Brutal by AJ Merlin

Brutal by A.J. Merlin
Series: Pleasure & Prey #2
Published by Focal Fox Press on January 27, 2023
Genres: Horror, Romance
Pages: 216
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Purchase on: Amazon// Barnes & Noble// BookBub
Add to: Goodreads // StoryGraph

Nothing bad happens at summer camp.
That’s what my fellow camp counselors have convinced me of when the nights around the lake get a little eerie.
But when the kids all go home and the counselors throw a party on our last night at Camp Clearwater, things change. None of us could have suspected that there was a stranger watching us or that our machete-wielding visitor doesn’t seem to like that we’re here. But when I'm attacked in the woods, he unexpectedly comes to my rescue in the most ruthless way.
Wren is terrifying, unpredictable, and possessive in a way that terrifies me. I should go to the police and stay away from him at all costs. Instead, I find myself letting him in every time he comes to play.
Can a brutal butcher ever really fall for me, or am I going to become his next victim?
*Brutal is a contemporary dark romance standalone set in the Pleasure & Prey universe. This is an MF romance. Please see author’s note at the front of the book using the ‘look inside the book’ feature for a full list of content warnings.


Honestly, I have no idea how I stumbled upon Brutal by AJ Merlin, but holy heck am I ever so excited I did! I absolutely devoured this and loved it more than I thought I would or could. The spice is great. The murder??? is great. And the relationship between main characters is fantastic, especially considering this is barely over 200 pages and the time span that passes in book feels just as short.

Now, you might be wondering if you missed my review for book 1 in the Pleasure & Prey series, considering Brutal is book 2. You have not! That review is coming up next week! I actually did not start with book 1 because I didn’t think the story and characters would be as good (I was wrong, what a fool am I!) So, I started with book 2 in the series because the series does consist interconnected standalones. If you couldn’t tell by the cover or description, this series focuses on killers very much inspired by slasher films. And yes, they are romances. Dark romances. So please, this will NOT be for you if you have issues with murder or CNC or dubcon or a few other things. This actually is dark in a way that many other romances that claim the title aren’t. And I loved it because of that.

Now, I know I mentioned a few triggers, but there is one more thing I want to mention to prospective readers. If you cannot handle the idea that someone would be like yeah, cool, okay, you’re a murderer but I’m chill about it – do not pick up this book/series. This is not a realistic romance. Do not go into this getting upset that someone’s reaction is not realistic or this isn’t normal. This is escapist dark romance. Either you get it, and will love this, or you don’t, and will hate it.

Brutal‘s killer is inspired by infamous campground slasher, Jason of Friday the 13th fame. Hazel is morosely celebrating the final day of summer camp where she has been working as a counselor. She finds herself in the woods and comes across spree killer Wren who takes one look at her and decides okay, she’s going to be his, not that Hazel knows this. Their sexual relationship was off the charts. It rode the perfect balance of fear and lust. And one thing that Merlin seems to be incredibly good at is clearly showing the lines that may and may not be crossed. There is always an out and there is always confirmation of what is going to happen. There is aftercare after things happen. It is just extremely satisfying to see in a dark romance, especially one that involved killers and potential power imbalances.

Wren, our main male character, is unapologetic about who he is. He lets Hazel know from the beginning what he is, what he does, and what he will continue to do. All that said, Wren also clearly tells Hazel how he feels about her. Hazel, meanwhile, is excited and turned on by Wren, but also slightly frightened. Frightened by Wren, because he’s a killer with intense feelings towards her, but also frightened by her own self and what she thinks of him. I also really like that she seems to have her own issues which absolutely felt relatable.

When I say I like dark romance, Brutal by AJ Merlin is what I mean. There’s great spice, an intense relationship, and folks with some messed up ideas of what is wrong/right/sexy. I honestly 100% recommend this read to anyone that is interested in the aforementioned kinks because it was really well written and a joy to read all the way around.


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