Book review: Batter My Heart by Nenia Campbell

Published March 4th 2022


Two brothers.

One mistake.

Dahlia Blackwell is a good girl. Or, at least, she tries to be. But after rejecting the advances of the most dangerous boy in town, Audric Dubourdieu, she finds herself the target of a vicious harassment campaign that unburies secrets about her family that she never knew. When she gets accepted to the local college on scholarship, the bullying only gets worse: in a hothouse full of gilded lilies, there’s no room for stubborn weeds.

Theo Dubourdieu lives his life like it’s a stick of dynamite burning at both ends. Fraternity president, prominent medieval scholar, heir to the family fortune: on paper, he looks perfect. But beneath the surface, his life is a chaotic maelstrom of dark desires and bad decisions. Which is why, when he encounters the strangely intense girl walking along his family’s private beach, his first impulse is to kiss first and ask questions later.

Dahlia despises Theo and everything he represents, but he makes her feel things she knows she shouldn’t—and he’ll let her keep her thorns if she’s willing to bleed for them. She’s a wildflower. He’s a storm. Together, they’ll find either salvation or destruction as they batter each other’s hearts.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“There was something devastating about being handled gently by a cruel man. Maybe because it felt so intentional, so excruciatingly deliberate.”

Batter My Heart is as toxic as it is addictive. I wanted to throw the book against the wall so many times but I couldn’t let it slip from my hands.

What I find the most fascinating about this story is that is it basically a modern bodice ripper with a flavor of the 80s and 90s bodice rippers romances. It fringes on highly theatrical but the dark topics like bullying and mental illness pull it from the obvious belonging to the aforementioned category.

Batter My Heart strikes at our primal: bordering on rape and unhealthy relationship which any normal person would run from in real life, however, is so alluring and intoxicating one can’t stop wondering about dark animal desires that lurk inside any of us. I suppose that’s the main charm of the story: we can enjoy the literary abuse without actually experiencing any in real life.

And here I want to stop on the topic of bullying, feminism, and privilege. I have to admit though I thought a lot of things were over the realm of possibility I can’t deny how precise and cutting to the bone these matters were described in the story. I’ve experienced bullying firsthand when I was in high school, so I felt the things the heroine felt with my skin. It’s a sad truth that mean girls exist and alas there’s no universal girl code where girls stick for each other instead of resorting to bullying.

There were rules for victimhood, it seemed, the way that there were rules for everything else, and people really only believed in justice for the privileged, white, and pretty.

As for the sexual abuse *shivers* as much as terrifying it was, I couldn’t shake the feeling the whole thing resembled a classic bodice ripper plot: there’s a tortured hero who keeps forcing himself on the heroine and she cannot resist because she feels this inexplainable pull toward him. We all know he does not really going to hurt her. And here I have to say BUT because the hero does some pretty bad stuff to the heroine, morally and physically degrading her and I have no excuse for that. Then in the next part the villain makes an appearance; he is set on really hurting the heroine. And it’s up to the hero to save her and finally realize that he loves her.

Honestly, I think it’s a genius way to write a book. It’s like a special insight, especially endearing when you know that the author has a soft spot for these bodice rippers romances (which I do as well and though most of them are completely chauvinistic crap, some of them are real gems).

And here we come to our main characters. Theo is the right type of a tortured asshole I love in my books. He is in no way a good person but antiheroes have a tendency to crowl under your skin.

“The heroes without hope of redemption are the ones we root hardest for because in our own unshakable faith in romance, we cannot fathom a heart so deep or dark that it cannot be turned.”

And this one does it using French. Gosh, my skin heats at the memory of all the things he said or did. Sexy beast!

“Je veux saigner pour toi, mais tu es si grand et j’ai si peur.”

Dahlia is a girl who endured so much crap from people around her. It’s the case where children are responsible for their parents’ sins and it sucks because no one should have to pay for the mistakes of their family. Theo is no better at treating Dahlia at first, but slowly their relationship turns to something deeper and meaningful. Still, I felt like screaming at the poor girl to pack her things and run.

“It still felt wrong sometimes. Like something she shouldn’t want. But other times she’d catch herself looking at the marks he’d left on her skin, pressing them just to feel the shallow echoes of his touch, and something would catch in her throat and in those moments she could almost understand. The lines had been blurred and redrawn so many times that she was sometimes no longer sure where they were until they were wrapped around her throat.”

It’s really hard to describe Theo and Dahlia’s relationship. Theo is an asshole but I have a weak spot for assholes in books. Of course I am biased and want to excuse his terrible behavior. Flawless morally grey characters make us sympathize with them even if we do not want to.

“This house bleeds memories,” he whispered, with his fingers stroking down her cheek, her neck. “There’s no fucking escaping it. It’s all rotten and gone to shit and I can feel it dying all around me.” She felt his sharp nose brush against her scalp, through her hair. “If you’re not careful, I’ll drag you down with me.”

Batter My Heart is a psychological book in many ways. You dive into it and get tangled among its many pages (500+). You insert yourself into the characters’ lives and problems and afterward, when you turn the last page they already feel familiar and dear to you and then you need therapy to switch your mind from the story you just finished.

“It’s hard to give up something once you’ve already decided it’s yours. It’s like picking up a rock at the beach and seeing it in the light for the first time. Maybe at first, it looks dull and flat. But then you notice that spark, that flare of color. And now that it’s in your hand, blazing with fire, you can’t bring yourself to throw it away because you’re not sure you’ll be able to find it again if you lost it. Or if it’ll even be the same.”

Another strong part of the story is language. Nenia knows how to cut with words and soothe with beautiful prose. I think that the language in this book was one of the things that kept me rooted.

All in all, Batter My Heart is a flawed story about flawed people. You can’t take it too seriously but you also cannot ignore the series topics is brushes. Dark, lush, violent, and a little bit Gothic, it’s a perfect match for those who wish for a dose of wickedness in their life.

4 thoughts on “Book review: Batter My Heart by Nenia Campbell

  1. Stephanie - Bookfever

    “a flawed story about flawed people” actually makes me really want to read it. Books about flawed people are far more interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

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