How much is a life worth?
I grew up in Colombia, the daughter of a wealthy drug lord. I lived a life of extravagance, until one day a drug run went horribly wrong and everything came crashing down around us.
I was given away. A payment for a debt. The Gypsy Brothers Motorcycle Club became my new owners, and I did everything I could to survive.
But falling in love with the man who owned me wasn’t part of the plan…

Finally, a book that grabbed and kept my attention from start to finish! Because nowadays, I feel like I’m hitting a mid-book crisis where not many stories are holding my attention, or the spark of interest at the beginning just fizzles out. In any case, I really enjoyed this book! It was fast-paced, and meshed the stifling cartel atmosphere with the MC setting well. If it weren’t for real life butting in, this is a book I would’ve finished in one sitting.
Before I started this book, I was more than apprehensive because the male lead is Dornan Ross, the infamous antagonist in this author’s Gypsy Brothers MC series and honestly, I could never, ever see him as a ‘hero,’ even in his own books. One thing I’m thankful for is that the author didn’t use this opportunity to purposefully portray Dornan as a hero worth swooning over, because deep down he’s just not a good man. In the Gypsy Brothers MC books, Dornan has completely lost it and is one unhinged motherfucker. In this book, however, he has a much lighter personality – albeit still dark – and most importantly, he still does have a conscience. But at the same time, there’s lots of foreshadowing and it’s clear that he’s slowly inching towards a darkness that no one or nothing can save him from.
Dornan is what makes this book so compelling for me. Having read about his sadistic, cruel ways in the Gypsy Brothers MC books I was quite fascinated by a more humane side of him here. He’s a very complex man, and I’m glad there were some scenes of his past that helped me understand why he is who he is now.
As for Mariana’s character, I didn’t really like or dislike her. My overall thoughts of her are just OK. On the positive side, I admired that she shouldered her father’s mistakes and sacrificed herself to save her family.
Even as a captive, she’s spirited and feisty. I liked that her character wasn’t flat. But on the negative side, there were multiple times I struggled with how wishy-washy she was when it came to Dornan and her ‘tough’ behavior would switch on and off it gave me whiplash. This is probably my main reason for dropping a star as this disconnect didn’t really make me love this heroine, though I’m sure the author has some wicked twists up her sleeve for Mariana in the next book.
I wouldn’t really classify this as dark romance as I didn’t find this book to be dark or romantic but there is sex and some vulnerability shown by both main characters. I do think it’s Stockholm Syndrome talking when Mariana confesses she’s falling for Dornan, as he becomes the sole person she can rely on.
I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly, but something about this book makes it more of an ‘introductory’ story – what you read from the blurb is what you’ll get. No surprises or extra twists. For those that have read one or more of this author’s books, you’ll know that’s so unlike Lili St. Germain. That bomb I thought would be dropping on these characters’ heads never did, so I expect things to start to heat up in book 2. The ending of this one wraps up in a way that will give hearts a reprieve but at the same time gears you up for what promises to be a rollercoaster ride in the next book.
Cartel marks the first book in a prequel series (all full length novels) to the Gypsy Brothers MC books. I want to say the events in this book take place roughly a decade before Juliette and Jase make their debut. As for the reading order, it does depend on where you’re at with this author’s books – have you read all of them so far, in the middle of them, or haven’t read a single one.
For those that have finished the Gypsy Brothers MC series: There’s not much I can say to you LOL. It’s up to you if you want to read a book with Dornan as the male lead (not necessarily a hero). But if you’re someone who’s especially interested in seeing how he becomes the guy he is in the present, this is definitely one you’ll want to read. It’s not about the happily ever after here; it’s the journey.
For those that are in the middle of the Gypsy Brothers MC series: Honestly, I think the readers in this category get the best of both worlds. You already know what happens to Mariana, Dornan, and other side characters so you’re prepared for it, but you haven’t seen the full extent of Dornan’s depravity yet so you have some room left to accept a ‘better’ him in this prequel series. I’m not suggesting that everyone just go read half of this series, then jump on Cartel, but for those already in this position I think it’ll enhance the rest of your reading experience for the Gypsy Brothers books and see there is more to him than just evil.
For those new to this author: It’s totally up to you where you want to start! But for those that love to read in chronological order, I would recommend starting with Cartel and then head for the Gypsy Brothers MC series.
ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: 4 stars!