The first book in the follow-up to Kit Rocha's bestselling BEYOND series...
Gideon's Riders, Book One
Lieutenant Ashwin Malhotra is a Makhai soldier--genetically engineered to be cold, ruthless. Unfeeling. His commanding officers consider him the perfect operative, and they're right. Now, he has a simple mission: to infiltrate Gideon's Riders, the infamous sect of holy warriors that protects the people of Sector One.
He's never failed to execute an objective, but there's one thing he didn't anticipate--running into Dr. Kora Bellamy, the only woman to ever break through his icy exterior.
When Kora fled her life as a military doctor for the Makhai Project, all she wanted was peace--a quiet life where she could heal the sick and injured. The royal Rios family welcomed her like a sister, but she could never forget Ashwin. His sudden reappearance is a second chance--if she can manage to touch his heart.
When the simmering tension between them finally ignites, Kora doesn't realize she's playing with fire. Because she's not just falling in love with a man who may not be able to love her back. Ashwin has too many secrets--and one of them could destroy her.
Ashwin was a decent start to Kit Rocha's new Gideon's Riders. If you haven't read any of their Beyond series, that is ok, you can start here. Gideon's Riders, while being a spin-off of the Beyond series, is self contained enough that you shouldn't feel lost. The Gideon's Riders series begins several months after the end of the Beyond series ended.
Sector One has a very different feel than Sector Four did. It has a cleaner feel, actually. Less industrial. In Sector One, the focus is on the religion that the Rios family founded. It does have some cultish aspects, but I was never creeped out by the 'cult' factor. Gideon Rios, the current leader of Sector One and head of the family, actually cares for his people and makes sure they are cared for and aid is always offered the other sectors that need it after the war, with no religious strings attached. Also, unlike Sector Four, sex isn't an outright focus. The people do enjoy a healthy liberation and their religion is not anti-sex at all. We just don't see the orgies that are common among the O'Kanes in Sector four. At least there weren't any in Ashwin.
Ashwin Malhotra is a Makhai soldier -- the most elite of the elite super soldiers that Eden created to do their bidding. Makhai soldiers have been manipulated and tortured to make them emotionless, cold-blooded killers. Every now and again, though, A Makhai will fixate on something or someone and that is a danger to everyone, so they undergo a reprogramming. It's a brutal process. For Ashwin, the object of his fixation is Dr. Kora Bellamy.
Kora has spent her life either training to be a doctor or being a doctor. And unlike pretty much every other doctor on Base in Eden, Kora never saw the Makhai as monsters. They are still human and she refused to treat them as anything less. Kora and Ashwin have a history, and since the end of the war, several months ago, Kora had assumed Ashwin to be dead. And she mourned. But Ashwin isn't dead, and encountering Kora again proves that even the harshest of conditioning is useless again some attractions.
I enjoyed reading Ashwin, though I did have some trouble connecting with Ashwin on an emotional level. Of course Ashwin had a hard time connecting to his own emotions, so... He seemed at first to be going through the motions he felt that other humans would, trying to be more like them. It was kind of like he was wearing an
Kora greatly humanizes Ashwin because she sees him -- really sees him. She knows, from working with the Makhai soldiers, in general, and Ashwin, specifically, that they do feel emotion. Kora is also more empathic than most people. She is driven to help people and is very good at her profession. And when she is unable to save someone, she takes it hard.
There was a lot of world building in Ashwin and if this is your first Kit Rocha book, I think you'll benefit greatly from it. Coming from having read the Beyond series, I found some of it repetitive and I felt like it took me longer than it should have to get through this book, as much as I enjoyed it. But, as I said, if you are new to these authors, I think you will be able to enjoy Ashwin more because of it.
All in all, I'd give Ashwin 4 "I'm a real boy" stars.
ARC of Ashwin was generously provided by the authors, in exchange for an honest review.
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