After reading the first book in the HORNET series, I thought Burrows was off to a very good start in her creation of this rag-tag group of men from different military and law enforcement backgrounds who have joined the HORNETs unit, a group of private military contractors who specialize in hostage rescue missions. Now, after reading this second installment, Honor Reclaimed, I can say with certainty that this a series that readers of romantic suspense should consider because of the wonderfully flawed cast of characters and the well-balanced mix of action-oriented suspense and tension-fueled romance.
The title itself and opening quote for Honor Reclaimed are fitting to describe the hero’s story, former POW marine, Seth Harlan, who is the newest probationary member of the HORNET team. In the preface, Burrows quotes Khalil Gibran: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” This statement sums up Seth’s character so well, his struggles with PTSD and survivor’s guilt, and most of all, his deep yearning to belong again.
Seth was invited to join HORNETs at the end of the first book because of his exemplary sniper skills, but readers don’t actually meet his character until now. The other team members are wary of Seth. They see him as a wild card, unpredictable and unstable because of his PTSD. At the start of the book, Seth is an outcast who hasn’t been fully accepted into the unit, and the frequent mistakes he keeps making during training exercises only exacerbates the existing tension between him and the rest of the team. His teammates don’t trust him, and Seth knows it. Until he can prove that he is an asset to the unit, his future with the HORNETs is questionable.
When the HORNET unit accepts a case to rescue a soldier who has been captured by an Afghani terrorist, Jahangir Siddiqui, while on a black ops mission, the team must travel to Afghanistan, and Seth is horrified and panicked at the thought of having to return to the place where his worst nightmares occurred. His PTST stems from his last mission in Afghanistan where he lost his entire team in an attack, and he was taken prisoner and tortured for 15 months before being rescued. Seth is deeply physically and emotionally scarred from his ordeal and is weighed down by survivor’s guilt. In many ways, he has emotionally shut down, but he knows this latest mission will put him to the ultimate test. If he can’t pull himself together and perform successfully, his career with the HORNETs is over.
Once back in Afghanistan, Seth’s memories of his time there become sharper and, at times, threaten to overwhelm him and make it difficult to do his job. It’s hard to read Seth’s story without being affected by his heart-breaking experience. Burrows has done a good job in bringing to light the pain and struggles of a man fighting to hold on to his humanity and to find peace despite all the horror he has endured. Seth is stronger and more courageous than he thinks. He is a survivor, and his perseverance and determination are admirable and inspiring.
The heroine of the story is Phoebe Leighton, a photojournalist working in Afghanistan who writes stories about the plight of women and young girls. Her most recent story about child brides puts her in danger after she begins asking too many dangerous questions that threaten the political future of Siddiqui, the same man the HORNETs are trying to find. Their dangerous circumstances bring Phoebe and Seth together, and she begins helping with the team’s mission.
Phoebe finds Seth intriguing, and the harder she works to get to know him better, the more she finds herself caring deeply about this stoic man who keeps others at a distance. Phoebe sees the beauty of the man behind his scars and she wants so much to help Seth. Surprisingly, Seth discovers that being around Phoebe calms him. He is more relaxed and less jumpy. Even the rest of the team notice that Phoebe has a stabilizing effect on Seth, and they hope that will help him keep his head in the game. Seth is drawn to Phoebe and is surprised at how much he enjoys her company. Their romance evolves slowly but the passion between them sizzles in the love scenes, which are explicit.
However, Phoebe is far from perfect. She’s made mistakes in her past, one in particular that she’s can’t bring herself to share with Seth. Her shame and guilt over what she’s done have led her to try to make a fresh start, and she hopes to make atonement by using her writing and photography skills to bring awareness of the problems of others to the public’s attention. Phoebe’s character is flawed but real, and one lesson she must learn is that no matter how hard we try, we can never escape from our past. The aftereffects of the mistakes we’ve made often linger, and until we face the repercussions head on, we can never really leave the past behind and move forward. This is what Phoebe has to do, but she risks losing Seth for good.
In this second installment, I see the supporting characters developing and becoming more rounded. For example, Quinn’s brain injury from a previous accident continues to affect his work, and he worries he won’t be able to stay on the team. Ian finally makes a friend, and readers get a glimpse of the real man behind the sneering, indifferent, and cold-hearted veneer that Ian wears so well. The HORNETs are still far from the cohesive group they need to be. Their different personalities, experiences, and emotional wounds have molded some of the team members into men who don’t always play well with others. Their endeavors to learn how to work together add another layer of richness to the plot so the story never stagnates. Just as in real life, change isn’t always immediate, and it will take time for the team to build trust.
The plot is more complex that I originally anticipated and full of conflict. The first half of the book focuses on rescuing the imprisoned soldier from Siddiqui’s compound, and in the second part, the stakes become higher as the HORNET team try to keep Siddiqui from possessing a suitcase-sized nuclear weapon. The pacing is effective and the action and suspense intensify as the story progresses. The importance of forgiveness, redemption, and trust are three key themes running throughout the story. To sum up, this was a great read!
Source: Received an ARC of the book from the publisher for an honest review.
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