Angela Walker takes the trope of alpha male billionaire plucking a girl from the gutter and introducing her to a life of riches and turns it on its head in her debut novel The King and the Courtesan.
Melissa Thatcher is a drug-addicted prostitute living in the Metro slum of Zinya City. Her life looks pretty bleak, until Ezekiel, one of the city’s leading drug dealers, approaches her with a proposition: if she becomes his escort, he will change her life forever. That means living with hi I his posh apartment in a better part of the city, access to money, new clothes, trips to places she only dreamed of visiting, and an endless supply of the substance she abuses. Melissa figures that it can’t be as bad as the life she’s currently leading, so she accepts the proposition. Little does she know that things won’t all that Ezekiel has promised they will, not by a long shot.
Ezekiel is ruthless and extremely calculating, traits that have only helped him to keep a grip of iron over his drug empire. All of the people in his employ are somehow indebted to him, to the stylist who takes care of Melissa’s wardrobe to the upstanding bodyguard who is working for Ezekiel in exchange for money for his wife’s cancer treatments. Ezekiel soon has Melissa in his stranglehold, and she is careful not to cross him, until she finds out how dangerous he really is when she breaks one of the many “rules” of their business arrangement. She becomes desperate to escape him, but she knows that only one of them will make it out of the arrangement alive, and she fully intends to live.
Walker is brutally honest about the realities of sexual trauma, addiction, poverty, and what constitutes abuse, even though she avoids explicit depictions of sex. We are able to understand the effects of such things on not only Melissa, but on others around her. In other works, Melissa’s situation might be romanticized, and Ezekiel, who came from a horrible family life as well, would have been seen as a tortured hero who can somehow be redeemed by the heroine. Walker is careful to avoid glamorizing the situation; she shows Ezekiel to be exactly the sociopath that he is. There is no way he can be redeemed because he does not view himself as being in the wrong.
Melissa’s situation also allows herself an opportunity to think about what it is she wants out of her life and she finds out that she is a much stronger person than she ever believed she was. She is a survivor, and somehow we know that once she is out of all of this, she is going to be okay.
I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.