by Kelly Siskind
Publication: February 24, 2021
Series: Showmen Series (they’re all standalones though)
**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.** (I liked it so much I couldn’t help but buy a print copy of the book…just saying.)
For the first time in a long time, Eric finally feels seen by someone outside of his family. His temporary physiotherapist Isla loves poetry and sees him as the linguist he is, not just his boxer persona Brick Smash. She likes his intellect a lot more than what he does in the boxing ring. Because Eric doesn’t know if she likes him, he’s been hesitant to do anything about his feelings. Unfortunately, his manager and friend Preston is interested in her too. Eric winds up caught in the middle when Preston suddenly asks him for help “wooing her.” Because the book alternates between the leads, it’s pretty clear who Isla likes, but choosing him goes against what she believes in. Isla struggles with trying to figure out what she should do: give in to her feelings or give in to her feelings. Sometimes, it’s not your head at war with your heart, but your feelings at war with each other.
I was excited to read The Knockout Rule and didn’t realize it was the fourth in the Showmen series until about halfway through. I hadn’t connected well with the female lead in the prior book The Beat Match, so I’m glad I didn’t have that hanging over me, potentially biasing how I might have perceived this book early on. You do not need to have read any of the other books because they are all standalones. The Knockout Rule was completely unexpected and comes close to being a 5-star read for me.
Within the first few pages, I knew I would like Isla. She’s smart, witty, and funny. Like Isla, I was unsure about what to expect of Eric so was surprised to find out he was more than his boxing persona. He is a linguist–my cousin who is also linguist said I have to let you all know that Eric is a master of tongues (heh…linguists are great wingmen/wingwomen for each other)–and enjoys poetry. While he may have enjoyed boxing once, he now does it solely to help his family with their financial struggles. Eric and Isla are moderately complex characters with compelling backstories making it all the easier to root for them to find the ending I was hoping for.
While I’ve never seen Cyrano de Bergerac, I’ve read enough about it to feel like I have. (Quick summary: Two men in love with the same women but one has a large nose so he is self-conscious about. He writes love letters for the other guy to woo her.) I can’t help but jump at any opportunity when this is the leading trope in a novel. Eric’s role as Cyrano doesn’t get as much page time as I hoped, with Preston only popping up when seemingly convenient to move the story forward and disappearing just as quickly. Although I was disappointed by this eventual revelation, the play at least stays relevant in that Cyrano’s nose, here Eric’s boxing, is actually the bigger barrier. The potential for romance between our leads is complicated by this fact. In the beginning, I wondered how Siskind might work this out when Eric’s life revolved around boxing, and Isla was determined to root it out of her life. Ultimately the solution is one that Siskind set up rather well, maybe even a little too easily.
The central romance is a lot of fun with leads who somewhat become friends before they become lovers. However, it’s hard to say whether they were ever really friends in the first place because the chemistry is nearly always present and both recognize the possibility of feelings beyond friendship almost right away. As noted by a review on Chonky Books (it’s a really great review so should also check it out), some of it is fueled by lust and I agree. They do, however, still have enough of a connection that it’s easy to see the jump into what both claim is love. And Eric in love…some of the words out of his mouth made me melt. Eric and Isla are at ease with one another, and their shared love of poetry make them compatible partners who not only appreciate one another’s physical attributes but also their intellectual ones as well.
This leads into what was probably my favorite attribute of this entire book. Siskind successfully wooed me with the written word. I’ve gone back to read my abundance of highlights a few times over, always pausing momentarily to soak in the words, to ruminate in the feelings they evoke. Then there are the poems Siskind includes that are so simple yet feel so profound. At times I was elated, and other times I was left bereft. In this way, this book was also unexpected. I need more poets in my romance novels if it will always be like this.