Erotica, LGBT, Romance

My Review: Collide (Blackcreek #1): by Riley Hart

Publish Date: November 8th, 2013
Number of Pages: 286 Pages
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing
Genre(s): Romance, LGBT, Erotica

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

This wasn’t ending, and he didn’t know if it would ever end, and Coop didn’t know if he wanted to celebrate, cry, or destroy the whole fucking world.

– Riley Hart, “Collide”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

At ten years old, Noah Jameson and Cooper Bradshaw collided mid-air when they dove for the same football. For three years, they were inseparable…until one day when Noah and his parents disappeared in the middle of the night.

Noah and Cooper never knew what happened to each other. Now, seventeen years later, after finding his boyfriend in bed with another man, Noah returns to Blackcreek looking for a fresh start. And damned if he doesn’t find his old friend grew up to be sexy as sin. Coop can’t believe Noah—the only person he trusted with the guilt over his parents’ death—is back. And gay… Or that Cooper himself suddenly wants another man in his bed for the first time.

There’s no denying the attraction and emotion between them, but can they overcome the ghosts of their pasts to have a future together?

~~~

This was a nice, short, lighter read to enjoy while I’m taking a small break from Fantasy; I don’t know why, but lately as I’m typing this review, I’m noticing that I only seem to be in the mood to read smutty romance novels. I have tons and tons of Fantasy-genre tales on my shelf, and on my desk, and on the floor near my bed, and on my dresser (basically my room is a giant pile of growing books that will hardly shrink anytime soon), but that doesn’t matter because I just want simpler, lighter, and just overall easier to read right now.

Back to this book, but it was a great addition to my growing collection of M/M romance titles.

It was far from perfect and actually there are quite a few things I wish could’ve been better about it, but it still fulfilled what I wanted out of it: it had some really good smutty sex scenes and also just an overall swoon-worthy romance between the two main characters, and even between two side characters too. It was cute, it was absolutely so funny with the banter, it was heartwarming, it was sexy and sizzling, and isn’t that all we really want in a romance novel?

It was the perfect distraction for Cooper to ignore the flood of…contentment… Hearing that their friendship had meant to Noah even a portion of what it had meant to Coop. Which, as a kid, had been everything.

– Riley Hart, “Collide”

What I Liked:

  1. The Smut! If you’re looking for a quick but super hot and smutty book to read, this is a great choice for you! The smut in this book is super well done and really hot content, especially with the whole dynamic of the two main characters with Noah and Cooper. Noah being openly gay for much longer has him kind of in the role of the “mentor” or teacher in a way with how he takes Cooper through the ropes of what they do and what he’s willing to try out as they explore their relationship. Which brings me to my next point…
  2. The Relationship Between Noah and Cooper! I really liked their dynamic for the most part in this story. I like romance stories with the tropes like “second chance,” “small town romance,” “keeping it a secret,” and “friends-to-lovers” and reading about how much these two guys care about each other and the moments where their friendship shine through are so soft and affectionate and heartwarming, which is also so cozy when in comparison to all the scorching hot sex scenes. I find it funny I’m saying this when I’m also a reader who usually doesn’t turn towards a specific story for its fluff versus steam.
  3. The Friends/Side Characters! Both Cooper and Noah have a friend on the side that really be there for them when they individually need it, and even better that they actually end up hooking up! Wes and Braden’s romance gets introduced in this story, but they’ll get the spotlight in the next installment which will be fun because I want to see more of their certain dynamic too!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. How Cooper Is Only Gay For Noah…So the whole “GFY” is an iffy one because sometimes I feel like it’s not the most realistic storyline, but I guess it depends on your own personal views of sexuality. It’s such a fluid subject nowadays, and their are so many different terms and identities that are out there now, and while I can say I support it all and hope anyone who’s questioning who they are has the courage and confidence and support to figure it out, I feel like the “gay for only this person” is a little questionable, or maybe it’s because it’s not explored far enough in this story. Before Cooper reunites with a returning Noah, he was sleeping around with women and never really questioned his sexuality (at least that’s the impression I got). Noah coming back into his life calls a lot into question, and just like that, Cooper is no longer the straight guy he’s always been known as. I also know that there’s no set time of when you are supposed to have this all figured out; some people discover their sexuality at a young age while some may not discover it until they’re 50 with a wife and kids….but the point I’m trying to make is that maybe I just feel like the shift was too quick and not a whole lot of it was explained or explored as much as I wanted it to be. Maybe the author didn’t want to make it that deep of a story at the time this was written, but I guess I was just hoping for more answers in this regard. Like I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the fact that a label isn’t put on a whole lot of him or their relationship was frustrating! I’m never one who needs to compartmentalize stuff like that, so I’m confused at myself about it too, like maybe I’m not as open minded about it all?
