First published back in June of 2016, ‘Ashley’s Tale: Making Jake’ formed the prequel to US author Mike Duke’s debut novella ‘Ashley’s Tale’ (2015).

DLS Synopsis:
Jack Jackson was just thirteen years old when he first stood up to those that victimise and abuse women.  His mother, Lori, hadn’t chosen well with the man she was with.  Ricky was the sort of guy who liked to talk with his fists.  And that night he was taking out his anger on Lori once again.  However this time Jack wasn’t willing to stand aside.  He couldn’t allow this man to continue crushing his mother’s soul.

With an aluminium baseball bat gripped tightly in his hand, Jack solved the problem of Ricky.  In one swift and brutal moment of violence, Jack changed the course of his life forever.  He’d rescued his mother, stood tall against a man twice his size, and hopefully ended the downward spiral of oppression against his mother.

That was ten years ago.  A crime he’d committed for a justifiable cause.  A murder they’d gotten away with.  Now it fuelled the driving impetus behind his plan – Operation: Black Knight.

April had been his best friend for years.  He had an unspoken love for her.  A love which had never been reciprocated in the way he wished.  His love for her had led to a visceral frustration and mounting rage at the abusive men she had constantly chosen to be with.  A rage he had so far managed to restrain whenever she was near.

But then her thuggish boyfriend, Brad, had drunkenly beat and raped her.  April had gone running to her White Knight.  Beating on his door with tears streaming down her face.  It had been the turning point for Jack.  The moment the rage he’d kept contained finally overflowed.  Brad would pay.

However Jack knew that April also needed to change her state of mind.  She needed to be ripped out from the vicious circle she kept jumping back into.  She could no longer remain a victim.  It was time to put an end to her victimisation once and for all.

Jack knew the White Knight role he’d played over and over just never worked.  He realised it would take a Black Night to bring about change.  A lasting change that would keep her from choosing abuse ever again.

The Black Knight would be different.  Dangerous, unpredictable, full of scorn and disdain - uncaring and willing to hurt and inflict pain.  Jack knew not an ounce of empathy could be shown.  The Black Knight would have to be monstrous.  After all, only a monster could kill the warped mind he knew was strangling April’s potential for happiness.

Only a monster could do the things it would take to save April from herself…

DLS Review:
First and foremost, it’s essential that this novella is only read after reading ‘Ashley’s Tale’ (2015), even though it’s essentially a prequel.  ‘Making Jake’ includes some major spoilers that would seriously ruin the impact of the twists within ‘Ashley’s Tale’ (2015).  In fact – if you’ve not yet read ‘Ashley’s Tale’ (2015) then I advise you to stop reading any more of this review.

So now that the necessary spoiler alert is out of the way, it’s on to reviewing this second instalment in Mike Duke’s ‘Ashley’s Tale’ trilogy.   As already stated, ‘Making Jake’ forms a prequel to the original novella.  It tells the story of how Jack Jackson became Jake – the man who rescued Ashley from herself through a brutal regime of training and the threat of rape and violence.

In ‘Ashley’s Tale’ (2015), the character of Jake was by far and away the most intriguing.  The basis of the novella was a powerfully emotive character arc in which we witnessed Ashley losing her status as a victim and instead learning to finally face up to her tormentors.  Nevertheless this transformation was all because of the actions of Jake.  A character who was at first (very purposefully) depicted as the story’s antagonist.  But as the novella progressed, so the real motivation to his brutal actions became clear.  The first novella was focussed entirely upon Ashley’s transformation, which left many questions lingering in the air surrounding the man responsible.  ‘Making Jake’ addresses these.

Author Mike Duke takes us back to when Jack (later to be renamed Jake) was a young teenager – and his first shocking stance against a man who was abusing a woman – in this case his mother.  It’s a short, sharp, shock of an opening sequence that sets the ball in motion perfectly for another powerful character arc.  Although this time the main spotlight is now being shone upon Jack/Jake and not the female victim.

With the tale’s tone established in those initial few pages we’re flung ten years on, where Jack is now a young man, carrying his own emotional baggage.  Here he once again finds himself standing at the sideline of some serious violence against a woman.  This time the abused victim is April – his best friend who he already harbours strong feelings for.  It’s a plot bubbling with raw emotions.  And it’s one which Duke sets the backdrop for masterfully.

The characterisation of both Jack and April is fleshed-out with an incredibly loving depth.  Of course, emotions are running high between the two; everything is delivered with a sense of harsh rawness and gut-churningly tension.  As we’re dropped headfirst into this highly-volatile situation, Duke handles the atmosphere and pacing perfectly.  So much so that within a matter of a handful of pages you’re swallowed up by the premise – drawn deep into the tense and emotion-heavy plot that’s developing.

There’s a lot that mirrors ‘Ashley’s Tale’ (2015) in the prequel.  The overall plot is undeniably very similar.  Jack goes to extraordinary measures in an attempt to force April to finally stand up for herself and shed the inherent victim within her.  It’s an echo of the former story, however it doesn’t feel repetitive, but rather, a less prepared exploration down a more treacherous pathway.

By far and away the most intriguing element in this second instalment is with the complex layers and conflicting emotions that can be seen within Jack.  He’s the sort of character you could ponder for hours on end.  His intentions may be nothing but honourable, all for the right reasons, but it’s not quite as simple as that.  Indeed, Duke purposefully provokes an array of battling emotions from the reader, pushing what is a justifiable reaction and response further and further until all lines are blurred and we’re lost in a no man’s land of questionable morality.

Empathy is gradually overshadowed by a growing frustration at which point we’re coerced into craving a seemingly justifiable retribution.  Here Duke cunningly manipulates the reader’s senses, playing out a message that he guilefully portrays as honest and pure, yet holds back the final hand for a last twist that will leave you cold and breathless.

‘Making Jake’ isn’t the hardboiled gut-punch that ‘Ashley’s Tale’ (2015) was.  It doesn’t yank the reader into a ferocious hellhole whereupon it messes with your senses as everything’s turned on its head.  Although similar ground is trodden – ‘Making Jake’ is nevertheless a very different beast.  What we have instead is a more carefully laid out storyline, equally as direct and singular as its predecessor, but one that opens up some fresh new wounds.  It’s thought-provoking and far more complex than the sum of its parts.  But one things for sure, ‘Making Jake’ has concreted Duke’s position as a master of utterly uncompromising hardboiled revenge-thrillers.

The novella runs for a total of 62 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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