Note: Every review in this post is spoiler-free for the Artists Trilogy.
Title: Sins & Needles (Artists Trilogy, #1)
Author: Karina Halle
Rating: 3.5 Stars
I bought Sins & Needles back when it was first released and rave reviews of Halle's characterization populated the internet. In fact, I've bought every installment of this series and have had it sitting on my Kindle for months, now, unread originally because of the reputed cliffhangers and later for reasons I won't know. Likely because, somewhere in my subconscious, I knew this series was going to consume my weekend and I simply hadn't had that type of time to commit to a mere trilogy. But once I started The Artists Trilogy, I knew there was no going back. Sins & Needles is slow to start, one of its biggest draw-backs, but once it hits its stride, there's no looking away from the multiple train wrecks of disaster this series finds itself in.
Ellie Watt was born to con; brought up by criminal parents, exposed to drug lords at a young age, and surviving on little love throughout her childhood, she's a walking minefield simply unable to trust anyone in her path. Now, on the run from her dangerous ex-boyfriend, Ellie finds herself back in her hometown where it all began. Here hometown where Camden McQueen still lives only now, he's no longer the scrawny goth she humiliated in high school, he's 6'2" of hard, tattooed male. Camden is wealthy, successful, and seems to have forgiven Ellie for her past, genuinely liking what he sees. So, naturally, Ellie decides to make him her new mark; seduce him and then run off with his money. Camden got his new start, so why shouldn't she? But Ellie isn't the only one who changed since high school and as she comes to know this new Camden, a trip to her past--to her ex-boyfriend involved in a drug cartel--just may be knocking on the door.
Frankly speaking, this novel thrives on action, suspense, and its fast-pace. Halle sprinkles the narrative with third-person flashbacks to Ellie's childhood--flashbacks which did little for me except slow down the plot--but present-day Ellie Watt was an intriguing heroine, to say the least. I struggled with her motivations for much of the story and as the layers to her characters, and especially that of Camden, were revealed I found myself more than a little disturbed by the psychological damage these two had suffered. Don't expect to find normal, caring individuals within the pages of this series; they're all messed-up in some way or the other. Yet, despite the fact that I disagreed--on more than one occasion--with the unfolding of events in this novel, I managed to thoroughly enjoy it. It's a dark, dangerous world Halle builds, filled with criminals and unfaithful characters at every turn, but it's so wildly entertaining and the growth these characters sustain is realistically enough for me to persist onward. Well, that and the cliffhanger ending, of course. ;)
Title: On Every Street (Artists Trilogy, #0.5)
Author: Karina Halle
Rating: 4 Stars
We don't find out much about Javier, Ellie's ex-boyfriend, in Sins & Needles with the exception of a glimpse into his criminal bad-boy side. With On Every Street, though, Halle completely turns the tables on us, giving us Ellie and Javier's love story from the time they first met. And, boy, is the Javier of six-years ago a different man entirely. It's almost impossible not to fall for him, just as Ellie has, particularly as he exposes so much of his inner vulnerabilities with this story. It's a twisted, unlikely love story that is unhealthy to its core, but, as with Halle's prior novels, you cannot help but be enthralled, waiting for the impending wreck of doom to appear. More importantly, though, I love that this novella only adds to the multitude of layers these characters possess. Definitely a must-read before launching into Book 2; I firmly believe you will be lost going into Shooting Scars without this.
Title: Shooting Scars (Artists Trilogy, #2)
Author: Karina Halle
Rating: 4 Stars
I admit it: I was conflicted going into Shooting Scars. After Sins & Needles I firmly believed Ellie belonged with Camden, but On Every Street made me consider Javier, however briefly, for Ellie. With this second installment, the stakes are even higher than before and Halle alternates chapters shifting between Ellie and Camden's respective perspectives. I enjoyed this sequel even more than I did its predecessor, likely because it took off on a break-neck pace from the beginning itself and Camden's perspective was not only essential to keep the plot of the story moving forward, but it added so much additional tension to the story. Truly, these books would make such fantastic films as Halle takes the time to give you every angle of her tale, all while keeping aspects to her plot hidden so we continue to be pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns of betrayal, even when we think we know what's going on.
While there is, definitely, a prominent love triangle in this novel in particular, I believe it's important to point out that it isn't quite that conflicting. I've read these books back-to-back, without the agony of months to wait for the sequels or discuss the future of the plot and, therefore, I was able to distance myself from most of the unpleasantness that arrives with a love triangle. Moreover, what I like about Halle's take on the love triangle is that it is meant to be horrible and uncomfortable and unlikable in Shooting Scars. All too often authors try to please readers one way or the other with their romantic entanglements, but the love triangle in Shooting Scars is more about exposing the raw underbelly of Ellie's broken mind than fan-service. Ellie continues to be an "unlikable" protagonist, one whose actions I don't fully condone, but I still admire and enjoy her narration. Granted, she's a difficult person to constantly like, but then again, she's meant to be. With Halle's novels, you're meant to fall into them head-first and feel a range of emotions for these characters, be them good or bad.
Shooting Scars is written impeccably, Halle handling these two voices distinctly and with class as she navigates the criminal underworld, taking us from America to Mexico and beyond. If you enjoy dark, twisted tales--particularly romances of the psychological nature--this is certainly not a series to pass up on. Onto Book 3! (Gosh, these cliffhangers just don't end!)
Title: Bold Tricks (Artists Trilogy, #3)
Author: Karina Halle
Rating: 3 Stars
Shooting Scars was such a spectacular sequel, avoiding MBS perfectly, precisely because of the fact that it was impossible to pinpoint any true allegiances. Everyone mistrusted everyone else, the true motivations of characters remained hidden, and no one individual was starkly black-and-white. With Bold Tricks, Halle begins shedding these gray areas, making the decisions these characters are forced to make that much easier. Suddenly, after so much hardship, these convenient pieces falling into place just seemed too good to be true. Of course, the plot is still full of unexpected reveals, the pace absolutely riveting as these characters speed through Mexico, avoiding one drug cartel only to fall into the arms of another, and the violence is particularly high in this final installment opposed to the rest. Yet, the psychological growth of these characters feels strangely incomplete, likely because Bold Tricks focused on plot more than character for the first time in this trilogy. Ultimately, Halle's trilogy is thrilling, edgy, dark, and highly original. It's impossible to put down from start-to-finish, its characters and thought-provoking and unforgettable, and it truly messes with your mind as you attempt to wrap your thoughts around these convoluted love stories. Bold Tricks eliminates any potential for a love triangle early on and though it may not have been the conclusion I wanted, it's certainly an ending I can live with: explosive to the very end.