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Nicola Haken: Souls of the Knight Series

Sawyer didn’t want to be loved, Ryder didn’t want to give love, and all Matt really wanted was love. The leitmotif of the Souls of the Knight series was people facing their pasts and braving their futures by reconsidering the way they understood themselves. The secondary, but no less significant theme was the notion of family and what that meant. Nicola Haken worked them well.

Nicola Haken--Souls of the Knight Book 1 - Being Sawyer KnightBeing Sawyer Night (Book 1)

Sawyer Knight, titular vocalist for the international band Souls of the Knight, is the center of this three-book universe. In the first book, Being Sawyer Knight, when Sawyer was in his late teens, his best friend, Jake Reed, moved from England to Australia with his family. Before Jake left, he kissed Sawyer and they haven’t spoken since. Ten years later, Jake shows up as the new head of security for the band and after Jake’s declaration that he’s going to make Sawyer his, Sawyer finds that it’s just about impossible to deny his feelings for Jake.

Throughout the story, Jake is persistent–not aggressively, though–because he knows Sawyer feels the same way, but while Sawyer had all but no choice to accept his own feelings, accepting that he was gay or bi was not something he was even remotely capable of doing. He had his band and image to think of and coming out wasn’t exactly conducive to keeping either in their current public standing. This, of course, stressed him out and began causing issues for the band who knew nothing of his “awakening”. It also put him at risk of losing Jake who he continued to stringing along.

It all comes out in the wash when a bullet from a forgotten part of Sawyer’s past hits Jake as Jake blocks its path to protect Sawyer. The aftermath is full of revelations, reflections, and life changes for not only Sawyer and Jake, but the band and everyone connected to them.

Nicola Haken--Souls of the Knight Book 2 - Taming Ryder

Taming Ryder (Book 2)

Taming Ryder is the second book and it picks up nearly a year after the conclusion of the first story. Ryder Richardson came on the scene in the first book as an assistant to Elle, Sawyer’s best friend and the band’s main hair stylist. In addition to being a stylist, he was also a gay porn star in the UK. When the band landed for the US leg of their tour, not necessarily wanting to leave his new family behind, but wanting something more fulfilling (no pun intended), Ryder took the opportunity to audition for Back Door Studio. He passed and extended his family in the process.

Unlike Ryder who was determined to escape his past, Mason George, wants to deal with his and needs money to do it. So he auditions for the same studio and even though he’s obviously inexperienced, Ryder and his boss (but mostly Ryder) see something in him and wants to give him a chance. Mason is nothing like Ryder; he’s open, generally honest, and humbly optimistic. And it’s all to such a degree that he almost seems naive, but he’s not.

Mason aces the audition and goes off to settle in…somewhere…when Ryder catches him. Ryder, charming as ever, tries to get Mason to hang out with him but it’s a no-go. Mason is standoffish. But eventually Ryder gets him to admit that he doesn’t have a place to stay. Ryder offers his second bedroom and they’re off to being fast friends. Maybe too fast for Ryder’s sake. Ryder likes things with no strings attached, no deep connections, and definitely no traces of everlasting love. But there’s Mason. Things are rocky for a bit, but they begin to level out and things are looking up for Ryder and Mason. Even Back Door Studio gets some much need help when Ryder’s connections–Sawyer Knight–get involved.

All is looking swell until the studio launches their calendar tour and it takes them to London, Ryder’s hometown. Once again the past rears its ugly head, this time pitting Ryder’s new family against his old one. The clash brings about not exactly what I’d call a happy ending, but it’s one in which the people you care about are safe and free to take their lives where they want to go, so it’s a good one.

Nicola Haken--Souls of the Knight Book 3 - The Making of MattThe Making of Matt (Book 3)

Some months, maybe another year goes by and we catch up with the crew in The Making of Matt. Matt Carter, the no-filter, sex & booze focused drummer of Souls of the Knight is a little lost and lonelier than he cares to admit after the band goes their separate ways. Though mostly spread across the US, they’re all still close, and he’s got his mom who he loves and his best friend Alex, but the shine has all but worn off the vices, glamour, and the fame and he finds himself drifting, unable to take his life in a new direction.

Matt met Alex, a gay bartender, earlier in the trilogy and even though they had completely different life experiences, they got along well. Matt moans and groans about his listless life and Alex, being a friend, says that he’ll help him figure things out. In the midst of that, love is very much in the air with all of his friends moving forward with the loves of their lives; even his cousin who he hasn’t seen in forever is married and about to pop out a kid. Matt gets moony and ends up talking to his mom about how people know they’re in love with someone. He’s a little thrown off that all signs point to Alex, but Alex is a guy, so that can’t be.

