aspect, they were unbelievably light here. They were also so metaphorically described and brushed over that it took me a few sentences to realize what it was I was actually reading about. Nonetheless, she is a talented writer and one of her greatest strengths is how she is able to imbue every interaction between her heroes and heroines with unbelievable sexual tension. In Total Surrender is no exception, so it basically had great foreplay, but not-so-great climaxes.
What makes this book worth reading is the relationship between Phoebe and Andreas. There were so many quote-worthy passages in this book that picking only one is going to be supremely difficult—if not impossible! There are lots of little things that add up to make the portrayal so utterly fantastic (ex: I love how they continue to “Miss Pace” and “Mr. Merrick” one another, but add such an irreverent tone). While Phoebe plays “light” to Andreas’s “dark,” they each have enough of both to make them interesting and compelling, as opposed to cliché. They are strong, complex, and engaging characters; the connection between them undeniable. Anne Mallory excels in carefully constructed dialogue and capturing the intensity of hero and heroine’s relationship. In that regard, In Total Surrender is excellent.
One of My Favorite Quotes:
“That is quite vague. Soon might be tomorrow or a month from now. How do you define soon?”
“I define it as a period of time in the near future.”
She smiled. “How do you define difficult?”
“By your presence.”
She grinned fully, delighted to feel the tension dissipate. “Now you are just flattering me for no reason.”
“On the contrary,” she said, as if his grunt had been a worded response. “It was most flattering.”
He stared at her.
“What? Did you think I wouldn’t figure out how to interpret your grunts? It is like listening to a conversational gambit with a thousand different meanings.”
He recovered quickly, as always, scowling. “Why would you think it flattery?”
“You have defined something by my presence. Which means you have noticed me quite keenly. I take that as flattering.”
His eyes narrowed. But then she knew he wouldn’t like that particular explanation. It left him too wide open.
“I find you difficult. Not adorable.”
“I think I am quite shocked to find you using the word ‘adorable’ in a sentence.” She waved a hand. “Next thing I know, you will be petting puppies in the street.”
“You are the one with the odd canine fetish.”
If you like this book, you might also like …
*Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas
*Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt (expected release: Oct 2011)
*McAlistair’s Fortune by Alissa Johnson
*Books 1 and 2 in the Secrets Series by Anne Mallory
If You Deceive by Kresley Cole
Lord of Ice by Gaelen Foley
After the Kiss by Suzanne Enoch