Despite the darkness of its title, Desolation is a truly delightful and well-rounded debut novel from R.L. Caulder. Though the book touches on a variety of difficult (and potentially triggering) topics, Caulder handles those subjects with just the right touch of deftness, skill, and a healthy dose of levity that makes Desolation un-put-downable.
“Oh shit! Sober up, Lana! Sober up! You’re talking to a Goddess!”
Our heroine, Lana, is – in a word – dramatic. A spitfire. She’s a wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve kind of girl, and if she’s feeling strongly about something, everyone in the vicinity is going to know about it. She’s not always entirely relatable (who is?), but when she is, LORD IS SHE! I mean, who hasn’t found themselves drunk in a bathtub trying their best to act sober while speaking to a goddess? At her core, Lana is spunky, determined, fiercely loyal, and has a SERIOUS coffee addiction – and I think most of us can identify with at least some of those qualities. Even in moments when I found myself struggling to relate to aspects of her personality, the humor that Calder infuses into her reactions was just the push I needed to connect again.
“A hand falls on top of my shoulder, causing me to jump and react without thinking, cupping the coffee to my chest to keep it out of the clutches of evil. I fall into a crouch with my eyes narrowed, hissing like Smeagol from Lord of the Rings. “My precisoussss. Mine!”
Beyond Lana, Caulder does an amazing job characterizing Lana’s mates. Sometimes, with RH novels, authors don’t quite succeed in fully developing distinct personalities and backstories for the men in the heroine’s life, but there is no such issue here. I thought that Caulder did a beautiful job introducing us to and developing each man’s back story in the foster system and tying that story to how they interact with and connect to both Lana and one another.
“Thank you for saving me. Thank you for picking up the many broken pieces of my heart and stitching them back together. Thank you for showing me what real love feels like. What a family looks like.”
I always know, when I take on a book with dark themes that I run the risk of being triggered – but I read them anyway because often those very books have the most rewarding and touching messages for me. This was so very true of Desolation, and I applaud Caulder for her handling of the darker issues within this book. In particular, I found the dynamic of trust after abuse or neglect to be especially well illustrated. For survivors, safe places and safe people are crucial. And the loss of those things – even the fear of losing them – can shake a person to their very core.
“Remember that we are not the sum of our demons and our past. We are the sum of our love and perseverance through the trials along our journey.”
This message from Gaia to Lana is, perhaps, one of the most profound messages in this book. As a survivor, self-worth is sometimes hard for Lana to completely grasp, despite her often blustery exterior, and she frequently fights to be self-reliant in order to prove herself or to protect others from receiving injury on her behalf. This cycle is evident with Lana and the men throughout the story, and we even see it in Lana’s interactions with others, like Beth and Serenity. Feeling as if we are a product of what has happened to us is a trap that so many survivors fall into. Remembering that we are, rather, a product of what we have MADE happen DESPITE what has happened to us, in combination with invoking the power of love, will I think be key to Lana ensuring that this incarnation ends differently than the last.
I truly enjoyed every moment of this book, am absolutely awed by Caulder’s debut, and definitely can’t wait to pick back up with Lana and her men in Book 2, Detonation!