Rating: 4.25 stars
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Nikolas Steele, street smart foster kid, finds himself in the Dean’s office at the Academy of Holy Names, a private exclusive college, enrolling for the sophomore year. Nik had been expelled from his previous university and now through the goodness of a donor with a fondness for troubled youths, has a full scholarship for all three years of his undergraduate degree here at the Academy if only he can keep his grades up (easy) and stay out of trouble (hard). Staying out of trouble has never been easy for Nik for most of his unsettled history, but the atmosphere at this exclusive school with its silverware and china at the student dining room and dorms full of overprivileged kids just emphasizes to Nik his “fish out of water” status on campus.
To make matters worse, Nik has come to the attention of the local kings of the campus. Seth, Dante, and Theo are the three kings who rule over all who attend the Academy of Holy Names. Together out of mutual self preservation, they epitomize all that is beauty, intelligence, and power at the school, but not necessarily kindness. When bored, the three play a game with high stakes, the winner taking the Class Valedictorian spot all three want. Currently the game is tied between them but with the arrival of Nik, the three of them start the game again. The goal? The first to get Nik into bed wins the game. The rules? No alcohol, no underhandedness among each other, and above all, no falling for the prey. But Nik is smart and figures out he is the center of the game and switches roles. What happens when the hunted becomes the hunter?
In Excess looked like a male version of Mean Girls in the beginning of the story, with a nice outsider becoming the prey for a gang of overly privileged rich kids who are the ruling clique in school. Nik Steele is an immediately likable main character. He’s a foster kid who has been moved around most of his life and from the little background history we are given, he has recently been expelled from a college he was happy at, at least for a while. So when he arrives at the office of the Dean of the college, with it’s opulent furnishings to go along with the rich descriptions of the college campus and buildings, you get it! He is the poor kid on campus you are supposed to root for and do. Every part of the Academy of Holy Name is over the top, from the hallways, marble floors, top chef dinners, and even the uniform to be worn while attending. Only the finest materials, only the best furniture, and the most exquisite of landscaping with the vaunted architecture of the college that highlights the difference between Nik and the rest of the student body.
The kings themselves are physically interesting, especially Theo with his artfully colored red hair and mint green eyes. Seth and Dante are equally gorgeous, if not a little more generic in appearance. One of my quibbles with the story is with the characterizations. All of the main characters has some really interesting components to their personalities, especially Theo with his calm demeanor tied in with his deep thoughts and hidden agenda. The problem is that Theo is not part of the main couple, Seth is. And Seth is given so little backstory that it is hard to feel something other than disgust at his behavior. Anderson needs to give us a reason to understand why his pride is so important to him that all his actions are geared towards shoring it up. We need to understand him in order to like him despite his actions towards Nik, and that full understanding is never reached, at least in my opinion. Dante too seems little more than a cardboard character comprised of his handsome visage, his perfect taste in clothes, wine, and apartment decor. Yet as one of the “Kings of Campus” surely we should be given more of his backstory as well. We are given to understand that Theo, Seth, and Dante grew up together but other than a few sentences telling us they sabotaged each other’s science projects, stole each other’s text books, or slashed each other’s tires, we have no idea where they came from or how their little group came into being. Only Nik comes forward as a living, breathing person, flawed, with a chip on his shoulder that we totally get. But as with the others, I wanted to know more about Nik’s history. What happened to make him a foster child? He seems so very grounded in his own skin and personality for someone shifted from place to place. Where does that strength of character come from? The characters and story needs a solid foundation upon which to build the framework for the plot and it doesn’t have one.
That said, the author does deliver some great little touches with the plot and timeline. Anderson throws us some great surprises just when we least expect it and ends up with a plot much deeper in complexity than its outlines suggest. In fact, the manner in which Anderson delivers the narrative underscores the problems with the lack of depth in characterization when held up against the rest of the novel. It’s that very unevenness between the two that pulls the entire story down. I absolutely loved parts of this story. I love the surprises that pop up within Anderson’s tale and I liked the main characters for the most part. The sex is hot and steamy, so much so that I kept thinking “what age are these kids?” so experienced did the sex play come across. A slight quibble, but in keeping with the inconsistencies I found throughout the novel.
This is the first book I have read by Quinn Anderson and now I am going to search out more by this author based on the promise and details I love from this book. I do recommend In Excess because there is so much to admire about the story and Anderson’s descriptive writing. Let me know what you think, ok?
Cover: Normally I am a fan of London Burden but this cover leaves me cold.