Recommended Read, Review

Review: The Black Diamond by Bella Barnes (2022)

The Lost Boys of Hell’s Kitchen, Book #3

Heat Factor: It’s got everything! I-think-you’re-a-hooker sex, hate sex, building-trust sex, AND love sex

Character Chemistry: Forced proximity and some sass turns mistrust to love

Plot: Natalia and Connor are forced to marry, plus a bunch of mafia shenanigans

Overall: I’m not gonna lie—I was apprehensive about reading this book, but I loved it

This was my first-ever mafia romance, and I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. Violence and a domineering hero and probably some sexist bullshit, honestly. I guess this book did have all of those things, but it was so bonkers and cracktastic that they didn’t bother me; it helped that the text called out the worst of the sexist bullshit instead of just letting it sit there. Anyways, I don’t have the knowledge to review this as compared to other mafia romances, but here’s what I can say: this book tapped into everything I love about Old School Bodice Rippers.

Specifically, I want to talk about the parallels with The Flame and the Flower. 

Here is a plot summary, as could be applied to both books:

  • The heroine is running away from a bad situation.
  • The hero sends a minion to bring him a prostitute. The minion brings the virginal heroine instead. The mistake is made because of the slutty dress she’s wearing.
  • The hero, thinking the heroine is a prostitute, has sex with her.
  • The heroine’s guardian discovers that the heroine was deflowered, and forces the hero to marry the heroine.
  • The hero is convinced that his wife set him up and therefore loathes her.
  • The heroine is afraid of her husband.
  • But they must share a small(ish) space because of plot reasons!
  • Hate sex ensues. The heroine is confused about liking it.
  • Slowly, the hero and heroine learn to see the good in the other. 
  • There’s a callback to that slutty dress she was wearing when they first met. 
  • But they still have some communication issues.
  • Oh no! A mega-creep tries to kidnap the heroine!
  • HEA

Was this intentional? I don’t know! Are many of these plot points standard tropes in many romance novels? Yes, they sure are! But the whole bonkers old school dynamic just tickled me pink. 

What made it even better was the way Barnes shifted some of these standard beats, mostly through her characterization of Natalia. For example, when Natalia realizes that Connor thinks she’s a hooker, she takes advantage of the situation by charging him ten thousand dollars. After all, she’s selling him her virginity! Plus she needs the money. I’m not gonna lie, I started cackling when that scene went down.

In general, Natalia was a great balance of sassy without being over the top. You gotta love a heroine who tells the hero he grows on people…just like a wart. I dislike it when heroines, at the beginning of a romance novel, are like “I’m going to stand up for myself now!” and it’s like they have a whole new personality they’re tyring on. And while there is a bit of that here, it felt organic to the character. She’s definitely naive—there’s a bit where she’s like, “Maybe Connor only kills bad people, just like my dad…wait a minute…what if my dad has been lying to me about only killing bad people…what if he’s be lying to me about EVERYTHING.” (No shit, sweetie.) But she’s also grown up around violence and is a certified card shark, so she’s not quite as naive as she seems at first glance. Natalia’s sharpness helps counteract the paternalistic bossiness that Connor subjects her to, such that I didn’t feel squicked out by their relationship (unlike when I read The Flame and the Flower, if we’re being honest).

Together, Connor and Natalia go on a solid—and very sexy—growth journey from mutual animosity to mutual trust. The sex is both sexy and frequent, and does the work of showing the shifts in their relationship.

And look, is Connor a good guy? No. He’s a violent, paternalistic, alcoholic  jerk. But reading this, I could see the appeal of reading about mafia heroes: they’ve got the rough edges and the weaponry that make them exciting, plus the power and the toys of billionaires. Connor undergoes less growth than Natalia—he mainly just needs to stop being such an emotionally-constipated dingus and stop thinking that his wife doesn’t know what’s going on. 

The TLDR: I enjoyed this book. A lot. Am I not going to go on a binge of mafia romance? That seems unlikely. But I will probably go back and read the first two books in the series.

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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