Rating 3 out of 5 stars! *For Crista McHugh's (CM) Shattered Web only*
Marcus is the emperor's right hand man and best friend. He's in love with Sexta, who's been born into making her living out of selling her flesh. But Marcus doesn't care about that - his love runs deep.
On the night that the emperor and Azhura wed, he tells Sexta to leave her life behind and marry him. He'll make things work, but Sexta has other plans. She feels too tarnished for Marcus and decides to fake her death and - wait for it - become a pirate! LOL
One of her past clients has given/loaned (?) her an airship that is able to fly without magic and she's off and sailing the seas while Marcus pines away, thinking she's dead.
But on the very first shipment she's entrusted to carry, things just don't seem right. Sexta leaves her cargo only to find out a few weeks later that the town she disembarked at was laid waste to and every citizen goes missing.
With thousands of people gone, the emperor sends Marcus to investigate what happened. Marcus is shocked to learn that the last ship at port was The Temptress, the same name Sexta told him she'd like to name a ship if she ever bought one. He goes to investigate and is shocked to learn she's still alive.
Before he can ask her any questions, though, Sexta's a regular Houdini and keeps escaping his grasp as she tries to investigate what happened to the ghost town and clear her name herself - since she obviously doesn't trust anyone else's investigative skills over her own.
Marcus catches up to her again and he imprisons her just as she's about to unravel the mystery. Then they play a game of "Do you trust me?" and Marcus lets Sexta go to finish the investigation because he's got zero clue what to do. The men step aside in awe as she reveals a hidden passageway only she was able to find during her investigation.
She and Marcus go down the passageway to investigate and discover the magical barrier that keeps the Barbarians (who sound a lot like aliens - Grays) out of the kingdom doesn't reach deep into the ground. The Barbarians have dug underground tunnels and are infiltrating the kingdom this way. Plus, they can also shift and change to mimic other people's likeness, so it's not clear who's a Barbarian or not. The only thing that gives them away is their black, lifeless eyes.
Okay - confession time. Here's where the story gets muddy for me since I began to skim read through it. I'd really had enough of the two main characters' constant power struggle. Plus, brace yourself - I kept thinking - can you please keep it in your pants until the mystery is solved? Jeez, every five minutes *smh* Me of all people being annoyed at too many sexxxy scenes? What? o.O
So I was all sorts of lost and I still don't even know what in the world happened to all the inhabitants of the town, since I didn't want to go back and re-read. No bodies were ever found, so what happened to them?
As you can guess, there's a play the Barbarians make for the palace as everyone's busy with Azhura giving birth. The Barbarians intend to destroy the machine that creates the barrier, but you can guess how that turns out.
In the end, Marcus is hurt and loses an arm. Unable to face that Sexta might not want him now, he fakes his own death, but surprisingly, he doesn't become a pirate. He just hangs around and wallows in self-pity.
Months pass and wouldn't you know it? Sexta forgot to take her tea which prevents pregnancy and the emperor tells her to show up at a house, promising the experience will change her life.
Marcus is as surprised as she is to see him and is shocked to learn he's carrying her child. But will it be enough to pull him out of his depression?
I found it a bit humorous that Shattered Web was included in this anthology of Alpha Males. This series features predominant female characters that are so over the top and the weakest Beta males I've ever encountered, so I was curious how CM was going to pull things off.
Sidebar: the only strong female character that does if for me is Azhura. The reason I gave her man a pass is he's the emperor and of course he's not going to get his hands dirty with the menial tasks. So while their relationship works, the others don't.
Anyhoo, You could definitely read between the lines of Shattered Web how the female character just couldn't help herself and just had to out show the rest of the men. She also kept evading Marcus and their constant struggle for power got tedious quick. Still, at the end, the only way they stayed together was because he was basically useless (or so he thought) without the use of his arm. He couldn't even feed himself! - was one of the lines he says. Still, I'd think they would have found a way around this in a land of magic and healers???
Marcus possesses just a momentary streak of Alpha to squeak by and though he saves the day, it seems he pays for his Alpha-ness by ending up crippled. LOL I wonder if the author has a thing against Alpha Males just like I do for Beta Males? LOL
Lastly, Shattered Web was published in May 2014 and it's not clear if there will be another book in the series, but I'm just shocked at how Azhura just spends her days locked in the palace, weeding out threats against her in the kingdom. She's an assassin for God's sake - the best one - and she's cowering away?
There's no being among the people to win them over and such, she just hides away in the corner. In a striking contrast, Azhura does nothing in this book but stay in the background and give birth to her baby while her husband runs the empire and takes care of business. Hmm...maybe he's the Alpha Male the author intended for in this book. :)
Shattered Web features: