Review: Black Iris by Leah Raeder

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Black Iris by Leah RaederBlack Iris by Leah Raeder
Published by Atria on April 28, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery, Romance, Thriller
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
AmazonThe Book Depository

The next dark and sexy romantic suspense novel from the USA Todaybestselling author of Unteachable.

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.

Some of you may know that I wasn’t a fan of Raeder’s debut novel Unteachable, unlike everyone else I know who read it. While I liked the writing, I couldn’t get past the teacher/student romance, which I probably should have seen coming, since they only very rarely work for me. Obviously, I was a bit nervous trying Black Iris, despite the great advance buzz, since those same people loved Unteachable too. The funny thing is that Unteachable didn’t work for me because of how fucked up the romance was, but Black Iris is a million times more fucked up, and I loved it. What can I say? I like what I like.

On page one, I was hooked. As soon as I started Black Iris, I had absolutely zero interest in anything else I was reading. This is one of those books that starts out compelling and just gets more and more impossible to put down as you get further into it. The way things unravel is masterful. I’ve been taken for a fucked up ride, but I enjoyed every moment of it.

The difference for me in the two books lies in intent. Unteachable was first and foremost a romance, which tied my enjoyment up in whether or not I shipped it. Black Iris has romance, but I’m not certain I’d call it a romance; that really could go either way. Plus, the book warns you what to expect right out the gate, and I do mean in chapter one:

I’m not the heroine of this story.

And I’m not trying to be cute. It’s the truth. I’m diagnosed borderline and seriously fucked-up. I hold grudges. I bottle my hate until it ferments into poison, and then I get high off the fumes. I’m completely dysfunctional and that’s the way I like it, so don’t expect a character arc where I finally find Redemption, Growth, and Change, or learn How to Forgive Myself and Others.

Fuck forgiveness.

This quote is one hundred percent on the level. Don’t expect a surprise twist where Laney realizes that vengeance isn’t sweet; this isn’t that kind of story. Don’t expect good sex to cure her. Black Iris starts out fucked up, and it lives down there in the muck and the blood. It very much doesn’t sound like a Christina book, even though I’ve read and loved it. I’m ALL about character arcs, and I’m very much anti drugs. But in Black Iris all of that stuff works, because it’s all important and the book wouldn’t work otherwise. It doesn’t feel like it’s all in there just to add shock value; it’s intrinsic, and it IS the story.

Raeder does a really good job in Black Iris of walking the line between condemnation of acts and endorsement of them. I think a lot of the fucked up stuff comes off as truly fucked up, and it’s not romanticized, but I think Raeder also makes you consider some of the actions from a different angle and see gray where you might once have seen just black and white.

For me, the fact that the characters know they’re fucked up, and they own their decisions is what really makes dark books like Black Iris work for me. Laney’s not looking for forgiveness anymore than she’s going to give it. Black Iris is a very self-aware book. Ironically, I end this book shipping relationships more unhealthy than in the book where the romance infuriated me; I do see the irony, but the shippy feels cannot be contained. View Spoiler »

Leah Raeder’s writing is poetry like a bat to the face. It’s gorgeous, lyrical, lilting, but it’s also sharp, metallic and bitter. Her prose is the taste of blood on your tongue. Raeder excels at writing feelings in this brutal way where they just punch the reader right in the brain. Everything’s immediate, raw, and harsh, yet oddly lovely in its broken honesty. This dichotomy in Raeder’s writing is what really makes her writing stand out to me from all the other books I read.

Black Iris is told using confusing time jumps, which oddly enhanced the experience. I was constantly struggling to piece things together, but it felt right to have to do so. Laney and her story aren’t straight forward. She’s an unreliable narrator, and she doesn’t want you to be able to add things up until she’s ready for you to add them all up. She leaves things out, mixes them up, and makes the reader unsure.

You know what writing technique I pretty much always hate? The one where the book you’re reading is supposedly by the main character of said book. However, I love the way Raeder uses this trope in Black Iris. For one thing, that’s not used for the final twist; it’s something you know pretty early on, and Raeder/Laney throw this postmodern hyper-awareness that it’s a book at you constantly. We’re told over and over that Laney’s an unreliable character, both directly and through reference. Knowing that this is the novel Laney wrote adds another layer to Black Iris which made me constantly question everything. Even so, I was not prepared and I didn’t see anything coming.

Black Iris is a level of fucked up that the term “fucked up” doesn’t really prepare you for. I’m still not sure if I think of Black Iris as a romance or not. One thing I know for sure is that I will be thinking about Black Iris for a while. I also know that I’ll be ordering a finished copy for myself.

Favorite Quote:

I was staring at that rose-lipped mouth, then up into his eyes, a clear reddish-brown like carnelian, speckled with tiny flaws of amber and copper where the light caught.

Fuck. They’re brown. His eyes are fucking brown, okay? Stop being a terrible writer, Laney.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif i'm gonna love ya iggy black widow
gif i'm gonna love ya until you hate me black widow


7 responses to “Review: Black Iris by Leah Raeder”

  1. Meg says:



    Leah Raeder’s writing is poetry like a bat to the face. <— love this
    Meg recently posted…Review: Last Will and Testament by Dahlia AdlerMy Profile

  2. Bekka says:

    Grrrrrrr I can’t believe I forgot to talk about the Laney-wrote-Black-Iris thing because I *loved* that even though I hate it everywhere else. There are all these ways this book could have gone wrong (like I typically don’t like reading books with mentally ill bad guys) but it all just comes together in this perfect storm.

    I am so so happy you loved this. I saw you read it and I was very nervous because by all accounts this isn’t really a Christina book. But then there’s something special about the way all these “wrong” elements fit together.
    Bekka recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite QuotesMy Profile

  3. Dahlia Adler says:

    Dahlia Adler recently posted…Top Ten Books I Recently Added to my TBRMy Profile

  4. Brigid says:


    I’m so excited for this. I love unreliable narrators. They are just so crazy and awesome and beautiful and fucked up.

  5. ^^^yesyes girl up there is making the page scroll sideways, haha

    Anyways, this sounds super tense. Part of me wants to read it because I love tense and suspenseful stories, but the logical part of me knows that I can’t stomach messed up sex stuff. nnnnfffggg
    Alisa @ Papercuttts recently posted…A Letter to My YA SelfMy Profile

  6. Holly J says:

    The funny thing? I didn’t like Unteachable either. In fact, I preeeetty much hated it. I could NOT get behind the teacher/student relationship. The other funny thing? I read Black Iris BEFORE that one! Haha, and I LOVED it! I loved the fucked-up characters and the intense “love triangle” but you can’t even really call it that because there is just something about their relationships with each other that is so much MORE than a simple: I love him, I love her, and I don’t know who to choose kind of thing. (Also, I kind of ship the OT3 more than anything too, but whatever, I’m cool with the ending). And god, this book was so dark and raw and I loved that. I need more books like this, and more books with unreliable narrators like Laney. (Normally, I don’t really like this writing technique either, but it felt perfect for this book).

    So glad you loved this one, even though it’s not your typical read! Awesome review. 🙂
    Holly J recently posted…Underrated NA RecommendationsMy Profile

  7. Lyn Kaye says:

    *squeee* All of the advanced buzzing got me to go and get this from NG. I am so excited to get something fucked up to follow All the Rage!
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: CressMy Profile

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