  2. The Homophobic Side Characters…With Cooper being a firefighter and sort of coming out of the closet in a sudden way, he deals with some homophobia with some of his fellow coworkers and even a little bit from his uncle. It’s not really an outright hatred of gay people, but it’s more these snide, rude comments and jokes they all make that any gay guy has heard in their life and has made it hard to come to terms with yourself if you yourself are questioning or in the closet. It brought back terrible memories of times in middle school and high school casually say the word “f*g,” or “that’s so gay…” as a way to instead say how something is stupid. I know there are still people who are honestly just against gay people and don’t accept it, but part of me always wishes we didn’t have to face this kind of rejection in fiction, like why can’t books with gay characters at the forefront just not deal with homophobia?
  3. WAY Too My Flashbacks…I’m never someone who’s a big fan of them to begin with, and this book had wayyyyyyyy to many as well. I get it, a lot of the story revolves around Noah and Cooper meeting as kids and how their friendship/relationship has blossomed from it all, but I feel like the amount of flashback scenes could’ve been reduced. I know the past is important to learn from in order to grow and move forward, but in this case I’m falling under the whole “the past is in the past and let’s leave it that way.”
  4. Grammar Issues…The book felt a little amateurish with all the many commas and just simple grammar issues that popped up throughout the book. I mean, I’m not perfect at it all the time either, but when you read a published book you just expect more and hold this sort of thing to a higher standard. You’d think the editors and multiple sets of eyes who look over these words before they’re sent to print would fix this sort of thing.

Conclusion:

Overall, “Collide” by Riley Hart wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, but this was still an enjoyable story that’s a great consideration to anyone who loves M/M romance with plenty of fluff mixed with steam. It’s so great for fans of “second chance” romances or “friends-to-lovers,” or “gay only for you” type of stories. Noah and Cooper have quite the story here, and while it wasn’t exactly mindblowing, that hopefully doesn’t detract from when I say I still really enjoyed this book too, and plan to read on in this series with the two friends who hooked up in this book who also get the spotlight on them too!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Damaged Like Us (Like Us #1): by Krista Ritchie and Becca Ritchie

Publish Date: June 27th, 2017
Number of Pages: 347 Pages
Publisher: Everafter Romance
Genre(s): New Adult Romance, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Another book to check out for those who love M/M romance novels, Damaged Like Us was a fun addition to the genre. The relationship that grows between a hollywood heir and his roguish bodyguard is one that can be absolutely addicting to other readers to binge-read.

That relationship is, of course, the main driving force for most of those who’d want to read this book; it was also my favorite aspect of the book as a whole. The two main characters complimented each other very well, and helped each other grow as the story developed. The banter was funny, playful, sexy, and also just so spectacularly done. As you can probably tell by now in this review, It’s hard to say anything bad about the romance of this book.

The theme of family was also something important to take out of this book as Maximoff goes to extraordinary lengths for those he truly cares about. It may not seem like it to some who know me outside of this website and in real life, but the idea of a warm, close knit family is so incredibly important to me, and I always love to see it shown in even fictional families like the one in this book, who are also really popular reality TV stars. The main character even alters his appearance and carefully chooses what color clothes he wears in order to show his pride and loyalty to his father!

There are some parts of the story that I was less than enthused about as well. The writing was questionable in one aspect with the author’s going into 2nd person when describing a character’s path to fame and how you (the reader) should feel about them as a character. It’s a very minor critique from me, but this happened more often than I’d hoped in the story, so I wanted to point it out. The conflict of fame and the downsides to it seemed way too dramatic and over the top at some points as well, and the fact that this new series is actually a spin-off of not one, but TWO other series that are written by the authors. Some readers would love that, but as someone who hasn’t read the others, I also thought this was worth pointing out. I go into more detail on these matters below!

