Code Red (Atrous #1) ~ N.R. Walker
Code Red by N.R. Walker is an addictive and emotional examination of the pressures of life in the limelight, and how if the effect of that pressure is not addressed, it can have potentially catastrophic consequences.
Since he was 16 years old, Maddox Kershaw has been the frontman for the band Atrous, comprising Maddox and four of his closest friends. Now 23, the pressure has built to such a degree that he is struggling to maintain control. Roscoe Hall, Maddox's personal manager, has witnessed the stress placed upon Maddox and how it affects him. However, even he is unaware of the extent of the damage being done; that is until Maddox approaches his breaking point, and it is to Roscoe to whom he turns for help.
"I am on your side."
Unbeknownst to either of them, Roscoe and Maddox have been pining for each other for years. It is Maddox's escalating anxiety and the fact that Roscoe seems to be the only person that can calm him, which leads them both to understand that their attraction is mutual.
Code Red is a compelling, character-driven story with a relatively small cast. It is an intimate look at the band on tour, and as such, focuses on the band members and their management and support teams. Maddox and Roscoe naturally are the heart of the story. Watching their relationship evolve from friends to lovers was beautiful to witness. Once Roscoe realises the depths of Maddox's struggle with his anxiety, there is nothing he won't do to help him.
Maddox is no wilting violet though, he is fiercely protective of Roscoe. Still, when the threats are from management wanting to split them up, Maddox comes to realise just how little control he actually wields over his own life, with disastrous results.
I don't think I have ever read a book by this author where I have not emotionally responded to her characters. N.R. Walkers characters are not those that you can passively read and forget. For me, anyway, it's impossible not to become invested.
Code Red is a superb examination of the pressures of living in the spotlight. It describes the effects of the mental and physical stresses of touring, fans' expectations, and the media upon the band and their staff. The underlying theme is the need to find a balance to ensure that 'what you do' doesn't mean that 'who you are' disappears entirely.
“I see you, Maddox. I see you”
For me, Code Red was low to medium heat. It was undoubtedly not fade to black or closed door, and there were quite a few hot scenes, but the emphasis was on the romance, the emotion, rather than sex, which suited this story perfectly. Although Maddox's struggle with his anxiety is a serious topic, and there were quite a few intense scenes, there was plenty of humour, particularly from his bandmates, to break it up. It's not what I would call a 'light' read, but neither is it overly angsty or dark. The more emotive scenes were balanced with levity so that it never felt heavy or a slog to get through.
I'd highly recommend Code Red for anyone who enjoys a well-written, character-driven romance set amongst the high stakes of a world music tour. I found it very addictive, and with a few tears and many laughs, I enjoyed every moment from the beginning to the beautiful HEA.
Code Blue (book two) is available for preorder