After an unexpected tragedy, Matt finds out that it can so very much be. In the wake of a moment of remembrance, Matt kisses Alex and it’s good, but not for everyone. Best friends though they maybe, there are things that they don’t know about each other and Alex is determined to keep it that way. But Matt? That’s not how he sees it. They’ve been in their corners dealing with what happened between them and after leaning on Sawyer, Matt’s finally worked up the courage to end their stalemate and get some answers. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like what he hears. Feeling betrayed, Matt tries to slip back into his rock star habits, but it’s just not the same. He wants Alex.

And Alex wants him, has always wanted him, but some pasts are hard to escape and even harder to deal with–money or no. But Matt, being Matt, being loyal and caring and loving underneath all that people know of him, finds a way. But Alex isn’t the only one with a past. While Alex is just a regular guy with a closely held secret, Matt is a public figure with a well-known reputation, so when his past tries to stake a claim on his future, it’s not so easy for Alex to find a way. Even Sawyer can only do so much. It takes time and effort and trust and not everyone understands, but this time around, Matt makes a way.

I enjoyed this series a lot. As I mentioned at the beginning, these stories were about self-awareness and self-acceptance and the concept of family and whatever that meant to each of the leads. I think each book could be a stand-alone, but it’s better if you take them all on, especially so that you can get into the secondary characters as they still live their lives in the background.

The order–Sawyer > Ryder > Matt–was the perfect progression. Ryder’s story following Sawyer’s was great because you could immediately appreciate some of the parallels and contrasts in their narratives. Although they both struggled with their dysfunctional upbringings which shaped how they viewed their sexuality, their relationships, and themselves, the manner of dysfunction and their journeys away from them were quite different. It was no secret that Sawyer’s parents were worthless wastes of flesh eking out an even more worthless existence. They were people who didn’t care for him and only minded him to express their disappointment or disdain. But, Ryder’s parents, by all accounts–them disowning their son notwithstanding–were good, upstanding citizens who provided their wayward son with a privileged life. They wanted to raise him in their image and when he wouldn’t conform, it was to the curb with him.

In order to leave the past where it was, Ryder sided with defiance and seemed to live freely, but when Mason came along, he was forced to face the truth of what he had sacrificed for his brand of freedom. Unlike Ryder’s parents, Mason didn’t judge him and gave Ryder the support and the space to really be the person he wanted to be. On the flip side, Sawyer chose denial and ended up trapped in his shame and if it wasn’t for Jake, he’d probably still be in there. However, it wasn’t actually the confinement that was a problem for Sawyer. He wanted to belong, needed to be grounded and he just traded one boundary for another. But with Jake, the boundary was more of a bond. Honestly, though, if it wasn’t what Sawyer wanted, Jake would have been the worst kind of partner. He was controlling, persistent, and somewhat dismissive of Sawyers concerns, but the way the were with each other, it was really just him calling Sawyer on his BS. Still slightly disturbing, but it worked. Fortunately, it wasn’t all on their mason and Jake’s shoulders. Sawyer and Ryder didn’t have just one person on their side because, by chance and by choice, they had gathered around themselves a group of individuals who loved them and accepted them for who they were, even before they were truly able to for themselves.

Then there was Matt. I didn’t care too much for him in the first book, he got a little better in the second book, but in his story, I adored him. I saw him a whole new light. He was quite a different animal when compared to Sawyer and Ryder–his story was practically the inverse of theirs. He was loved unconditionally by his widowed mother–she was his constant pillar of support. He lived his life however he wanted, unfettered by the thoughts or dismissals of others. When he realized that he was in love with another man, he thought he should be a little freaked out, but he wasn’t. He embraced it and, for him, the situation scored bonus points for the guy being Alex, his best friend.

Where the other two were being pursued, Matt was the one on the chase. Where the others had to open up to their families–their chosen ones–rely on them, and know and believe that they were there for them, Matt already knew, there was no question. He was Matt Carter, for better or for worse, people loved him. He actually needed to break away from the comfort of his family’s support so that he could make his own decisions beyond which girl or which bottle he was going to embrace on any given night. And they encouraged him to do so. Ryder and Sawyer were both caught up with what other people thought and allowed their fears to dictate how they loved and who they loved, but Matt only cared about Alex and he was fearless in that. He had Alex. And Alex had him. It was just a matter of how. How could he, a person who had barely made any real commitments to another person, not screw things up? How could he, knowing his past, convince the person that meant so much to him that he was worth all the stuff that went along with being with him? How could he love anyone but Alex?

Despite where they started and the paths they took to be the people we knew at the end of the series, each of them, Sawyer, Ryder, and Matt, had to find their way to the other side. And they got by with a little help from their friends…and family.

I regret not doing talk-to-text for this series, because it was really good, with the third volume being the absolute best–I’ve read it several times. Since then, though, I’ve read so many books that it’s all kind of a jumble. Regardless, I’m glad I got to write about them even if only a little. Before I read these, I read Haken’s Broken and I was immediately in love, I wish she had more work available because she knows how to write a heartbreaking love story. Bonus points for her also knowing how to write female characters with personality and agency and without demonizing them.

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