Review: When The Serpent Bites (The Starks Trilogy, #1) by Nesly Clerge


Self-Published | 2015

Filed Under: Fuck everything about this.

This must be “Krystin reads nothing but misogynistic stories” month, because this is my second in a row, and let me tell you, I’m fucking over it.

I’ll give this review some context real fast. Frederick Starks – a very rich, successful businessman – is married with three kids. His wife, Kayla, is unfaithful to him. They separate. One night, while driving aimlessly, ruminating on the state of his failed marriage, he pulls up to the house of the man Kayla cheated with and beats the shit out of him in front of the man’s wife and children, putting the man into a coma. Police arrive, Starks is caught red-handed, quite literally, and is arrested. He goes to trial and is found guilty.

Because, duh.

But for some reason, Starks just can’t believe the jury convicted him. Basically, his whole position on his guilt is: “my wife cheated, and the guy was mean to me, so I can’t be held responsible for my actions.”

In fact, at his trial, the defence mounted by his attorney is nothing more than a character assassination of Kayla because “she’s a whore,” as if that’s a legit reason to nearly kill a man.

give me a break judging you GIF by Originals

(I’m about to rant my fucking ass off, so if you don’t want any spoilers, here’s my tl;dr takeaway: this is a misogynistic dumpster fire that has no point to it at all.)

Most of the novel takes place behind bars as Starks learns how to live in the kind of world a prison creates and goes to therapy sessions with the prison counsellor to deal with his emotional and mental issues.

So, I should preface this by saying this is not the kind of book I typically read. It’s billed as some kind of thriller, but it’s not. That’s a straight-up lie. I would categorize this as a drama with a dark setting. But there are no twists or thrills or surprises or mystery or action. It very much follows a then this happened, then this happened, then this happened storytelling format that feels decidedly amateur. Truth be told, nothing really happens in this book. There doesn’t seem to be a point to the plot which is, in large part, just therapy sessions of Starks being a sexist fucking asshat.

I would say the writing style was missing the key parts of basic story structure that make reading feel like an experience and less like a chore.

Perhaps if the emotional elements of the novel had been stronger I wouldn’t have felt as though I was labouring through this. But the emotional elements rested on Stark’s shoulders, and he is the most god-awful character I’ve read since the last book I’ve read.

Listen, here’s the rule: no one wants to read a lead character that just fucking sucks the whole time. But I’m honestly not sure the author even knows this lead character fucking sucks.

I’m not saying a lead can’t be evil or bad. Anti-heroes are some of my favourite characters. Walter White, for instance. Fucking Dexter, my dudes! Characters can be on the evil spectrum and still be likeable. But they have to have redeeming qualities. That could be nothing more than an asshole who is super funny. But there has to be something there.

But Starks has zero redeeming qualities.

He is a narcissistic, misogynistic man-baby who refuses to take responsibility for any of his actions. He continually passes the blame onto his wife because she cheated. When his therapist suggests that perhaps his wife strayed from the marriage because Starks was an emotionally absent husband who didn’t understand how to love in an equal relationship (which is TRUE), Starks is like, no, that makes no sense, and goes right back to being a giant douche.

At first, I thought this was going to be an emotional learning journey for Starks, albeit one that was taking forever to get into, but a journey nonetheless. How could a story employ a main character that doesn’t evolve at all? Well, apparently it can happen. You would think that Starks would take advantage of his prison time – examine his faults and see where he’d been wrong, to try to redeem himself in some spectacular form from behind bars.

But no.

He remains awful, fully committed to being right despite being wrong, from beginning to end. Again, I go back to the then this happened critique. Everything about this was a linear story, even Stark’s emotional range. In the end, all this does is create a feeling that this book is a self-aggrandizing diatribe on how to be an emotionally stunted, sexist man-baby.

Instead of growing, Starks decides he’s going to stew in his feelings of “I don’t deserve this” and take it up a notch by becoming the new head inmate in the prison. Like some kind of mob boss. He goes so far as to say, “from now on you’ll address me as Mr. Starks” to a fellow inmate. It’s just so…

The author said on Goodreads, in response to a question, that the book “was inspired by keen observation of failed marriages and relationships.

I don’t get it, I guess. All I’m picking up from this is that the author probably thinks women not obeying their husbands is the problem?

Like, what other observations were made here? What character/story progress was achieved by having the main character be so fucking awful all the way through? Without any evolution to Starks characters, it seems as though Starks’ points of view should be the overall takeaway for the reader.

So… fuck that?

To illustrate my point, I’ve brought along some examples like a good student.

When complaining that Kayla is “independent”:

She didn’t treat Starks with the respect she should. I guess what I mean is that she isn’t a [traditional wife.]


[His new girlfriend] acts the way a mother should. She’s a far better person than Kayla ever was or ever will be, and she appreciates me. All the characteristics of a good wife.

Seems to me Starks couldn’t care any less about being in an equal, loving relationship with another human being, and really just wants someone he owns, who behaves how he wants her to. There is a blatant lack of acknowledging he’s married to a feeling person with needs and wants and opinions.

When explaining why he broke up with Kayla (then girlfriend) in college and didn’t tell her the real reason why:

There I was, surrounded by attractive, intelligent, fun women. I didn’t want to eventually marry Kayla and feel I’d missed out or had regrets. But I didn’t want to tell her the truth either. She would never have come back to me if I had.