Overall, this was a fun book to read, and a great M/M romance for anyone to check out if they like those kinds of stories. Fans of Him by Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen and Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston will probably really like this book too!

What It’s About:

This story revolves around Maximoff Hale, the oldest son of what appears to be American royalty with his family being well known reality TV stars, and all his life he’s had to deal with having absolutely no privacy from the public. Paparazzi constantly follow him and his family around; even going to the gas station to fill up a car would have him end up all over the tabloids as “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” (Basically, picture his life as being like the Kardashians mixed with the actual British royal family).

Because of this, him and his family have always had bodyguards to keep them safe and protected, but Maximoff’s longtime bodyguard is retiring after the many years they’ve been together. Anxious, he learns he’s getting a new one almost immediately after. Enter Farrow Keene, who’s Maximoff’s crush from his teenage years, and of course is now his new personal bodyguard whom he’s going to be spending countless hours a week with.

Almost immediately, they bash heads together about basically EVERYTHING…but beneath the snarky and cynical remarks, there’s definitely something building between the two. Romantic feelings soon resurface, and sexual tension boils to the surface, but are they willing to cross a line, break a integral code to end up together?

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance Brewing Between Maximoff and Keene! It’s hard to believe this is the writer duo’s first M/M romance title! It was an obvious highlight of this book, the romance that develops between these two characters was one of my favorite parts of the whole story. They start off as reluctant partners as Farrow is assigned to be Maximoff’s new personal bodyguard, they get on each other’s nerves, sure…but as they spend more and more time together, they start to see sides of each other that no one else sees, and they understand each other a lot better. The attraction only becomes more intense from there, and soon they find themselves in a sexy, secret romance that they must hide from not only the public, but also they’re colleagues and Moffy’s family. Is it worth it? What if someone finds out?
  2. The Theme of The Importance of Family! Besides the secret, forbidden romance, family is another huge theme to take away from this book, and probably the rest of the series as well. Even with fame, Maximoff is extremely close to his family and will do just about everything he can to help them, protect them, and make them proud. For every 10,000 fans, there’s probably another 1,000 that hate them, and some people will go out of their way to bring them down, and Maximoff will literally break his back in order for that to not happen. From his many siblings, to his best friend and cousin, and his father with a spotty past, Maximoff is so proud of his family, and I found it to be incredibly noble of him and is so obviously a huge part of his character. Very admirable how far he goes for those he loves.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. This Series Branches Off from Others…So I first notice there’s A LOT of side characters in this book, like, way too many even to keep track of at some points. It turns out, this series is a continuation off both the author’s two other book series: The Addicted Series and the Calloway Sisters. The parents, the uncles, and basically all the other older adults are actually stars of previous works, and that’s why they’re so prominent in this book because it’s going off the fans who’ve read their previous books and are familiar with all of them. Unfortunately, I am not one of those readers…the book is still enjoyable and is able to be read despite this, but you definitely feel like there’s quite a bit that goes over your head in reference to this fact. It’s also annoying because all the books in total equate to, like, 13 books to read, which is commitment I’m honestly not feeling up to doing at this moment.
  2. The Instances of 2nd Person Narrating…This is a small tidbit that kind of bugged me because it happened more often than it probably should’ve, at least in my own opinion. It was lines that felt like: “You know this person because of….You feel this way about them because…” It just felt like lazy storytelling and could’ve been shown to me and not told to me, you know?
  3. The Fame Seemed Over The Top…It feels bad to be criticizing this aspect of the story since it’s the cause of the whole story taking place, but it simply felt like it was overly dramaticized at times. Maximoff is like an American version of Prince Harry, but it seems like even an actual royal prince is able to live a somewhat low-key life. The paparazzi are constantly following Maximoff around, always chasing him in cars on the freeway, and sometimes even going out of their way to offend him and get a rise out of him. Sure, this stuff may actually happen in real life—I don’t truly know since I’m not famous—but the amount of it all that Max has to deal with felt over the top and highly exaggerated.

