Book Review: When Death Frees the Devil by L. J. Hayward

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Ethan is finally free. He’s left the Cabal behind and embraced a civilian life with Jack, the man he loves. The only problem is that the Cabal isn’t willing to let him go. A call in the middle of the night and a threat to Jack’s family, and Ethan is back in the game. The only way out is to take on the organization that spent years warping his life.
Jack’s boyfriend has a way of vanishing on him, but this time Ethan’s disappearance is more frightening than ever. A trail of mysterious clues, a hit against his family, and the handprint of the Cabal on everything means the greatest test of love and determination Jack has ever endured.
Torn apart by forces greater than they are, Jack and Ethan must fight harrowing battles to get back to each other. The Cabal is the greatest foe either of them has had to face. Ethan is willing to throw away everything to bring an end to the Cabal’s evil. And Jack is willing to do the same to make sure Ethan comes out the other side alive.

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CW (from the author’s blurb) – teen suicide, suicidal thoughts, child abuse, graphic violence.

I don’t follow the author on social media and this is also not a very popular series, so as usual I didn’t even know until a couple of months ago that the final book in this beloved series of mine was coming out in the new year. I was so so excited and immediately preordered it because there was no way I was gonna wait to read it. And wow am I happy that I did on release day itself (though this review is coming to you way later).

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One of the signature writing style of the author has been the then/now multiple timeline alternate chapters, with almost every chapter ending on a cliffhanger making my blood pressure high and just at the edge of my seat right from page 1. Thankfully, the author takes a bit of a step back from that – mind you, we still have multiple timelines and many cliffhangers but it’s a tad bit less anxiety inducing this time around and I actually enjoyed it. We also get both Ethan and Jack’s POVs in the same book and that was a riveting experience. As a finale, I would have expected this book to be more action packed and exciting, and while it had its fair share of thrills, this was a very introspective book in some ways and I thought that was a brilliant choice. But that never affects the pacing of the book, with something unexpected happening all the time and me left wondering who is gonna survive and who is the traitor. If I had to nitpick, my only complaint would be that quite a few things happened outside of the pages and we are told after the fact, and I thought I would have enjoyed reading about them while they happened.

But the best part for me was finally seeing a good portion of the story take place in India and watching Jack navigate this side of his heritage. I also particularly loved the chases through the streets of Mumbai, the descriptions of Dharavi, the road trip to Goa and the nostalgia inducing overnight train ride to Kerala. Though the author decided not to include the actual words, even knowing that Jack was communicating in both Hindi and Malayalam delighted me a lot.

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As I mentioned before, we get both POVs here and it was awesome. Just reading about Jack and Ethan being vulnerable towards each other, fighting through their intense traumatic pasts (particularly horrifying in Ethan’s case) and just doing whatever they can to protect each other – it was beautiful to watch. They have changed so much over the course of three books, becoming more trusting, open and loving, and Ethan particularly trying his best to live a normal healthy life is such great character development and kudos to the author for making us care for them so much. And just like their first kiss, the first time the “three magic words” are said between them was a special moment and made me all kinds of emotional.

We got to know many side characters more personally in this book and I thoroughly loved that. Getting to finally see Jack with his family, Ethan becoming friendlier with their neighbors and also Jack’s best friend and family, and even exploring his unique but frustrating dynamic with his remaining siblings and the Doctor was fascinating to read about.

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To conclude, this book was everything I wanted it to be and more. It’s full of action packed thrills, car chases and helicopter crashes, great character development and lots of love. If you’ve already read the previous books in the series, then what are you waiting for….??? And if you’ve never read this series but love spy thrillers with an epic romance which will make your heart race and terrify you with cliffhangers, then this series is perfect for you. I was actually hedging on giving this book a 4 or 4.5 star but then the author gave me that amazing epilogue with a killer last line and I just had to make it a 5. I’m just sad thinking this is the end, and hoping that maybe the author will gift us with a short story in the future. I’m gonna miss you Jack and Ethan.

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