So, Starks breaks up with Kayla because he’s entitled to some new sexual experiences, but then Kayla does literally the exact same thing during the break-up and it’s another justification for his actions.

She fucked Bernard Hazely in college. Did you know that? After being with him for a few months!

First of all, Kayla was single. And this was YEARS ago. But Starks is still playing judge and jury on a women’s moral standing when it comes to when and how she chooses to have sex with someone. Talk about a grudge. After being with him for a few months?! Oh, pearl-clutchers of the world unite!

When considering he was in prison because of his pride, not his wife:

Had the wrong kind of pride been his undoing, cost him everything? No. Kayla was at fault…She should have known her place.


It’s Kayla who should be in prison.

When complaining that he’d always been the one to handle money in their relationship:

It’s the man’s job to handle expenses. A woman shouldn’t be made to stress about such things. 

When talking about how his sex life with Kayla had declined because he worked so much:

Exhausted as I was, I still wanted to have sex with her. She owed me that much.

When Kayla gets a new phone:

You give me the goddamned number and password or our marriage is over.

Because he and Kayla were in an argument, but his grandfather taught him to never hit a woman:

God, but that woman made it difficult for him to abide by that rule.

My favourite part though is that through most of the book the reader is constantly told what a piece of shit Kayla is because she cheated on Starks. How Starks shouldn’t be held responsible for his actions because of his wife’s infidelity. Only to find out around the 70% mark that Starks has consistently cheated on Kayla all throughout their marriage with multiple women.

In fact, he even had a child with one of those women!

When his friend points out the hypocrisy that is all-consuming and literally undeniable, Starks’ reason for why it’s a different situation is:

She was my goddamn wife! …I am a man. She’s a wife and mother. Her behaviour is supposed to be beyond reproach.


That’s different. I’m the man.

angry joe biden GIF by Election 2016

Just… like do I honestly need to explain why this is wrong? Are you confused or are you clear?

Not to mention this little nugget from his lawyer:

You asked me to look into Kayla’s infidelities, specifically all the way back to high school.

WHAT?! Why would a lawyer even do this though? This book just makes me so…

sally kohn ugh GIF by glitter

I can’t help but wonder if the author was cheated on by a spouse and this is his way of working through it? Because holy shit.

In terms of plot, one of my biggest issues was the logic of the failed marriage. Starks and Kayla met as young teens, stayed together through high school and college, through starting out as adults (which is so difficult) and trying to make ends meet. And then, when they are successful and settled in life as 30-somethings, Starks has become a cold, unfeeling, clueless husband and Kayla just wants his attention.

But because she’s unfaithful, Starks wonders if Kayla “ever really loved him at all“, or if she always just wanted him for the money.

To me, you don’t stay in a high school relationship with a broke-ass guy on the promise that one day he’ll be rich. BECAUSE WHAT ARE THE FUCKING ODDS THAT WOULD EVEN HAPPEN?

If Kayla’s true-life goal was money, she would have married someone already rich and on the way out. That’s how real gold-digging is done, mmkay. This idea that she stuck with Starks through thick and thin, with nothing more than a hope that he would one day be a successful tycoon, all the while cheating on him from their basement apartment because she never really loved him, is just absurd. Nobody has time for that. Gold diggers want a sure thing.

It all just came across like an attempt to legitimize Starks’ actions – a reason that he would be as upset as he was to commit this crime; to convince the reader that he was done dirty and truly didn’t deserve to be behind bars, and it didn’t matter that he cheated too, because she’d been cheating for longer and never really loved him. Give me a fucking break. MALARKEY!

A failed marriage with his high school sweetheart, his one true love, when they’d had an honest, good marriage? Sure, I could buy that betrayal and heartbreak. But I don’t believe for a second Starks understands what love is. He a giant fucking asshole who is only concerned with ownership of Kayla. He says it himself. “[A mole above Kayla’s pelvis] was mine, just as she was.” Gag me.

This consistent theme that Kayla was just some money-hungry whore who didn’t know how to worship her husband properly, and that’s the real reason Starks’ life unravelled, was completely off-putting.

This is a trilogy, but the decision to leave out any clue that Starks is about to gain some fucking perspective leaves me no reason to gamble on reading the rest of the series.

Starks is, in my humble opinion, hands-down the worst conceived lead character I’ve ever read. And I’m glad to be done with him. He can rot in jail.

And P.S. the serpent biting? That’s Kayla too. You know, cause she’s a whore and snake draining Starks dry. Please.


Frederick Starks has it all—a gorgeous wife who was his high school sweetheart, three beautiful children, a mansion and cars others envy, millions in the bank, respected in his community, admired by his employees, loved and respected by loyal friends. He revels in the hard-earned power and control he’s acquired. 

As the saying goes, “All that glitters is not gold,” which Starks discovers when gut-wrenching betrayal by his wife sends him over the edge and into a maximum-security prison. 

There, Starks is a new “fish,” stripped of nearly everything he’s always relied on. In that place, where inmates and guards have their own rules and codes of conduct, Starks is forced to face the darker side of life, and his own darker side, especially when the betrayals, both inside and outside the prison, don’t stop. 

He must choose which path to follow when the line between right and wrong becomes blurred: one that leads to getting out of the physical and emotional hellhole he finds himself in or one that keeps him alive.

Book source: Promoter on behalf of the author, Nesly Clerge.

3 thoughts on “Review: When The Serpent Bites (The Starks Trilogy, #1) by Nesly Clerge

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