Independently Published (2020)
Reviewed by Skyler Boudreau for Reader Views (10/20)
“Honor Bound” by Athena Ryals is an action novel following a family going up against a crime syndicate who has kidnapped one of their own. It takes place after the United States has collapsed into anarchy and most people live at the mercy of these syndicates. In addition to being the first book in a new series, “Honor Bound” is also the author’s debut novel.
Ryals puts her background as a paramedic to great use, creating vivid and realistic scenarios that make her novel that much more gripping. In a setting where society has fallen into disarray and most hospitals are controlled by the vicious and violent syndicates that terrorize the country, medics are highly valued. Ryals makes it clear that she knows what she’s talking about. She isn’t afraid to impart a few pieces of her own knowledge on the reader!
“Honor Bound” is a novel that, while mainly focused on action, is incredibly inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community. One of the pivotal relationships of the story is between Vera, one of the main characters, and a woman named Tori. Well-written female romances, while starting to become more common, are not something readers get to frequently read in action stories. Several other characters are also referred to through gender neutral pronouns.
Ryals also explores the different dynamics of the “found family” trope. While none of the characters in the family this novel centers around are related to each other, they all share strong familial bonds that help them survive the hellscape their world has become. Each individual relationship is carefully explored, as well as the overall group dynamic.
This is not a novel for a squeamish audience. It contains a lot of violence, much of which comes across as excessive and unnecessary. Large portions of the story are taken up by scenes of various characters being tortured. The scenes do nothing to move the plot forward, and often times the author cuts away from the action in order to show them. It’s hard to read and doesn’t add to novel. It actually drags the pace down and slows the plot. These scenes also become very repetitive after a while.
The main antagonist is a man named Gavin, a high-ranking member of one of the crime syndicates. At various points throughout “Honor Bound,” Gavin has captured different main characters and taken them back to his dungeons to torture. There doesn’t seem to be any reasoning behind his decisions to do this, beyond him being sadistic. He’s a somewhat one-dimensional villain. He lacks a motive and seems to do cruel things out of boredom and pettiness. The same is true of the syndicates. It seems like they’re in the story just to fill the role of antagonist. They don’t have any goals to accomplish, beyond hurting the main characters. The main characters are very likable, and the audience doesn’t want them to be hurt, but that isn’t enough to keep the tension high throughout the novel or to move the plot forward.
“Honor Bound” is a novel that leaves me conflicted. Parts of it were very enjoyable, and parts of it were not. It’s a good book for a reader who would like to find a story about a close-knit family in a setting where all law and order has collapsed. On the other hand, the plot is often dragged down by unnecessary scenes and the length of the novel could easily be cut in half by removing those scenes. Despite this, it is a book with a lot of promise. With two more books in the series, there is plenty of time to turn it into a trilogy to remember!