Conclusion:

A great M/M romance for anyone looking for that kind of story to read, I think readers will love how Farrow and Maximoff’s relationship forms and deepens as the story develops. It’s got the perfect amount of steam and heart that any great romance needs, and that any reader absolutely eats up. It’s not the perfect book; parts of it are way over the top and overly dramatic, but I do believe this book is incredibly enjoyable as long as you can’t take it too seriously. It’s just fun, sexy romance.

I can definitely say that even though there’s a HEA-style ending, I plan to read on in this series to see what happens next. There’s a few things that are left up in the air that will be answered in later books, and I’m interested enough to keep going to find out some of those answers that I specifically seek. Plus, I do really like both the main characters and see where their relationship will go next!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

graphic novel, LGBT, New Adult Romance, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks and Scones (Check Please #3-4): by Ngozi Ukazu

Publication Date: April 7th, 2020
Number of Pages: 352 Pages
Publisher: First Second
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, YA Romance, LGBT

***Warning! This book review contains spoilers from the previous book, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of Book #1- Check, Please! Vol. #1 – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

A fair warning is needed for anyone who’s about to start this next installment in the Check, Please! story: expect some tears. Expect tears both sad and happy to flow down those cheeks of yours because of how touching, how tender, how pure of a storyline this has come to be and just about everything else about it, but also because it’s coming to a close.

I was someone who’d discovered this story when the hardcover Vol. 1 came into the bookstore where I work one day, and I immediately fell in love with the cover and decided to give it a chance, then discovered something to truly fangirl over and completely stan.

The characters!

The banter!

The found family dynamic!

The coming of age tale!

The LGBT representation!

The slow burn romance!

All of it was just about perfect in my eyes, and these books were the YA LGBT graphic novel I wish I had growing up, or even just going through college myself. It makes me so happy to see so many more LGBTQ+ stories and books coming out for the younger readers that desperately need them in order to feel heard and understood.

After finishing the first book, I never really followed the webcomics posted (the original source of this whole story), and told myself to wait until this sequel was to be released in hardcover format almost a whole year later. Why, you may ask?…I’m not sure, but the best way for me to describe it is how I can’t watch a show by only viewing the one episode a week now. Netflix ruined that for me, and I’d rather just wait for it all to be released as a complete set rather than torture myself waiting to see what happens next with the little bit I’m given every week, if that makes sense? It’s all or nothing for me!

So fast forward, and it’s finally the time I can read this next volume, which contains main protagonist Eric “Bitty” Bittle’s Junior and Senior year of college. It felt like a reunion to get to go further into the story and see what happens after the VERY cliffhanger of that kiss him and Jack shared the day of Jack’s graduation! It was a whirlwind of past and present bunched together as we move forward in the story, but also are given lots of flashbacks to small scenes that happened before the start of book #2. It was a little jarring at first, but once the school year started, it was smooth sailing from there on. You’re reunited with a lot of familiar faces, and are also given a crop of new characters with the new incoming freshmen joining the team and Lardo trying to find her replacement once she graduates.

The bigger change in this book is Eric Bittle’s handling of his sexuality with his family, and I mean his biological family (I.E: his mom and dad). It has some heavier moments, but still keeps the usual lighter tone and mood of the whole series throughout, and leaves you with a sense of hope that our actual lives can turn out alright too.

There were a few issues I did have with the story this time around, which was odd for me considering I didn’t really have much if any from the previous book. One of which was the handling of a certain storyline involving Bitty and a newer face, Whiskey. I’ll go further into details with that below, but despite any issues I had, I still tremendously loved this book and was so happy with how it all ended: Where Jack goes, where Bitty goes, where their relationship goes, where everyone else goes, and just pretty much everything that happens.

Reading something like this can seriously help someone who’s struggling feel less alone in this world. It goes over so many issues that people around that age deal with: the anxiety, the pressure, the relationships, high expectations both set on yourself and others, love, thinking about your future, independence, leadership, and of course the joys and pains of coming to terms with your sexuality if you’re queer. Even if you’re not a hockey fan—or any sports in general—I feel like anyone who’s looking for a story like this one can enjoy it!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Bitty is heading to junior year of college and though he has overcome his fear of getting ‘checked’ on the ice, he and Jack now face new challenges. They must navigate their new relationship while being apart, and also decide how they want to reveal their relationship to those around them. Not only that, but Jack and the Falconers are now a big part of the NHL–and Bitty’s life! It’s a hockey season filled with victories and losses.

