Unbound by Cara McKenna (a mini review)

I didn’t love Ms. McKenna’s latest book. This surprises me because her After Hours (reviewed by me here) is a gritty, startling, good read. Though I found it interesting, this book, Unbound, never drew me in the way After Hours did.

The heroine, Merry, lost both her mom and a hundred pounds in the last year. In an effort to redefine herself, she is hiking alone in the hinterlands of Scotland for three weeks. Two weeks into her trek, she gets sick. She’d been filtering her water, but had forgotten about the hazards of bacteria in the lochs she swims in. She turns dizzy and weak, falls and smacks her head, and is unable to go any further. There is only one house around for miles, a tiny crofter’s cottage and she seeks haven there. 

The house is owned by Rob, who is a serious hermit. He moved there several years ago, thinking he would die there in the final stages of death by alcoholism. Instead, he quit drinking and survived. He believes he’s only capable of resisting the lure of the bottle if he stays completely isolated from everything and everybody. When Merry arrives at his door and it’s clear she’s too ill to wave away, he reluctantly offers her a bed for a night or two.

I had a hard time connecting to either Rob or Merry. It seemed to me a little odd that Merry felt so safe traipsing in the Scottish wilds–although it’s possible I’ve read too many UK murder mysteries. Merry had flashes of bitterness towards things in her past, but, overall she was a sunny person. Her blithe joyfulness made it hard for me to see her as so able to understand Rob’s dark, complicated personality.

Rob is not only an alcoholic, he has a very strong unusual sexual fetish. Ms. McKenna does a great job of writing how that fetish works for Rob–that part of him I understood. I understood less well why Rob didn’t tell Merry about his alcoholism and how his isolated life made him (more or less, and really, mostly less) happy. 

The pacing of this book didn’t work for me either. It took too long for Rob and Merry to make a real connection. There was too much “here’s what I’m thinking” prose than was necessary. I’d have enjoyed this book more had it been half its length. 

It’s still a good book. Ms. McKenna’s prose is crisp and her sex scenes, erotic. She doesn’t make it easy for Merry and Rob to find away to be happy together and it’s interesting to see their relationship go, then falter, grow, then falter. Their struggles give their HEA a satisfying heft.

For me, this book is a C+ read. But for those seeking for a well-written book depicting an unusual sexual relationship, Unbound is a good choice. 

I do look forward to whatever Ms. McKenna writes next. Her books, including Unbound, are always intriguing reads. 

(I received an advance ARC of this book from Netgalley.)

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