Black Iris by Elliot Wake (writing as Leah Raeder).
Genre: Adult – Romance Thriller.
Pub. Date: April 28, 2015.
It only took one moment of weakness for Laney Keating’s world to fall apart. One stupid gesture for a hopeless crush. Then the rumors began. Slut, they called her. Queer. Psycho. Mentally ill, messed up, so messed up even her own mother decided she wasn’t worth sticking around for.
If Laney could erase that whole year, she would. College is her chance to start with a clean slate.
She’s not looking for new friends, but they find her: charming, handsome Armin, the only guy patient enough to work through her thorny defenses—and fiery, filterless Blythe, the bad girl and partner in crime who has thorns of her own.
But Laney knows nothing good ever lasts. When a ghost from her past resurfaces—the bully who broke her down completely—she decides it’s time to live up to her own legend. And Armin and Blythe are going to help.
Which was the plan all along.
Because the rumors are true. Every single one. And Laney is going to show them just how true.
She’s going to show them all.
Personal Enjoyment: ●●●●●
Writing Style: ●●●●●
You can typically find Black Iris in the romance section, next to really fluffy looking books showcasing half-naked men with rippling abs and women, often in period garb, clinging to their various appendages. Black Iris stands out next to these as something tantalizing, sexy, mysterious. It delivers in razor-sharp prose, raw and real, dangerous and hungry.
Laney is an unreliable narrator– she’ll tell you up front, she’s the one writing the story, and she’s not opposed to bending the truth til it breaks. She’s cagey and wounded, but this only makes her more unpredictable, more volatile. At some point, I completely gave up trying to decipher what was real.
Black Iris is a treat drenched in booze, topped with pills like sprinkles. Emotions run high as the characters seek to destroy each other before they destroy themselves.
This is not an easy read. The characters are not good people and they do awful things to everyone around them. But the more you learn about them, the more you cheer them on. They are allowed to do the unimaginable, freed from the restraints of polite society, unconvinced by the idea of “forgiveness.” If you have ever been hurt, if anyone has ever tried to destroy you, it’s easy to slip into Laney’s perspective. It is cathartic. In her quest for revenge, you can find freedom without forgiveness. She blurs the line between vengeance and vigilante justice.
So many times I thought I had this book figured out, and every single time I was wrong. I had no idea how deep the rabbit hole could go, and I was delighted every time it pulled me deeper.
The relationships between Laney and Blythe, Laney and Armin, Armin and Blythe, were so completely unhealthy, but I still found myself rooting for Laney and Blythe to be together. After reading Black Iris, I also finished Cam Girl by Elliot Wake, and I’m amazed at how he can craft such gloriously flawed characters that you love and hate all at once, but you still want them to be happy and in love at the end. I wanted them to continue to grow and struggle and learn together, long after the book ended.
On top of all of this, Elliot Wake’s books are gloriously diverse. He is a queer, trans-guy author who writes prominent queer characters (obviously), characters of color, characters with various mental illnesses, and so much more. The main character in Cam Girl is also disabled, which I will discuss in a later review. Black Iris is the first book I read where maybe one character was white, straight, abled, and neurotypical, and instead of feeling “too diverse” by veering so far from the whitewashed literary canon, it felt more real than any book I’ve read this year (at least). (And Cam Girl only got better in this regard.)
This book will not be for everyone. It is violent and uncomfortable. It does not make you feel safe. But it made me feel understood. In a world where violent hate crimes are committed so frequently, this is a book that dares to fight back. Laney is like the Batman for queer women– her methods may be questionable, but at the end of the day she gets stuff done.
Don’t be surprised when this turns out to be one of my favorite books of the year.