It only took one moment of weakness for Laney Keating’s world to fall apart. One stupid gesture for a hopeless crush. Then the rumors began. Slut, they called her. Queer. Psycho. Mentally ill, messed up, so messed up even her own mother decided she wasn’t worth sticking around for.
If Laney could erase that whole year, she would. College is her chance to start with a clean slate.
She’s not looking for new friends, but they find her: charming, handsome Armin, the only guy patient enough to work through her thorny defenses—and fiery, filterless Blythe, the bad girl and partner in crime who has thorns of her own.
But Laney knows nothing good ever lasts. When a ghost from her past resurfaces—the bully who broke her down completely—she decides it’s time to live up to her own legend. And Armin and Blythe are going to help.
Which was the plan all along.
Because the rumors are true. Every single one. And Laney is going to show them just how true.
She’s going to show them all.
TW: suicide, talk of rape, sexual assault, bipolar episodes, bullying, abuse, drug use, homophobia, forced outing, and addiction.
Girls love each other like animals. There is something ferocious and unself-conscious about it. We don’t guard ourselves like we do with boys. No one trains us to shield our hearts from each other. With girls, it’s total vulnerability from the beginning. Our skin is bare and soft. We love with claws and teeth and the blood is just proof of how much. It’s feral.
And it’s relentless.
Black Iris is a twisted book. So very, very twisted. But, oh gosh, is it addictive. And you can’t help but feel a kinship with the female characters in this novel. In fact, after I read this book, I wanted to join my own girl revenge gang with my female lover.
Black Iris is about a young woman named Laney, who’s off the rails. She drinks, she does drugs, and she has so much hatred in her heart. When she goes off to college, she meets Blythe and Armin, and falls into a quasi-sexual, strange triad with them. And for a while, the three seem to deeply care about one another — until Laney, getting what she wants, is able to involve them in her plot for revenge.
I don’t particularly like novels with unreliable narrators. It’s always been a bit of a touch-and-go kind of trope for me. The first novel I read with an unreliable narrator was Liar by Justine Larabeister, and that book was just a mess. The thing with unreliable narrators is that they can only be unreliable up to a certain point: eventually, the character or the author has to reveal the truth to the reader … because that’s how books work. But Liar doesn’t do that — in fact, it leaves the reader with even more questions by the end of the novel, and has you questioning the reality of what you just read. Without spoiling to much, I thought I was reading a contemporary novel, but it might have been a paranormal one. Yeah, it’s weird. But then I read the Captive Prince series by C.S. Pacat, which an unreliable narrator, and adored it. So I thought I’d give Black Iris a try. And I was so very happy that I did.
“I never wanted to be saved. I wanted someone to follow me down into the darkness.”
Laney is definitely a character I’ve never come across before. You all know I love anti-heroes and would happily spend the rest of my reading days reading only about villains and bad people and anti-heroes, but even Laney threw me for a loop. She holds grudges until the end of time, and nothing will stop her from completely her plan of revenge — not even falling in love. And Laney and Blythe’s relationship is intense and violent, but also soft and loving. It’s a strange dichotomy, but Elliot Wake pulls it off with perfection.
What I absolutely loved the most in this novel is how queer it is. Laney struggles with accepting her sexuality, but it’s more about how the world refuses to accept her. She continually grapples with being seen as straight and being seen as gay, because for the rest of the world, there is no middle ground. Laney is actually pansexual, and though she never explicitly says that word, it is without a doubt her label. It’s such a real-world issue for many pansexual and bisexual and any multiple-gender attracted people. There’s also not many books out there with pansexual MCs, and I’m so immensely happy that Wake has done so. More authors should follow his example.
“If I was gay, I wouldn’t need an asterisk beside my name. I could stop worrying if the girl I like will bounce when she finds out I also like dick. I could have a coming-out party without people thinking I just want attention. I wouldn’t have to explain that I fall in love with minds, not genders or body parts. People wouldn’t say I’m ‘just a slut’ or ‘faking it’ or ‘undecided’ or ‘confused.’ I’m not confused. I don’t categorize people by who I’m allowed to like and who I’m allowed to love. Love doesn’t fit into boxes like that. It’s blurry, slippery, quantum. It’s only limited by our perceptions and before we slap a label on it and cram it into some category, everything is possible.”
Black Iris is unlike any novel I have read before. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because I believe the less you know the better your reading experience will be. Please read this powerful novel, if you can handle the trigger warnings. It’s a wild ride from start to finish, and hey, how ’bout that plot twist? 😉