Review: If I Ever by SE Jakes

Posted January 31, 2019 by B. in Gay Romance, LGBTQ, Military or Suspense Romance, Rating C, Reviews Tags: , , ,

If I Ever
Author: SE Jakes
Reviewer: B.
Rating: C

What I’m Talking About:

Like many others, I was so excited to find out that Prophet and Tom would get their final book. It was a long wait, but things happen, and I was just glad to know the story was still in the works. In several ways, it was exactly what I’d hoped—lots of zigs, plenty of BOOMs, and a chance for both main characters to have a happy future together. There were other problems, however, that made If I Ever extremely difficult, and did significant (yet hopefully temporary) harm to my love of this series, in general. This review will necessarily involve discussion of a scene that requires a trigger warning as well as a few spoilers, both of which I usually try to avoid.

Out of the gate, I strongly suggest rereading the other Hell or High Water stories first (including Dirty Deeds), not only because it’s been awhile, but there are a lot of threads being pulled together very quickly, and the refresher course helped tremendously. Conjunctively, anyone new to the series should also start at the beginning of the series. There are references to conversations and past events (plus all the flashbacks) that occurred throughout the other novels, on top of the cumulative happenings involving an expanding cast of characters to digest, making If I Ever a decidedly complicated undertaking.

One of the issues I encountered repeatedly as the story progressed was that, while the sheer quantity of secrets Prophet has always kept has led to many moments of disorientation for me (especially once his plans started kicking into gear), that has never been true to the extent that it is here. In the interest of time, I listened to the audiobooks again before I began reading, but still got very confused in places. It was like being handed an elaborately carved puzzle box, already finished, then having to completely take it apart to comprehend how the pieces fit together. In the past, a lesser degree of this has sometimes been part of the fun, but I felt it was excessive here. While flashbacks and additional explanation (both from Prophet and other/new characters) cleared up some of the haze, it took a second read through for me to feel confident that I knew what was going on.

The most damaging problem I encountered in If I Ever must be prefaced with a trigger warning for sexual assault. In general, I think the warning (or lack thereof) was handled irresponsibly. It is present on Riptide’s website, but not on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, NetGalley, or Goodreads. Including the warning in the blurb might be an easy fix in order to protect readers, and I hope all authors and publishers will consider doing something to correct this oversight in the future.

the discussion below contains information that could be considered a spoiler

As to the sexual assault scene itself, its most damning cruelty is that I believe it’s unnecessary. I almost always avoid stories with nonconsensual sex. But, If I Ever was important enough—these characters are important enough—that I felt like I had to read it. For now, I regret that choice. To be fair, Prophet’s attempt to reconcile the rape as a “tactical move” to “save lives” is in no way a dismissal by the narrative. But, the lengths to which Prophet will go to protect others has never been in question. Neither has the degree of John’s evil and depravity—particularly so in the last two novels. He’s unsalvageable. I already got that part. Tom had previously vowed to kill John with enough conviction that I knew he would. If the scene had to be there, I hoped it was because there was absolutely, inarguably, no other way around it. But, that isn’t the case. Even if the events leading up to it were unavoidable, the rape itself was. For instance, what happened to the knife Prophet miraculously caught from Tom? Why not use it to buy Tom the few minutes he needed to get free? Distraction, whether from memories or outside interference, had already worked on John. Why not a little more? And so on. Tom succeeded moments too late. Why not in the nick of time? The shower sex he and Prophet had an hour or so later could have been a celebration, a comfort and reaffirmation, rather than the equivalent of trying to sandpaper off a stain that didn’t need to be there. I just cannot understand why the author chose to do this when there were other options. And I’m both revolted and saddened that she didn’t take them. Prophet deserves better. 

****End Spoiler****

Prior to the above scene, there were quite a few things about If I Ever that I enjoyed a great deal. This story moves. Like the other novels in the series, the action roves across continents and oceans, the pressure of time passing almost tangible in the characters’ urgency.

The rest of Prophet’s SEAL team are back, as well, and, while the additional POV’s were clearly setting up future stories, I enjoyed seeing more of their interactions and personalities. Cillian also makes a reappearance, of course, as do Dean and Reggie, along with the arrival of new friends and unknown enemies. Given that the author seems to be trying to do an awful lot with the remaining space in the narrative, many of these provided some much-needed balance and humor. 

Without a doubt, my favorite character going forward will be Mal. I’ve always loved him, but never truer than in If I Ever. Dubbed “Uncle Crazy” early on, he lives up to it thoroughly and gleefully, yet proves to be so much more than I originally anticipated. His non-relationship with Cillian is also at an interesting juncture, and I have plenty of hope for them down the line.

Despite my stated opinions, I think many fans of this series will love If I Ever. It’s classic Hell or High Water with extra adrenaline in a lot of ways, and I will still ever adore Prophet and Tommy. The author has put forth a great deal of effort to establish the foundation for the next book, and I can’t help looking forward to reading it once the shadow of this one fades a little. Hopefully, more Mal and Cillian will do the trick.

My Rating: C, Finished It – Liked some, didn’t like some

About the Book:

Some ghosts refuse to stay buried . . .

Prophet and Tom have been through the ringer more times than they can count, both as partners in the field and in life. Yet despite it all, they’ve built something great together. But now they need to protect it again: Prophet’s old nemesis, John Morse, is back and threatening everything he loves.

Prophet is driven enough to take John down alone, and with a chance to do exactly that on the table, he runs with it, risking himself in the process. But trusting Tom to help him is so much more than mission critical.

It’s the final stand, and with Tom and his team behind him, Prophet’s in for the fight of his life. Then a figure from his past goes missing, and the consequence of an old mission rears its head. As complications and destruction mount all around them, getting out alive becomes the most important mission of their lives.

Release Date: January 21, 2019
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Series: Hell or High Water #4
Genre: Suspense, Contemporary, Military, LGBTQ, m/m
Format(s): paperback (320 pages), e-book
Book Source: NetGalley

Purchase Info:

Reviews in the Series:
Catch a Ghost by S.E. Jakes (Hell or High Water #1)
Long Time Gone by S.E. Jakes (Hell or High Water #2)
Dirty Deeds by S.E. Jakes (Dirty Deeds #1, Hell or High Water #2.5)
Daylight Again by S.E. Jakes (Hell or High Water #3)
Not Fade Away by S.E. Jakes (Hell or High Water #3.5)