REVIEW: Crave to Conquer by Zoey Ellis

The most savage Alpha in the land is relentlessly searching for his Omega. And she’s hiding right under his nose. Arrogant ruler, Drocco, enlists Cailyn to help him find a mate — but he yearns to dominate her. Knowing her life would be over if he ever discovered she was an Omega, Cailyn is trapped. She came for his secrets, prepared for his wild nature, but not for the effect he would have on her. Their irresistible attraction puts them both at risk… and everything they thought they knew is changed forever.

Warnings: noncon, dubcon, mention of underage sex, suicidal thoughts, abusive relationship, sexual torture, victim blaming, gender essentialism

Category: M/F

Crave to Conquer is the first book in the Myth of Omega A/B/O series. It is also the book which was infamously attacked with fraudulent DMCA take down notices by Addison Cain, who claimed it was derivative of her own novel, Born to be Bound. But the aspects that made them similar are just common tropes of A/B/O stories in general, and the ensuing legal battles have been an online spectacle for the last few years. Being someone who prides myself in being knowledgeable and well read in the world of adult literature, I wanted to read these books, but didn’t want to give Cain a sale after her appalling behaviour, and so I picked up Ellis’s work instead, both out of curiosity for what all the hubbub was about, but also in support and solidarity.

This is romance novel A/B/O trope extravaganza. If you’re familiar with either genres, you are probably familiar with how this whole thing goes down. Cailyn is an omega that is blocking out her omega nature and pheromones, but is soon discovered by the ruthless Alpha King, Drocco. From there it’s a fairly typical dubcon romp as her heat hits her (or, her “haze” as this book calls it) and she is at war with her own omega instincts drawing her to her enemy. Meanwhile Drocco has to learn how to approach her in a way that will draw her out of her shell and not frighten her off; used to being brash and violent as an Alpha military leader, he needs to learn how to be gentler and soft. So, you know, a pretty typical Beauty and the Beast scenario. And yes, it’s full of gender essentialism, as is a large part of the A/B/O genre, simply shifted from the gender to the A/B/O Dynamic. When done with an M/F pairing, this ends up feeling much more like a reinforcement or exaggeration of real world gendered expectations rather than the deconstruction of them that M/M A/B/O gives us. However, it is still, I believe, important to note that the erotisization of something otherwise traumatic is a valid way to explore and cope with the realities we live in. As such, although many audiences will find this kind of thing very upsetting to read, many others will find it an empowering kind of fantasy.

Although the characters here are roughly archetypes intended for very specific tropes (Drocco is a big burly Alpha that stomps around a lot and thinks of everything in terms of violence and has the emotional intelligence of a gnat, while Cailyn is a feisty, defiant girl who doesn’t take no guff but has a hidden submissive side just waiting for the right firm hand) they are utilized very well and written well enough for the reader to really come to be invested in their story. Cailyn is a very relatable protagonist, in the sense that she is what most of this book’s readers likely envision themselves as, and therefore works incredibly well. Drocco, meanwhile, hits a very nice balance between being sexually alluring in his rugged manliness, and also being the kind of asshole these sorts of novels want to “fix.” “Fixing” a toxic and violent man is a hugely empowering fantasy for many women, and Drocco is exactly the perfect fantasy figure for that sort of trope. I enjoyed most of this book, and was super invested in its characters, right up until the ending. Without spoiling things overly much, I will say that the ending had a lot of victim blaming that ended up turning me off of the rest of the series entirely, unfortunately.

So this is A/B/O, which is a genre that focuses on a lot of biological gender fuckery. When it involves M/M or F/F pairings, that tends to be a lot more queer in it’s exploration of gendered dynamics and biology, but when it’s done for M/F (especially Alpha Male, omega female like this), it’s much more “typical gender roles, but more”. So while A/B/O usually gives us a very unique and interesting world with a whole set of secondary sex characteristics to play with, M/F A/B/O tends to feel like generic fantasy. Ellis does try to weave in a few twists to the genre here, of course. In this world, omegas have left society entirely due to the systematic cruelty they face at the hands of Alphas. The Alphas are trying to figure out what happened to them, and to get them back. Although beta women exist, and so do, rarely, omega men, the book reads for all the world like omega = female, and the boorish men are wracking their brains trying to figure out why the women left. There are some worldbuilding inconsistencies here, as the author can’t seem to decide if omegas actually have the agency to chose their own mate to bond with (Alphas go mad if they force a mating bond on an unwilling omega!) or if it’s a predestined fate thing, (he wouldn’t have effected you through the omega blockers if he wasn’t your True Mate!) and the way that magic works is interesting but not explored nearly enough to make much sense, and leads to some plot holes. Ellis is, after all, working with a genre that comes with a lot of concepts pre baked into it, and putting her own spins on it, but doesn’t seem to have thought through all of them and whether they make sense with the pre existing tropes.

This book is incredibly hot. Like, wow, wickedly scorching hot. A/B/O generally is, the tropes are fantastic, the dubcon and the crazed need of heat (sorry, haze) is all incredibly sexy. The horrors of being oppressed not only by social conventions and gender role expectations but also by your own biology, your body craving something that your mind wants no part of, it’s really heady stuff. There’s a reason these books and fanfics are as popular as they are. If dubcon isn’t your cup of tea then this entire genre likely isn’t either, but if you are a fan of A/B/O, then you know what you’re getting going into with this kind of book. Ellis does a lovely job with the tropes, fleshing them out and putting together some very, very hot sex scenes that will keep you glued to the page through the whole book. She even throws in some really nice sexual torture, in a way that I’ve never seen knotting used before, so props for that. Sexual imperatives and a brutal interrogation all in one? Yes, please!

If you’re just looking for some trashy smut, this is a pretty fun book! I really enjoyed myself with most of it, and was planning on buying the next one, though the ending did end up killing it for me, so I won’t, unfortunately, be reading more. Zoey Ellis is a fairly competent writer, though I would like to see her perhaps think a little harder about the concepts she is working with, as she doesn’t seem to weave them together quite as well as I would like. Regardless of my opinion of the book however, the legal shenanigans surrounding this novel are utterly ridiculous, and I wish her nothing but the best as an author after all the shit that Cain put her through.

Have you read Crave to Conquor? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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