A collection of the second half of the mega-popular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: Sticks and Scones is the last in a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

What I Liked:

  1. It Truly Makes You Laugh & Cry While Reading! I’m not someone who gets overly emotional whenever I read something. I can get incredibly emotionally invested in some things, sure, but that’s different. I can 100% full honesty, full disclosure admit that I both laughed out loud and actually teared up when I was reading this. If something can evoke so much emotion from a reader, that only proves that it’s something worth checking out!
  2. There’s Great Closure! Lately over the last couple years, a lot of series for me have come to an end, and I’m always so deeply disappointed when I feel like something didn’t end well. The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, Game of Thrones, the IT movies just to name a few…but it seems like a lot of these popular books/movies/tv shows just can’t end on a perfect high note when the series itself was so spectacular through the journey. Check, Please! was thankfully not something I needed to add to my list of disappointing endings because the author actually did a great job of tying up all her loose ends, had the right endings for each of her characters, and it all just came together almost perfectly. Anyone who’s already a fan of the story will adore it!
  3. Bitty’s Development! Eric Bittle, or “Bitty” has really come into his own through the series. He’s become more confident in himself and his abilities on and off the ice, his relationship with Jack, his coming to terms with being gay, and to him all of a sudden being a senior on the team and is thrust into a position of leadership amongst the other players. I saw a bit of myself in Bitty sometimes along his journey, what with his whole self discovery and coming out in college amongst all his friends. He was a great protagonist to follow throughout the four years that they totally called it: they go quicker than you think!
  4. It Reveals Realistic Coming-of-Age Issues! I’d kind of mentioned it above, but this book tackles so many issues that really resonated with me, and I feel like relate to a lot of people around my age: anxiety, depression, acceptance, financial woes, fear and uncertainty of what comes after college and the future in general, coming out, friendships, first love…there’s plenty more, but if that doesn’t convince you, what will? Each issue is addressed and handled incredibly well; I’d almost even say there doesn’t even need to be a trigger warning for any of it because the book keeps its lighter tone throughout.
  5. The Found Family Trope! I’m such a sucker for the story arc of a group of diverse people coming together because of a certain cause or similar interest, and how they get closer over time and learn so much about each other…and eventually notice certain faults each person may carry, but loves them anyways! They support each other, they love to be around each other, and always enjoy each other’s company. The group also grows as more people join in over the years and the bond just continues to keep growing while they never lose touch of that original base that the group dynamic was founded on…I just love found/chosen family story tropes, they get me every time!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Too Many Flashbacks In The Beginning. The book starts off with many flashback scenes of certain things said or certain events that happened before the start of the book, all the while being mentioned or referenced in current time. I found this to be a little jarring, disorientating, and a confusing way to start for a graphic novel. Mainly, I think I just got a little overwhelmed and couldn’t tell what was past and present; maybe if the flashbacks had a certain difference in color tone or grading to make it visually less confusing, that would’ve been helpful!
