Book InfoThe Degradation of Shelby Ann by Emma Cole
Series: Twisted Love #1
Rating: Book ratings explained
Genres: Dark Romance, Psychological Fiction, Romantic Suspense
Purchase at: Amazon | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon AU
He was dark and handsome. Charming, older, and rich.
She was the young and pretty girl, infatuated with a suave man who didn't exist.
After leaving home and burning her bridges, Shelby Ann was cocooned in the gloss of high society— the devil in a suit at her side. But beyond acquiring the skill and poise to pull off being a trophy wife, she would discover that all was not as it seemed.
With the honeymoon over, the dirt and grime seeped through the loving facade to reveal the monsters that laid beneath. Dark and depraved, this series will twist in ways you won't see coming, revealing an anti-hero in disguise, dirty deeds in plain sight, and shocking secrets that will leave you cringing inside.
18+ for mature content. RH as the series progresses (this is a slow-build). Warning: dark content, graphic/explicit scenes, violence, death, abuse, gaslighting, drug use, dub/noncon, multiple gender pairings, relationship dynamics that may push your boundaries of what's right and wrong, plus some things I won't spoil yet, but aren't for anyone with reading restrictions.
If you like Gemma James, Anna Zaires, or Natalie Bennett, check out this dark, gothic, contemporary!
I’m finding Emma Cole’s novel the Degradation of Shelby Ann hard to review, most likely because I’m so conflicted about it. There were aspects that were brilliant, others that were emotionally hard to read and some that were even frustrating. Unfortunately, it all makes for a fragmented critique in this post.
In the earlier chapters, we hear a lot from Shelby Ann’s inner voices. One is a snarky and bullying voice; as a reader, I was never entirely clear whether this voice was an imaginary friend that Shelby had never grown out of (at one point she described it as ‘her crazy entity,’ or if she was starting to go off the rails like her mama. The second appeared to be more of a natural inner voice and could most often be heard arguing with the crazy entity. I must admit that I quite liked the crazy entity. She was Shelby’s voice of reason and white she was caustic and near-verbally abusive, she spoke more sense than Shelby ever did. If only Shelby Ann had listened to her from the start.
I was sure that the wedding would be off if I killed my chaperone in a fit of cabin fever/twat-induced rage, but some sacrifices were worth it.
I spent the first half of the book mentally screaming at Shelby Ann to get out while she still could. It was a fruitless endeavour; the prologue had already told me that she did not. In fact, knowing that there was no help for Shelby made reading this story all the more difficult. It wasn’t just the absence of hope that made me uncomfortable but my complete lack of empathy towards the character.
It was too late to put the crazy back in the box, and he couldn’t erase what he’d done.
From the start of the book, Shelby Ann knows that something is not right. She suspects that she is only a novel distraction, is confused by appearances and wonders what has gotten into her mild-mannered, attentive boyfriend. On a gut level, she believes that Dirk doesn’t want her as she is but ignores the voice in her head telling her so, despite feeling as though she is going through numerous tests. This is further compounded with the introduction of Nina as Shelby’s chaperone and the introduction of the pre-nuptial agreement.
Her insecurities mask the common sense Shelby’s crazy entity speaks with, but she also ignores her mama’s warnings and Carter’s explicit instruction to leave. By this point, I’d run out of patience with her character. Reading of her was like knowing that a horrific car crash is about to happen but being unable to do anything about it. You know you should look away but you just can’t.
I could amost see the ashes of the last of my humanity sitting where I had been… right next to the man who had ruined my life, taken those of my family and would likely take that of the last person I had truly cared about.
What happens next can only be described as abuse. There isn’t a shred of dubious or consensual non-consent which might make the second half of the book closer to morally acceptable. This is Shelby being battered by her husband, forced into activities in which she doesn’t wish to participate and intoxicated with various narcotics in an attempt to make her more pliable. Shelby being used as little more than a set of holes while Carter watches on, failing to help her as he has his own agenda to complete. It’s frustrating because he could save her – no, should save her – but passes opportunity after opportunity in furtherance of his own goals. Worse still, we’re never given more than half a glimpse of what may be happening in Carter’s world so are never presented with an enticement to continue waiting for the mystery to be revealed.
One thing I do want to note is that a lot of people are describing the Degradation of Shelby Ann as a reverse harem novel. While the blurb states that it will be RH as the series progresses, this is not a reverse harem novel in the slightest. There are MFM moments and others that are FFF with an M bouncing around between. None of it is consensual and it most definitely does not have a reverse harem vibe. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is not the novel for you.
If I’m brutally honest, I don’t know whether I was even supposed to enjoy this novel. It pulled me in because I wanted to explore the family dynamics and secrets in greater depth but I wouldn’t say that I felt a connection to any of the characters. I consider it more a study on the human psyche gone wrong. If the next book in the series, the Redemption of Shelby Ann, was placed in front of me in the next month or two I would read it to satisfy my curiosity over the backstory to the plot and the mysteries presented in the Degradation of Shelby Ann. That said, with a potential 11-month wait until the second book releases, I may have lost the inclination by then.
Why you should read The Degradation of Shelby Ann
- A mystery waiting to be solved
- Curious family dynamics