First published back in July of 2018, ‘Ashley’s Tale: The Initiation’ formed the third and final instalment into US author Mike Duke’s ‘Ashley’s Tale’ trilogy.

DLS Synopsis:
The ordeal Jake had put Ashley through whilst she was held captive in his isolated farmhouse had been both emotionally and physically demanding.  But ever since she’d left.  Ever since leaving Jake behind, Ashley couldn’t help but feel disconnected from society.  It had become a struggle for her to relate to most people.  Even more so because she believed what she did was justifiable, that it was right, even though society would be horrified by the things she’d eventually done under Jake’s guidance.  Under his coercion.  Under his rule.

Now that Ashley had spent some time away from Jake, she felt lost and alone.  She found herself longing to be back with him.  To be swept away to a world where her heart truly felt at home.  It was time for her to reconnect.  Time to actively get herself moving in a new direction.  To be happy for the first time since the day she’d stabbed Jake and was set free.  Free, but lost and painfully alone.

They’d picked her up from a truck stop diner.  It was the first time Ashley had met all of the girls.  All the ones Jake had saved.  Women who’d once been weak like she had.  Damaged.  Victims.  They’d each gone through the same arduous ordeal as Ashley to make them strong.  The same painful training so they could become something more.  So they could overcome their weaknesses and stand up to those who would prey upon them.

They had a place where they all lived together, not too far from the barn where Jake had held them all captive.  The farmhouse was where Ashley would now live with Jake and the girls.  Somewhere where she could finally feel at home.  Part of Jake’s family.  Part of his harem.

However there wasn’t much time to settle in before it was time to get to work.  Jake and the girls already had another prospective girl in sight.  A young college girl who’d been the victim of multiple rapes.  They’d followed her, researched her, learnt her routine, and from that, meticulously planned the abduction.

But when they got the girl back to the barn, they found she wasn’t the same cowering, sobbing, helpless victim they were used to seeing.  This girl was tough.  This girl wasn’t backing down.  In fact, she was goading Jake on.  Pushing him to act upon his threats.

The process was falling to pieces before their eyes.  This girl was different.  They had to adjust the plan.  The initiation process would have to adapt.  Or it could all fail.  And failure was something that Jake couldn’t go through again…

DLS Review:
As with the prequel - ‘Ashley’s Tale: Making Jake’ (2016) - it’s essential that this third and final instalment into the trilogy is only read after the first two novellas.  You see, ‘The Initiation’ includes some major spoilers that would seriously ruin the impact of the twists within ‘Ashley’s Tale’ (2015) as well as ‘Ashley’s Tale: Making Jake’ (2016).  So much so that if you’ve not yet read either of the earlier titles, then I advise you to stop reading any more of this review.

So with spoiler warnings aside it’s time to get onto the review. Firstly I have to admit to being somewhat apprehensive about this final instalment.  Author Mike Duke had already covered so much ground with the first two books, it would be all too easy to see it all come unravelled by a clumsy and overly ambitious final chapter.  Thankfully Duke was clearly wise to this, and had plenty left in the tank to give the final instalment all the energy, depth, and loving attention it so truly deserves.

To say this final chapter in the ‘Ashley’s Tale’ story is heavy with emotion would be the understatement of the motherfucking year.  Both the preceding novellas offered up stories rich with depth and ripped-raw emotion – however for this final slab of hard-boiled violence, Duke has pushed the plot and narrative into even further gut-churning regions.

Here Duke’s gone that much further with the thought-provoking fog of questionable morality which gradually descends upon the story.  In fact, with this final instalment the overreaching of justifiable revenge, the blurring of boundaries and pushing the limits of acceptability, are put to the very forefront of the tale’s focus.  It gets you thinking.  Gets you engaged, and slowly but surely, gets you passing increasingly difficult judgements.

There is no right and wrong here.  That’s the point.  It’s all grey.  All a subjective murk that gets you thinking and doubting your own instincts.  There’s a chance you’ll start to feel sickened with your own views.  Appalled with your judgements.  It’s a snowballing amalgamation of events and revelations that pulls you further and further into a vast quagmire of uncertainty.

However, one thing that stands out in this final instalment is the brave choices that Duke’s taken with the direction of the tale.  With morality now far from clear cut, it feels like everything starts to implode.  This is undoubtedly wholly intentional, but nevertheless, somewhat of a risky path to take for the final book in a trilogy.  However, it 100% paid off here.  Indeed, Duke has pretty much nailed it to absolute fucking perfection, with a concluding tale that turns absolutely everything on its head whilst simultaneously wrapping every aspect of the entire trilogy up seamlessly.

Duke’s very clever with how he portrays violence and his characters’ acceptance of it as a justifiable means for reaching prevailing justice.  Passages like “There is nothing that violence cannot solve.  It is not only the answer, it is the final answer” hit you in the face like a breezeblock dropped from a goddamn bridge.  It makes you feel uncomfortable.  The brutality of such an aggressively-raw stance just doesn’t sit right.  But of course, this is again all in Duke’s overarching plan.  He’s toying with you.  Fucking with your sense of morality.  Getting you just where he needs you to be, before the finale comes crashing through the farmhouse walls tearing apart everything you thought you understood about the whole operation.

With this final instalment Duke has achieved something remarkable.  He’s not only proven he can write connecting stories that keep on ripping up the rule book, but that he can make them all fit together exceptionally well.  It flings you in every perceivable direction until you feel beaten, bloodied and bruised to fuck.  This is how you gut-punch your readers with words.  This is how you turn an entire world on its head.  This is how you write explosive hard-hitting and thought-provoking fiction.

Truly outstanding.

The novel runs for a total of 226 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Ashley’s Tale’ instalments:





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