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REVIEW: Mark of Cain by Kate Sherwood

MarkOfCain72sm

When a man is consumed by hatred, is there anything left to love?

After a tough day of counseling sessions, Anglican priest Mark Webber is looking forward to a relaxing dinner at a local restaurant. When he sees who’s bellied up to the bar, though, he reaches for his cell phone to call the police.

It’s Lucas Cain, the man who killed Mark’s brother three years ago. Apparently he’s out of jail and hanging out with his old crowd, which has to be a breach of parole, right?

Pulled over upon leaving the bar, Lucas blows a clean breathalyzer and hopes this isn’t a harbinger of things to come. He’s ready to build a sober, peaceful life. His friends aren’t ready to let him move on, though, and he ends up taking refuge in an Anglican half-way house.

Thrown together, Mark and Lucas find common ground in the struggle to help a young gay man come to terms with his sexuality—and the fight against homophobic townsfolk. As attraction grows, the past is the last stumbling block between them and a future filled with hope.

Warning: Bad boys being good, good boys being bad.

Review:

Dear Kate Sherwood,

I had been hunting for good redemption story for what feels like months by now and yours certainly delivered what I was looking for and more. Talk about seemingly impossible to overcome and at the same time very realistic conflict between the main characters. I could not imagine how you would believably bring them together, because I could not really relate to such situation – meaning that personally I cannot see myself ever falling in love with somebody who killed my loved one. But you convinced me, you convinced me despite what I said about not being able to ever imagine myself being in these characters’ shoes. I was convinced that what happened made sense for Lucas and Mark, and I was very satisfied when I finished the book.

The book also delivered a lot of social commentary, which in my opinion was integrated with the romance really well. This is no small feat, because too often I think that social commentary in romance gets chopped in favor of the happy ending, or it gets so preachy that I start to wonder where the romance went. It is understandable on the one hand, but on the other I too often find myself wishing that the writer had never attempted the social commentary in the first place. For this reader at least, this story achieved a pretty good balance, and I never felt that the social commentary was too heavy or preachy.

As the blurb tells you Lucas comes back to his hometown, having been released early for good behavior. Three years ago he killed Mark’s brother in a drunken bar fight. You can imagine that not everybody is happy to see him back and Mark is one of those unhappy people. I was not going to blame him for that, even though slowly but surely Mark sees just how much Lucas has changed and how he has taken complete responsibility for what he did. I can imagine that some readers may find Lucas’ unequivocal responsibility to be a little too much and a little too close to martyrdom, but for me it was just perfect. Because a killing was involved, nothing less than what Lucas felt would have satisfied me. I mean, eventually I was perfectly okay with Lucas’ moving on to realizing that he deserves to live a happy life too and that he should not throw away his own life at 22, but I was glad to never hear a single justification from him. If anything, I was a little cynical and skeptical that he was able to experience such profound change while in prison, but I went with the flow because as I said, nothing less would have satisfied me.

“I did my time? Some of it, yeah. But Sean, the guy’s still dead. It’s permanent. His family, his friends, all the shit he wanted to do with his life? He’s gone, forever.” Lucas stared at his friend’s uncomprehending face. Sean was almost innocent sometimes. Like he refused to accept any of the harder truths of the world. Mortality. Responsibility. Guilt. “I can’t just go on with things like it never happened. Three years and then it’s all over? It’s never over, not for the people who miss him. So it should never be over for me.”

When Lucas comes back home a changed person, he notes that none of his friends have actually changed.
I thought that the author did a very good job in portraying how so many young men waste their lives in spending times in bars, drinking, doing nothing and seeking useless fights, feeding their anger.

“And there it was. Sean was actually angry, not at his friends but at this imaginary woman with her imaginary baby who’d had the nerve to imaginary tell him she wanted them to get their own apartment. It felt familiar but it did not feel natural. Not anymore”

I thought the subplot with Lucas’ friend Sean mirrored Lucas’ past situation to a certain degree and when life hit Sean just as hard as Lucas (although in a different way) I could not help but hope that it would be a rude awakening for Sean.

Lucas never completely abandons this mindset, even though he learns to believe that he can deserve a happy life, and I liked that the writer tried to portray complex human beings. Surely if we feel one thing, we can feel and believe in something else too, even if that other thing seemingly contradicts the first one?

The romance in the story is a very slow burn one, which is of course extremely understandable. Mark has to see in Lucas somebody worthy of the friendship and respect first and that takes a significant chunk of the book. Basically if you want a book high on erotic content, this one is absolutely not for you. There are some kisses in the last quarter of the book and one sex scene, but for me this was perfect for this story.

Mark is not portrayed as somebody who is perfect either. He did not always behave kindly towards Lucas, but then again Lucas killed his brother, so I cut him some slack. I thought that Mark’s being a priest played a significant role in helping him change his feelings for Lucas and at first I wondered whether this would have happened if Mark held a different profession. At the same time his faith is part of Mark’s personality, not just his vocation, so somehow it all worked well for me eventually.

Neither Mark nor Lucas struggle with being gay – they know who they are, they are not ashamed of it and they seem to be at peace with their sexual identities. However, as the blurb states, homophobia is still an issue for them in one way or another. It is an issue for a teenager they end up helping, it is somewhat of an issue for some folks in their hometown (and it does take an ugly turn at one point), and even though it was less of an issue for Mark’s job as priest than it usually is in romance stories, I wish the church people had had more guts than they did. I mean, I know it reflects a sad reality, but I cannot help but wish for something better for talented, dedicated people like Mark who want to help people and serve God as priests.

