Stolen by the Arziani Georgian crime mob as a child, 152 was raised and conditioned to be a Mona—the most subservient of the Arziani Blood Pit slaves.
Gorgeous and kind, she has been and under the imprisoning influence of the Type B drug and under the command of the Blood Pit Master’s sister, Mistress Arziani, for most of her life, until the Master calls her back home to Georgia.
He wants her under his total control, and Master always gets what he wants.
But when 152 is gifted to the Blood Pit’s fearsome champion death match fighter as a prize, 152 suddenly finds out that the men who appear most brutal, may just own the kindest hearts. And love may be found, even when living in hell.
Freedom, family, love, 152 will have to fight for what she wants and ultimately make an impossible choice.
From the moment the Scarred Souls series started Ms. Cole invited readers on a dark and desperate journey, with a few bright spots along the way, that has culminated in an uplifting and powerful conclusion with this fourth installment. Throughout these four books readers have witnessed cruelty and depravities from a world that time forgot, a world that was hidden but ready to erupt with feelings of rage always present, in stories that stayed with me long after I finished them. With this installment readers get greater insight into the Blood Pits and the fighters residing there, along with other castes whose lives are just as dire. From the monebi who are used for sex, to the chiri who are slaves, it's a tale of forgotten people used as entertainment for the entitled. It's a tale too that ultimately pulls at your heartstrings while leaving you on edge from the first page to the last.
Fighter 901 is Champion of the Blood Pits, taken from an orphanage as a child and stripped of his identity and made into a killer through drugs, torture, and an instinct to survive. Seeing his fellow fighters brought down by love has led to a lonely existence as he's turned down every monebi sent to him and kept himself from bonding with other fighters. He doesn't want to give Master a weapon to use against him, but the moment 152 is sent to him his life changes irrevocably. She's sent by Master as a Trojan horse to make the increasingly arrogant 901 vulnerable, but the more time they spend together the more determined he becomes to make a life for themselves outside of the Pits. Along with discovering that his name's Ilya, he also soon discovers a plot that will bring Master to his knees, in an exhilarating conclusion that has his heart driving him towards the light. Ilya's a hard man when we first see him, cold and determined to keep to himself. He's unrivaled when it comes to fighting which has him pushing his boundaries a bit too far when it comes to Master, who sees Ilya as his Pit Bull, making no moves unless he deems it. Wanting to bring him to heel though has Master sending his favorite monebi to crack the hardened warrior but the exact opposite happens as their growing love for each other drives him to finally stand up to Master. Seeing Ilya's evolution, as love reawakened his heart and soul, was both heartwarming and painful as love in their world was in constant peril. Being able to define feelings of love and happiness ultimately empowered him and had him fighting Master's vile manipulations in scenes that had me cheering right along with my heart racing. With each new joy he found, from a simple kiss to a smile, it endeared him to me and had me aching for the lost little boy he once was along with the hardened man he's become.
152's life has been one of loss and numerous heartbreak from the moment she and her brother were taken as children. She was used to keep him under the control of Master's sister until the day they were torn apart and she was chosen to be the High Mona of Master, bound to his bed by drugs and force. She's left with nothing but fragments of that time, dreams of a boy sworn to save her. Being Master's favorite means being at the whim of his constantly changing emotions. He's truly psychotic, obsessed with her, unleashing his rage on her for how he feels. His hatred of 901 is even greater though which is why he's willing to send 152 to his Pit Bull. Her early interactions with 901 leave her fearful of his anger and coldness, but subsequent encounters have them bonding over their ability to talk in Russian and heartfelt talks that have them finding support in one another. As she starts to care for him she becomes stronger, taking more risks to show him how she feels. Discovering that she's named Inessa, along with the appearance of a heavily scarred man, open the floodgates of her heart and soul to give her the strength to finally stand up for herself. It's an act that had me cheering but also fearing what the fallout would be as Master realized what she'd done. Inessa's an unlikely heroine early on as she was completely beaten down, letting things happen around her without taking much notice. Being around her chiri, Maya, opens her eyes to what others in their world experience. It becomes the impetus to finding strength and solidarity with others. As she comes to care for Maya she also starts falling for Ilya. Her choosing him, finding a moment of joy in his arms, has her dreaming of more and holding out hope for HEA just as Master's anger is set to take her life from her.
With each installment in this series I became more and more immersed in this world and the men and women fighting to survive in it. Though you can read this book on its own you'll definitely want to read them all as each story leads readers ever closer to the ultimate HEA. The narrative of this story is made richer by knowing what came before, gives the story a more emotional impact seeing everything Inessa's brother went through before to rescue her now in her most desperate moment. Ms. Cole's depictions of the Pits and the role of the monebi and chiri are vivid and pull at your heart while making you cringe with how bloodthirsty people can be to those they see as lesser. The fight scenes had my pulse racing feeling each blow as it were my own, desperately rooting for 901 and his fellow warriors. Master was a twisted villain whose moods were erratic, leaving readers on edge trying to anticipate how he'd lash out next while rooting for him to get the ending he so richly deserved. The beginning of this story had a very solitary feel to it courtesy of Ilya's emotional wall, a feeling of oppression and desperation as Master reigned supreme. By the end though there was a feeling of brotherhood, an empowerment, and a feeling of solidarity to find freedom which left me full of hope. Everything that came before, every loss and every tear shed in pain, led to this story. Though I'm sad to see it all come to an end, Ms. Cole couldn't have wrapped it up any better as all the previous darkness culminated here with a bright shiny bow.
My rating for this is an A.
*I got this book from NetGalley for review in exchange for my honest opinion.