I fell into this dark character study from the very start and never fell out of it which is a bit of a rarity for me.
Without Condition takes its time building the story and focuses on the coming of age of a lonely little girl named Cara who lives on an isolated former pumpkin farm with only her mother and a farm hand for company. Cara looks forward to school and meeting kids her age but a bad encounter in kindergarten sets the tone for the rest of her school years. She’s bullied and whispered about and as a result she withdraws and doesn’t bother making friends with the girls. It’s easier with the boys anyway because they don’t whisper about her. But as she grows older she realizes they do something even worse. They talk and they embellish and her reputation gets trashed by everyone. Those ugly voices Cara hears whispering in her head get louder and louder until she finds an outlet to quiet them . . .
I LOVED the first half of this story. It’s a slow build but it is such an interesting tale. I was 100% invested in Cara as a character. She is most definitely “off” but it’s an understandable type of “off” because we get to know Cara intimately. She is prickly and she is intense but I never disliked her. It’s dark as hell and it doesn’t shy away from any of the viciousness dwelling within people and Cara most especially. Would she have turned out the way she did had she not been bullied and shunned and failed by the adults in her life? That’s hard to say. I thought the author did a great job creating Cara and all of the life events and complexities filling her tortured mind.
About halfway or so in the book changes focus and it becomes a dark romance. Cara meets a man named Jackson. He’s the first man that she hasn’t wanted to kill, lol, and things get very complicated in Cara’s head. Her life of work and spending time with her slightly off mom, who supports her long truck rides to “quiet” the voices, starts to morph into something else. Cara is falling in love but she has so many secrets that a normal life with Jackson may be impossible no matter how badly she now desires it. This section of the book is most definitely a romance with some wickedly dark edges. That’s my favorite kind, to be honest, so I was the perfect reader for this one. Cara isn’t the only one with painful memories in her past. Jackson is a wounded person and his head is a wee bit messed up as well but is he damaged enough to accept someone like Cara?
This is not an action packed, slice and dice type of horror novel and it’s a little slow in the middle but that worked just fine for me. The entire book is a deep dive into the tortured mind of characters deeply scarred by the words of others and I found it endlessly fascinating. The writing grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I can honestly say my heart was worried for both Cara and Jackson which lends itself to the strong character development. Without Condition is about 75% dark romance and 25% horror novel so if you enjoy the two as much as I do you’ll want to put this moody little gem on your must-read RIGHT NOW list.