I really appreciated that the book often tried to acknowledge that some situations cannot be resolved neatly to everybody’s satisfaction and no matter how hard we try, somebody may still get hurt.

There is a strong happy ending for two main characters; however there are no neat endings for several side storylines. There are no neat resolutions about how some family members and some friends view and interact with the main characters, but again all of it made perfect sense for me.

Highly recommended.

Grade: B+

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Sirius

Sirius started reading books when she was four and reading and discussing books is still her favorite hobby. One of her very favorite gay romances is Tamara Allen’s Whistling in the Dark. In fact, she loves every book written by Tamara Allen. Amongst her other favorite romance writers are Ginn Hale, Nicole Kimberling, Josephine Myles, Taylor V. Donovan and many others. Sirius’ other favorite genres are scifi, mystery and Russian classics. Sirius also loves travelling, watching movies and long slow walks.

15 Comments

  1. Kim W
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 08:43:32

    I just read this a couple days ago. I thought it was really great. I was found Mark’s change of heart towards Lucas really believable. The story felt like it was really from Mark’s point of view but I would have liked more about Lucas and his past and his relationship with Sean. I think the author left that out because Lucas wasn’t making excuses for himself so maybe she didn’t want to seem to make excuses for him by telling us about his difficult past.

  2. cleo
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 10:35:38

    Thanks for reviewing this. I noticed it, I think in the author open thread, and I’ve been up in air about it – it seems like the premise could either really work for me or really, really, really not work at all.

  3. Sirius
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 10:40:27

    Cleo, absolutely such premise (same as any premise I guess) may easily backfire, but I love redemption stories and I am glad I tried it. It is so far in top five best new m/m I have read this year. The only worry I have is that I hope there would be no sequel – ever.

  4. Sirius
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 10:42:23

    Kim, here is more evidence that we have similar tastes :-). I thought it was really good too and this is a really good point about her leaving out sob stories about Lucas’ past in order not to make excuses for him – sounds plausible to me.

  5. hapax
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 12:41:29

    This sounds exactly like the book I didn’t know I wanted to read right now!

  6. pooks
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 14:33:20

    This intrigues me a lot. What is the setting? Anglican makes me think English? But somehow I get the feeling maybe it’s American, in which case he’d be called an Episcopal priest… but I’m probably being too pedantic.

  7. Julia
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 14:46:28

    I read this last month and it was one of my top reads. There was an itty bitty part almost at the very end that annoyed me because it’s a trope I dislike – trying to be vague to avoid spoilers – but the rest of it was amazing.

    Sirius, you don’t want a sequel? Why? I’d love a sequel about any of the side characters.

  8. Sirius
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 14:57:58

    Pooks, I am pretty sure that there is an Anglican church in America, which is separate from Episcopalian church – I just looked at wiki, but cannot cite any more detailed sources. Re: setting – I am embarassed, but I do not remember, I read the book months ago – I mean, I definitely assumed that it was US, but I cannot confirm or deny till I get home.

  9. Sirius
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 15:01:34

    @Julia: I do not want a sequel, because as much as I like her writing, for me her track record with sequels is not very good. I feel like (of course I have no idea and only speculating) she cannot let go of some of her characters and comes up with artificial conflicts just to spend more time with them. Although, as long as sequel about side characters, I guess I can live with that – for me Mark and Lucas ended on the perfect note and to see the break up between them – eh no thanks.

    I am not telling the author what to do, I am just saying that if she decides to write a sequel about Mark and Lucas, I know I will not be reading it.

  10. Liz Mc2
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 15:24:49

    The Anglican Church is, I think, called the Anglican church world-wide except for in the US (and I’m pretty sure this has to do with a revolutionary desire to be separate from the Church of England). The Anglican Church in America is a very conservative split-off created when the Episcopal Church decided to start ordaining women to the priesthood so that seems like a pretty unlikely setting for this story.

    My bet is that this book is set in Canada, given what people are saying about it.

    Sorry, I’m the child of Episcopal priest who now lives in Canada–my Anglican wonkery came out. Maybe I should read this! I’m always interested in non-inspirational books with religious characters.

  11. Sirius
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 15:28:57

    Liz Mc2, no no thanks for the information :). And OY, author is a Canadian, so book being set in Canada would certainly make sense. I am shaking head at myself though because I am pretty sure I thought I was reading a book set in America. Will still look to see if there are obvious cities named and I ignored them.

  12. Rosario
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 16:35:35

    @cleo: I put it on my wish list after reading about it in that open thread. I’ve now bought it :)

  13. Kim W
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 20:40:53

    @pooks: This book took place in Canada. I’m sure it said that somewhere in the story.

  14. Julia
    Jul 16, 2014 @ 23:57:58

    @Sirius: Ah, ok. I agree, I thought it ended at a great place for the two MCs. Some of her sequels have worked really well for me while others haven’t, so I definitely would be willing to try a sequel about any side characters.

    It definitely takes place in Canada. I got the impression it was a small town on the eastern side of the country, since I think at one point one of the characters mentioned BC in a way that made it seem far away.

  15. Sirius
    Jul 17, 2014 @ 09:06:41

    Kim W and Julia thanks again – I deleted my copy from my kindle after I read it knowing that I saved it on my computer but now I cannot find it :(.

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