After connecting with author Dareth Pray on Twitter, I eagerly awaited the release of her debut novel, Sweetland...and it did not disappoint!
Sweetland opens with an intense action scene, and it doesn't slow down from there. Our protagonist, Erin Stark, is kidnapped in a horrific sex-trafficking ring, but little do the kidnappers know, Erin is an undercover CIA agent, and she has made it her duty to get herself and the rest of the girls out of there alive while putting a stop to the impending second American civil war.
This book is filled with clever intel gathering, well-rounded and realistic characters, and high stakes that will you have furiously flipping pages to discover how it all plays out in the end. Every heart-stopping moment evokes a strong reaction. At one point, I yelled "Oh, God no!" aloud. The fact that the author could create such intense emotions within me is a true testament to her skill as a storyteller. It's hard for me to get too invested, but this book gripped me like a vice and didn't let go until I hit the very last page.
Not only does Sweetland tell an incredibly raw and hard-hitting story, but it also serves as a testament to the current state of the United States - a warning about how far certain extremists will go to make their point. It gives this thriller an edge of real-world, thought-provoking horror that is extremely necessary in today's political climate.
I admit that spy/espionage thrillers aren't normally my go-to, but the premise had me hooked had me hooked, as I love reading about the darker side of human nature, and I was fully invested by the time I hit page five. This is a read I highly, highly recommend, but be warned that it does come with a slew of trigger warnings (sexual assault, homophobia, gun violence, racism). While these things may seem extreme, there are real life people just like Jim Shephard walking amongst us every day, and this novel serves as a stark reminder of that.
This is one that I will be thinking about for a long time. It's a story that sticks with you long after the final page because of the real world implications, and it takes a remarkable talent to write such a hard-hitting story. I'm very much looking forward to reading about Erin Stark's next big adventure. The wait for book two will be agony.