Risk Return (aka The Billionaire’s not so secret Boyfriend)

rrSix years ago, young and bright investment professional Martin David got exactly what he wanted—a relationship with Francis de Bracy, his boss at investment fund Skeiron Capital Partners. Having now started their own business in Germany’s banking capital Frankfurt, Martin and Francis’s life is sweet and easy.

Until the Jesuit Emanuel, Francis’s former mentor and teacher, shows up unbidden and unwelcome. Emanuel brings with him a devil’s deal: Charles de Bracy, one of Francis’s most unforgiving enemies, has sent the Jesuit to broker peace between himself and Francis. And Emanuel does not come empty-handed—Charles is offering Francis the family fortune if Francis travels to the US and reconciles with his estranged father.

Martin knows how proud and headstrong Francis is. No amount of money will bend his will. But as toxic as the past is, maybe facing it will finally give Francis peace. Yet, if Charles is anything like his son, he’s a formidable foe, and Francis’s scars and bitterness run so deep a billion might not be enough to even the scores.

Karen: Although this was published in April this year we’ve waited a little to review, and in the spirit of full disclosure should say that we all know the author, and Fra and I beta read Risk Return.  However we all bought the book as well.

I will also admit to being one of the people who encouraged Aleks to write a sequel to ROI, a book which I feel stands head and shoulders above most contemporary romances I have read.

Fra: I must say that waiting to review Risk Return was – perhaps unwittingly – a very good move. Beta reading and reading for pleasure are two different things and although I loved this book from the very first time I read it, I needed a while to separate my overly positive feelings about it and to objectively consider it, savour it and review it.

And I agree Karen this is indeed way ahead of many contemporary love stories out there at the moment. It is quietly romantic and subtly subversive and I am delighted that my first impression as a beta was reconfirmed reading the published version.

Miki: So, I didn’t BR it, obviously (and that idea should be considered as a crime taking into account my horrible english O_o). I was a fresh reader from page 1. I wasn’t expecting a continuation, I felt ROI ended perfectly, leaving many points to the imagination of the reader, the kind of ending that i enjoy because are mostly a risk (readers don’t like open endings). But that book was different from the start so that was absolutely logical. Book #2 was a surprise in a certain way. But I trusted his author to deliver something worth the risk. And, again, as usual, he totally did it. It´s a romance but not as you usually read it, it’s subverted, it’s original, it’s sweet, it’s smart. It´s Voinov.

Karen: My first thoughts about Risk Return  were that it was less of a romance than Return On Investment, but then I realised that it actually takes some very recognisable tropes and subverts them quietly and subtly. Billionaire and boyfriend? Established couple? Family friction? But rather than making this a hollywood-esque drama it felt so real and honest.

At the end of ROI Martin and Francis appeared to be a couple, very new , and it was difficult to see how the disparity in their situations could get them to a place where both could find balance.

And yet Aleks did it, and with such emotional depth to the story as well .

Fra: Strangely enough I actually found Risk Return way more romantic than Return On Investment. For me ROI was more about the breathtaking plot, the atmosphere of an adventure novel set in a completely different environment – like you say Martin and Francis relationship was just a beginning and I too was left feeling wanting to know more about how these two would carry on a relationship with even a semblance of balance.

Miki: I agree with Fra. RR was pure romance but everything was so delicate, so precise,  so intelligent in the way the narrative takes form, that it’s clearly not the kind of book that you can find in your library under the “romance” sign.

Fra: My absolute favourite thing with Risk Return was how Voinov conveyed the relationship through small gestures, familiar conversations. How he sets the scene for the plot development against the solid foundation of Martin David and Francis De Bracy – established couple.

The characters agency is solid and the narrative tension comes – in a very realistic manner – from family pressure and the strain of Charles De Bracy imminent passing.

Karen: While there is so much to admire in RR, it’s Francis and Martin as a couple who are the focus of the book, how their relationship has grown and developed. From the almost hero worship of Francis in the first book, to a balanced relationship of equals here. They talk to each other, pretty much all the time, they don’t miscommunicate – they actually act like human beings. So where does the tension come from ?

Fra: You are so right Karen the lack of the “de rigour” miscommunication was a very welcome breath of fresh air indeed.

I loved the way the relationship was portrayed with the simplest of gestures, a touch, a word which conveyed the intervening six years between the two books. It felt realistic and well drawn out; it also places Voinov way ahead of many other authors in the genre. There is the maturity of an author who is comfortable with both his writing skills and his subject matter and who doesn’t spend his time justifying his reasons for writing a certain subject in a certain way. And this confidence shows in the novel.

I felt the fact that there is no angst in the couple’s dynamics left a lot of space for Martin and Francis growth together.

Martin retains his sense of wonder but gradually relinquishes both his self doubt and  his idolising of Francis, Francis, in turn, thaws out and becomes more human. There is no monumental plot explosion to signify these changes – they are the plot development. Again the subtlety in which this is achieved is rather masterly done: it is confident, articulate writing that does not rely on shocking (or, as it is alas the norm in the genre, the waving of a certain body part in readers faces) to grab the reader’s’ attention but on actual accomplished narrative development.

Miki: *nods vigorously* Yes, absolutely. RR shows how you can construct a story without the typical plot devices

Karen: Having a pretty irredeemable bad guy in a book , and a father, is a really common device and they usually come off utterly one dimensional. And yet here Charles, is utterly contemptible and yet recognisably human – his relationship with Francis is fraught but has clearly defined Francis , to the extent that if he hadn’t met the all too human Martin  (and Carsten) whose humanising influence you sense all over the book it’s quite possible that he would have ended up the same.

Fra: My favourite scenes were  both the De Bracy and the David family’s interactions. It was good to see both characters at large in environments that weren’t constrained to their work lives. The De Bracy family scenes were particularly well done and I think that Francis stayed completely true to character while dealing with Charles dying. There is no facile reunion and forgiveness but there’s certainly closure in the sense that  what needed to be said and done was so.

It is also subtly evinced that a Francis without a Martin would have in fact very easily turned into another version of Charles: repressed, focus on monetary value and success and not altogether human.

Karen: I loved how Martin had ‘worked out’ Francis, and the super clever Francis hadn’t realised this, how Francis was a little jealous at martin and Carstens friendship, how Francis and Martin’s relationship empowered Francis’ brother.

All in all this was a blueprint for how to write an intelligent, moving, articulate and sexy romance.

Character driven and underscored with  great romantic moments like  the rings, the reciprocal support with each other families, the touches which convey a strong and steady relationship in a realistic setting – this novel is a strong offering and a highly recommended one from us.


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