  2. The Issue with the Player, Whiskey! Whiskey is a newer character introduced in this book, and he’s introduced as Bitty is talking about him to Jack over the phone, saying that the guy seems to want nothing to do with him and he has no idea why (kind of like how Jack first treated him tbh, but at least that got better). There’s a scene that happens at a college party, and then it’s entirely left alone until close to the end of the book when Bitty and Whiskey finally address it. To be honest, this whole storyline irked me a little bit! It never really fully gets addressed and felt like it’d gotten shafted under everything else going on, and even the final confrontation left a lot to be desired in terms of how is this going to be handled moving forward…Plus, it showed Whiskey’s character to not be in the greatest light, and I’d just hoped for more to come out of this whole storyline…

Conclusion:

It’s always sad when something comes to an end, and Check, Please! is no different than any other book, tv show, or movie that you adored and suddenly it’s over. What’s the hardest part is that hangover-like feeling of being lost and wondering to yourself: What now? Do you wallow and mope about how it’s over and worry if you’ll ever find something to love as much as you loved that story? Or, do you get excited at the anticipation of that hunt to find that next thing to obsess over? I guess it depends on the specific reader…

A truly great conclusion to an incredibly uplifting, joyful story of a little queer baker/figure skater/vlogger who turns into a hockey player, overcomes his fears, and finds true happiness with those he ties up his skates next to on the bench and shares the ice with. So many feels…but just what an amazing series! Can’t recommend enough!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, LGBT, New Adult Romance, Romance

My Review: Captive Prince (Captive Prince #1): by C.S. Pacat

Publish Date: April 7th, 2015
Number of Pages: 270
Publisher: Berkely
Genre(s): LGBT, Fantasy, Romance (M/M), New Adult

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

Back around the time when I’d first found this book, I’d made it a point to search for more queer romance stories, specifically of the M/M variety, because why not celebrate my own queerness and read books with my people as the leads, am I right? Doing some research into finding titles, this trilogy showed up quite a lot, like, actually A LOT. Tumblr, Goodreads, lists all over the internet, and Bookstagram all had high praise for this trilogy, and with it being described as a M/M Fantasy romance, added with seeing some amazing fan art (like the one below), I was sold and knew I had to get my hands on them.

Fan artwork of Laurent & Damen, image courtesy of @gabriella.bujdoso on Instagram

Upon reading it, I found out that it’s actually very little fantasy; there’s no wizards, dragons, elves, white walkers or anything magical. It’s considered Fantasy based on the fact that the story takes place in a fictional land, so I almost considered it to just be a period piece, or even just historical fiction to a small degree. It’s set in medieval times, with opposing countries on the brink of war with corrupt and powerful courts filled with deadly secrets and intrigue.

It’s funny to look at other reviews of this title and see that it’s either “OMG I LOVE THIS, IT’S AMAZEBALLS AND ITS SO EFFING GREAT,” or “WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THIS CRAP? SLAVERY AND TORTURE ISN’T SEXY, THIS IS DISGUSTING & I HATE IT!” …Honestly I was more towards the middle. Yeah, there is some problematic subject matter within the story that may trigger certain readers: there’s torture, slavery, kidnapping, sexual assault & rape, voyeurism, and even some pedophilia (yeah, even I can admit that’s a lot). I personally was not so taken aback by it all, but I understand that other readers would for sure be turned off to any of those triggers to keep them from going near this book, it all makes it incredibly controversial, which is what also made me more interested.

What It’s About:

Damen, a warrior prince and next in line to ascend the throne of Akielos, is taken prisoner when his half-brother seizes the throne with brutal power after their father passes away, and strips him of his identity and has him shipped off to enemy territory in order to hide him away and greedily keep his newfound place of power.

Map of the world of the Captive Prince Trilogy, image courtesy of fuckyeahfictionalmaps Tumblr profile

Damen, now turned slave, is brought to the northern realm of Vere, and becomes a pleasure slave for its Crown Prince, Laurent. Laurent is everything thats vile about the Veretian Court; he’s manipulative, vindictive, pampered, spoiled, sadistic, cruel, but Damen also couldn’t deny that he was absolutely gorgeous.

Trying to survive and find any way to escape back home, Damen soon gets wrapped up in the dark, twisted web of the Veretian Court, and soon discovers that more is going on behind closed doors than he’d ever anticipated. It will require him to find allies in unexpected places, and work together with Laurent in a dangerous chase towards the throne, but keep his true identity a secret when he discovers that Laurent has a reason to despise him more than anyone else…

What I Liked:

  1. It was Character-Driven! There isn’t a whole lot of world-building, but this story mainly focuses on the two main characters, Laurent and Damen, and their developing relationship along with others including guards, royals, slaves and courtiers. It’s funny though: Laurent is absolutely despicable in this book, like, he’s actually portrayed as an elitist human douchestick. Even thought it’s obvious that him and Damen will end up together, you really question it at times like: “What does he see in him? How will they ever actually get together?” He’s an interesting character though; he does some heinous things, but then it turns out later that he was actually helping someone or doing it for the good of the cause, and you slowly turn around on your initial opinion of him. The author does an amazingly job of his development; it’s so fragile and delicate, but again, so well done.
