How to Blow it With a Billionaire
Note: If you haven’t yet read the first Arden St. Ives novel, this review will contain spoilers. The series should be read in order; you will be confused if you try to start with How to Blow it With a Billionaire.
By now, if you’ve read How to Bang a Billionaire, you’ve recognized that the Arden St. Ives trilogy is Alexis Hall’s riff on the super popular bildom romantic trope, and specifically, on Fifty Shades.
Reader, How to Blow it With a Billionaire is so much better than any of those other stories, I almost feel silly comparing it to them. Sexy, funny, clever, smart… everything about this series elevates the familiar trope, making it feel fresh and new. In How to Blow it With a Billionaire, the author quickly delivers what readers were hoping for at the end of book one – a happy reunion between Arden and Caspian. But this begs the question – what happens next? HTBIWAB is darker and more difficult than the first novel, and the ending broke my heart.
When last we left Arden St. Ives, he was holed up in Kinlochbervie, Scotland, nursing a broken heart. Shortly after graduating from Oxford, Arden embarked on an affair with billionaire businessman Caspian Hart, the attraction and intense connection he felt towards Caspian like nothing Arden had ever experienced. The brief hints Arden got of the man behind Caspian’s icy façade was enough to leave Arden eager to pursue something with Caspian, and he convinced himself a relationship predicated on Caspian’s pre-defined terms was better than none at all. In return, Caspian installed Arden in a luxury apartment, and provided him with a credit card to use as he wished, but Arden didn’t care about the stuff Caspian could give him. He wanted the man he sometimes glimpsed – who liked to hurt and love him in equal measure, not the remote and withdrawn version Caspian was willing to share. But Caspian proved unable and unwilling to commit himself physically and emotionally to Arden, so Arden ended the relationship and fled home to Scotland.
HTBIWAB picks up shortly after Caspian follows Arden to Kinlochbervie, determined to win him back. Much like the bildom trope upon which the series is based, Caspian – our dark hero – is badly damaged by his past and he’s decided that repressing his kinky desires is the only way he can move forward in a new relationship. But Arden isn’t willing to settle for a lesser version of Caspian and isn’t afraid of his darkest desires, his passion for his damaged lover – or his past. Caspian reluctantly agrees to try – if Arden can be patient with him. The pair enjoy a blissful couple of days and Arden again sees glimmers of the Caspian he wants in his life – unfettered by work, relaxed and willing to try and find a way forward together. Their too short sojourn ends abruptly, but the return trip to London (aboard Caspian’s private jet) leaves Arden hopeful they can make things work.
Much of HtBiWaB details how Caspian tries to be the lover Arden hoped for before fleeing to Kinlochbervie – and how their relationship evolves after they return home to London. It’s a treat to see Caspian finally accept the love and kindness that Arden wants to share with him, and witness Arden slowly but surely getting Caspian to open up and reveal himself. Unfortunately, even as Arden demands more from the relationship, Caspian keeps his secrets – unwilling to reveal why he thinks he’ll only hurt Arden if he gives in to his desire to dominate him. Arden longs for a D/s relationship with Caspian, urging Caspian to hurt and pleasure him and to trust that Arden will stop him if he goes too far, but Caspian doesn’t trust himself. The sex between them is still passionate and fulfilling, but Arden wants more – and knows something in Caspian’s past is holding him back. This push/pull dynamic – Caspian relents, Arden feels fulfilled and then Caspian retreats again – characterizes the majority of their relationship in HTBIWAB; and it’s frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying for both of them and for readers. When Arden, impatient to know the truth about Caspian’s past, presses him for answers, Caspian’s response is heartbreaking and devastating in equal parts.
Part of what sets HTBIWAB apart from other bildom novels is the principal character of Arden St. Ives. Smart, funny and charming, Arden knows what he wants and who he wants – he just isn’t sure how to get any of it. In HTBIWAB, he begins to map out his professional future with a strong push from Caspian. His inner dialogue is delightful and he’s a relentlessly honest and sarcastic narrator, even in awkward situations. He doesn’t make any apologies for who he is or what he wants from his relationship with Caspian – now or in the past – and he’s quick to come to his own defense whenever the situation warrants it. His belief in himself – and the power of his love to help Caspian overcome his own demons – is particularly lovely. Caspian is similarly well-drawn. Though everything we know about him is seen through the filter of Arden’s affection and love, it’s clear that professional success hasn’t made Caspian’s personal life any easier. It’s a treat to see Caspian respond to Arden and allow himself to enjoy all the wonderful things that make Arden so Arden – especially the snuggling. Though the trauma in Caspian’s past will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Fifty Shades, it’s quietly devastating to Arden. Caspian’s response to his reaction is brutal and ice cold. I can’t wait to see how Mr. Hall will find a way forward for these two.
I’ve been deliberately vague about the sequence of events in this novel because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but suffice it to say, the relationship – and the principals – are very different from the first novel in the series. HtBiWaB is also significantly hotter than the first novel in the series, and though this reader usually likes (loves!) that in her romance novels, it sometimes distracted from the evolving emotional relationship between Caspian and Arden. Almost every interaction between them ends in orgasms – and after a bit, it started to feel like overkill. I wish the author had squeezed in one more shared day or date, because it’s such a delight to see these two happy out of bed together, falling in love. But that’s really my only major quibble with the novel, which – much like everything else the author writes – is simply great.
As I mentioned earlier in this review, HTBIWAB is dark and deals with a lot of difficult subject matter – though I like how Mr. Hall concludes the novel on a somewhat hopeful note. We’ve finally discovered Caspian’s secret, but it’s unclear whether or not he will allow Arden help him deal with it. I hope we get to know more about the Harts (Ellery and Eleanor) – and the men who shaped Caspian into the man he’s become, because Mr. Hall has left us lots of intriguing clues but not a lot of answers. And of course – I want more Arden. He’s the best.
If you’re looking for an intriguing, complex and romantic billionaire romance, look no further – the Arden St. Ives series is all that and more.