The Insiders starts a new series by Tijan about the dramatic lives of the rich and famous. It’s an underdog story about a relatively ordinary girl who gets caught up in a world she never expected to be a part of. While it’s a page-turner, I had a few issues with the substance of the book.
Bailey Hayes is your average girl – if your average girl is a genius computer hacker with a photographic memory. Raised by a single mother, Bailey’s best shot at a bright future has always been her scholarship from Phoenix Tech, one of the world’s leading cybersecurity companies founded by computer genius Peter Francis. Bailey earned her college scholarship by displaying her skills, and has always dreamed of meeting Peter, her idol, in person someday.
That dream does eventually come true, although not in the way Bailey always pictured it. One night a pair of men break into her house and try to kidnap her – and while their attempt is foiled, after talking to the police, Bailey finds herself facing an enigmatic man named Kash, who offers her a choice. He tells her that she is the illegitimate child of a powerful man, which is why she was almost kidnapped. Bailey can either come with Kash and be protected while her kidnappers are run to ground, or she can enter a sort of witness protection programme with her mother. Kash assures Bailey that her mother is not a target, and will be able to resume her normal life if Bailey comes with him.
Operating on a hunch, Bailey guesses that her father is Peter Francis, and decides to go with Kash. She has one night to say goodbye to her good-natured but somewhat flighty mother, and is then whisked away to the Francis estate. However, the estate is not all that Bailey hoped. Rather than being welcomed as a daughter, Bailey is told she will be staying at Kash’s guest house on the estate, and is given a cover story that she’s a friend of Kash’s. She is told not to interact with her three half-siblings, and to generally keep quiet.
As it turns out, keeping quiet or merely being respectful is too much to ask of an emotionally charged Bailey. Taking offense at a comment made by the housekeeper, one of the few people who knows who she is, Bailey goes on a hacking spree. From her computer at Kash’s house she hacks into the various social media and email accounts of all of her family, including her stepmother, twenty-something brother Matthew, and even her little sister and younger brother. While this achieves the juvenile goal of briefly getting Peter’s attention – he stops the hacking himself – it wins Bailey no points with the Francis clan.
After almost being kicked off the estate, an emotionally wrung-out Bailey turns to Kash for comfort. The two are strongly attracted to each other, and quickly start a sexual relationship. However, despite the fact that they’re technically a couple, Bailey doesn’t know all that much about Kash. He’s strong, handsome, and seems to be some sort of fixer-slash-henchman-slash-assistant for her family. He helps Peter out with work when possible, but also bails Matt out of the many potential scandals he gets himself into involving drugs, alcohol, and married women. And then there are the days where Kash disappears without even a vague explanation of where he’s going.
Bailey’s willingness to sit around and accept all of the above from her romantic partner was one of my many problems with her. While I was uncomfortable with her hacking, it was a one-time event borne of her confused emotional state post-kidnapping, and the need for her father’s attention. The development of the relationship between Bailey and Kash is something different. It’s not clear what they have in common beyond sexual attraction, and in fact they use sex as a surrogate for true emotional connection and as a shortcut to coupledom. While the author presents them as a successful couple by the end of the book, having shared some secrets and ready to face the world together, I can’t say I saw them fall in love. They might be a couple by the end, but they feel like one who skipped a step.
The other thing that bothered me about this book was the time spent discussing the excesses of the rich people in the story. Matthew, in particular, is the stereotypical spoiled rich boy. Peter gave Matthew an entire hotel to run, but instead he spends his time at clubs or hosting orgies in his penthouse at that very hotel. While on the estate, Matthew is a light, sardonic presence and a surprisingly good brother to Bailey. Outside the estate, he is extremely unpredictable. While all the drama certainly kept me glued to my Kindle, the constant talk of partying (and the way women fawn all over Kash when he shows up at parties) feels like a distraction from the real story. I couldn’t understand why Bailey kept following her brother to all of these parties where she would do nothing but wait for Kash to show up, and I can’t say they really move the plot forward.
Overall, reading this novel felt like eating a bag of Cheetos. For those unfamiliar, Cheetos are a bright orange (cheese puff) snack food that I personally believe have been engineered to be addictive. Once I eat the first one… well, let’s not discuss how long it takes me to go through a bag. They’re addictive while you’re in the middle of snacking, but once the bag is gone you look back and realize that quickly as you may have gone through them, it wasn’t that great or healthy for you. Bottom line: while I may stick around to see how the series turns out (because I just can’t help myself), if you have some free time for reading there are other books I would recommend (including some from Tijan’s backlist) before you pick up The Insiders.