  2. Haters-to-Lovers Trope! Based on how the two interact, you can easily decipher that any sort of romance between them is going to be a slow burn. Damen and Laurent absolutely despise each other right off the bat, but must become reluctant allies when secrets are revealed and they learn they need to work together. There’s sexual chemistry that develops, but it moves at a slower, but realistic pace both sexually and otherwise.
  3. Queer-centric! The vast majority of the cast of characters are male, and everyone is some sort of version of being queer, or at least not straight. It’s funny, but it’s like being straight is the taboo, sinful, forbidden way for people to be, unless it’s simply to create an heir. I found it completely refreshing how it’s never questioned by anyone, it’s a normal way of life which made me sigh at how much I wish we could live in a world like that, where people don’t get so bent out of shape for who they’re attracted to.
  4. Complexity of the Characters! The character work done in this story is incredible. There’s plenty of subplots throughout, and you really start to wonder about the characters and how they operate; why are they like this, what are their true intentions, and what isn’t the author telling us? There’s definitely a feeling that things are not what they appear to be in both the characters and the plot, and that will keep you longing to find out more.
  5. Its Subject Matter is Controversial! This book is trigger warnings galore, and it’s something that quite a lot of people are not going to be able to read. It makes you uncomfortable, it’s unsettling and even kind of perverted in some scenes. Our society likes to shy away from these topics (rape, sex slaves, abuse of all kinds, torture, kidnapping, pedophilia), even censor it entirely like it doesn’t even exist. I say, just because a book has these topics in it doesn’t make it a bad book. Yes, the author has them all within her story, but she does present it in a delicate way and touches on them much care. She doesn’t glorify it or make it seem like its alright; it’s oppressive and heavy, and unfortunately for some that experience it, it’s all they know and it’s been normalized for them. They don’t know any better, and this terrible treatment is expected of them, at least in their minds. It’s sad, it’s depressing, but you know what? It’s not too far off from the world we live in today; things like this are happening, and censoring it and ignoring it won’t make it fully disappear. Exposing ourselves to it allows us to open our minds and make us more aware of the world; maybe not in a good way, but gives us a deeper understanding of it in some way, and that its not a safe place, and if we don’t like it, we should do something to help create change.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Politics…I’ve said it before, but I’m not a big fan of politics in works of fiction (It’s just a personal preference of mine), and this book has quite a bit of it. Sure, political intrigue helps further the plot of the story, but when things got to technical in terms of the way the courts are set up, along with rules and societal norms & regulations, I admit I was tempted to skip over it to get the story moving faster during those parts.
  2. Very Little World-Building…The world that the author places this story in is fictional, and there are some references to how it all came to be, but I wish the author went a little more in depth with it and how the world she created developed over history. It seems like there’s a ton of it, but it’s only ever hinted at and never fully explained. It’s funny though, Vere resembles renaissance Italy, where people are dressed in frivolous, campy costumes with intricate detail and shows little skin, but are much more open about their sexuality amongst themselves. Akielos is the complete opposite; they resemble Ancient Greece or Rome where everyone wears barely-there togas and even the architectural style is more open like the Pantheon, but they’re more conservative with their sexuality; it’s kind of ironic if you think about it.

Conclusion:

Overall, this was an incredibly eye-opening book that’s certainly controversial and something that a lot of sensitive readers will not enjoy, which is understandable. I can recognize my own privilege and know that none of the subject matter really upset me all that much (maybe just slightly made me uncomfortable at most), but understand that someone who may have suffered a similar kind of abuse will not appreciate it in this book.

The author has created an interesting world, even if not as much as you’d like is revealed, but the characters and the vague but obvious sense that more is to come really drives you forward. The characters have some unknown depths that you want to uncover more of, and in the climax, it becomes apparent that there’s some sort of plan in motion that thrillingly gives in an air of mystery.

I found myself still hoping for more in a lot of aspects of the story, including the developing relationship between the two characters, but I was definitely entertained enough to want to keep reading, and ***mild spoiler alert*** I can say that there’s so many good things to come in the next two books that will satisfy whoever is willing to stick with the story long enough!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell