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REVIEW:  Beyond Jealousy by Kit Rocha

REVIEW: Beyond Jealousy by Kit Rocha

Beyond Jealousy (Beyond #4) by Kit Rocha

Dear Ms. Rocha:

There are so many things I really love about this series and it’s not primarily the sexual interaction. The series is set in a post apocalyptic environment focusing on the city Eden and outlying sectors.

Inside the city, people are taught that woman are chattels and sex is something to be endured. The sectors are like the Wild West with each region ruled by different gangs who impose their own rules. What kind of life you live depends largely upon the leader of your sector.

In Sector Four, Dallas O’Kane rules. He’s not a kind and benevolent leader but his sector offers four things: access to premium O’Kane liquor, sex shows, fight matches, and the freedom to live as you wish.

Beyond Jealousy is the story of Cruz, Rachel, and Ace.  Rachel and Ace have been dancing around each other for years but for some reason that remains a mystery to me, Ace pushed Rachel away.  Beyond Jealousy is one of those books that I think would be difficult to read on its own and even though I’ve read the previous books in the series, I’m still befuddled as to the actual emotional conflict.

Because Ace believes he cannot commit to Rachel, he hurts her and along comes Cruz. Cruz was a former military leader in Eden but defected to join Sector Four as an enforcer.  In previous books, Rachel and Cruz had a thing until Cruz and Ace got together.

When Beyond Jealousy begins, there isn’t a struggle with Cruz accepting a menage but rather it is focused on Ace’s inability to commit to the threesome because he believes he is unable to commit. For some reason. Ace’s internal emotional angst was confusing and forced.

The external plot is that someone is making subpar liquor and selling it under the O’Kane label. Rachel’s family in Eden is caught in the middle. O’Kane and his crew will have to ferret out the true enemy and Cruz struggles with his fear of either Rachel or Ace being wounded.

The world is so interesting and I read this series because I want to know what is going to happen to these people. What is the end game? How will they all survive? As Dallas O’Kane grows in power, what kind of person will he be?

That’s not to say that the eroticism isn’t a strong part of the series. It is and in this book one of the more powerful scenes is the angry love / sex between Cruz and Ace. They fight and then make up in a way that a woman and man could not.

But while I love the world and care about the people, the lack of a believable emotional conflict with Ace was frustrating. I also don’t understand why everyone in Sector Four has an exhibitionist kink. It doesn’t ring true for me and sometimes it makes me feel like the women are often performing for the male gaze. I don’t think I remember a scene where two guys are going at it for the entertainment of Sector Four. The guys fight in the right. The girls fuck. Even though this is a world about female empowerment, this part of the story sometimes bothers me.

It’s still an evocative series and it treats women and sex in a very positive way. There’s no shame in enjoying your body or someone else’s body in any number of ways and we need books like that in our genre. C+

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Dark Soul: Volumes 3, 4, and 5 by Aleksandr Voinov

REVIEW: Dark Soul: Volumes 3, 4, and 5 by Aleksandr...

Dear Mr. Voinov,

Your Dark Soul series has been a roller-coaster ride for me. It is not a genre romance, even though it has some very romantic moments. It features themes I rarely seek out, including menage, BDSM, and protagonists in organized crime. Purchasing all five volumes is not inexpensive. It is quite brutal in places. And while I enjoy serialized fiction, this one is more like a set of linked short stories in parts than a serialized novel.

Dark SoulAnd yet. And yet. I read each installment with apprehension but also eagerness, and they have rewarded me handsomely. I put off reading Volumes 4 and 5 for weeks, in part because I wanted to give them the attention they deserved. I’ve already talked about Volumes 1 and 2 here and here, so this review will cover the last three installments. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, because part of the pleasure and impact of the story comes from the way you’ve put it together. For readers who find my plot summary inadequate, there are reviews at Goodreads and a number of blogs that provide more answers.

The overall storyline is relatively compact: Stefano Marino, a avowedly heterosexual mob boss with a beautiful wife whom he loves, falls hard for Silvio Spadaro, an assassin who is the lover and heir of another boss. That boss sends Silvio to Stefano to assist him in a battle with the Russian mob. Volume 3 begins with the Russians’ attack on Stefano and Silvio’s retaliation against them, two acts that bring them together physically and emotionally, and it introduces a character from Silvio’s past who becomes part of the campaign against the Russians. This installment reveals more about Silvio, from his ruthlessness as an assassin and a person, to his sexual needs, to his vulnerability when he was a child. Stefano finally starts to come to terms with his attraction to Silvio and realizes it is not something he can wish or repress away.

In Volume 4, Silvio and Franco’s onslaught on the Russia mob continues and the relationship between Silvio and Stefano deepens, and both developments have their inevitable consequences. The mob war escalates beyond something that can be dealt with by merely buying off local law enforcement, and Donata is no fool. Stefano’s personal and professional existences are both up for grabs by the end, and it’s not at all clear which way the resolutions lie. Stefano is deeply conflicted because he is growing more emotionally committed to Silvio, but he also loves Donata, and he wants to keep everything the way it is and somehow add Silvio into the mix. Plus, he is trying to maintain his mob supremacy in the face of increasing threats.

Volume 5 has to wrap all of these loose ends together. And it does, with style and assurance, all the while introducing another major character. Savvy readers should deduce the backstory of the new character fairly quickly. Since I was slow on the uptake, I was kind of annoyed at first that this character became so important, although I understood why he had to for storyline reasons; then I finally got it and everything made sense.

In this final episode, the Russians are basically out of the picture but Stefano and Silvio have to deal with the increased law enforcement attention that accompanies their demise. Stefano tries to find a way to salvage his marriage while still hanging on to Silvio and fighting off challenges from within his organization. We also find out more about Silvio, which I found extremely helpful. By the beginning of Volume 4 I was starting to wonder if he was a sociopath. The ultimate explanation for some of his personality made sense to me, although I’m still ambivalent about how trustworthy he is and how fully he can commit to other human beings. But I could definitely see why Stefano didn’t want to have to choose:

He stood and slipped out of bed and closed the door behind him on the way, smiling to himself. Compared to Donata, Silvio was the polar opposite. Not a graceful or early riser. And that would be less funny if Silvio weren’t a sicario. If he killed a stranger for absolutely no personal reason, how would he respond if unduly irritated?

But of course, all that was idle bullshit, especially considering that the big issue in the back of Stefano’s mind was his wife. He kept checking his phone in the hope of a text from her. He sometimes touched her profile on his phone, especially when Silvio was asleep or occupied with something else. He’d snapped a photo of her on one of the date nights, dressed in a gorgeous red dress, her hair tumbling down. It showed up every time she called him, and sat as a tiny thumbnail right next to her name. Donata Marino.

And he was hiding away from her in this hotel, fucking Silvio, finally sating that hunger and that deeper need, the terrible affection for another man. But, truth was, he was hiding, still avoiding her.

I needed time to work this out for myself. I needed to know if it was real. And God help me, but it is.

I thought that the way you resolved these threads was ingenious from a storytelling point of view, but I wasn’t completely convinced in terms of the characters.  What I mean by this is that everything worked in terms of the characters as they appear in the book, but I wondered if real people would work things out the same way (and it’s definitely a testament to the quality of the characterizations that I came to think of them as real people).

First, I  thought Stefano needed to experience the consequences of his various decisions a bit more than he did. I didn’t want him to grovel more or be punished, exactly, but resolutions seemed to come a little too quickly (this may have been a consequence of page length). Second, I wasn’t fully satisfied by way Stefano made the decisions about his future and the ramifications of those decisions for both him and Donata. Stefano made them unilaterally even though they affected both of them, and I had trouble believing that it was as easy for the two of them to live with the decision as it seemed in the end. Even when you hate something, it’s hard to shift the patterns and habits of decades. And while I was pleased that there was an HEA in the end, I had trouble believing the characters were as free of their pasts as they seemed to be. So, in some ways, Volume 5 was the least satisfying for me.

Overall, though, the way the characters and the plot unfolded over the installments was really well done. Stefano goes from being confused and not very self-aware to decisive and much more in control, as well as more honest with himself and those he loves. Donata, when she finally appears on the page, is worth the wait. She’s a little too understanding in the last installment, but she’s a strong woman who seems to be making thoughtful and considered choices. And Silvio becomes less of an enigma and more of a human being. He’s still the same Silvio we met at the beginning of the first volume to a great extent, but we see him less as a gorgeous assassin and more as the complex young man that he is.

The quality of the writing sustains a high level of quality throughout the five installments; it is taut, focused, and perfect for the subject matter. The sex scenes are explicit, hot, and critical to the development of the plot and characters. There is an m/m/f scene which is extremely well done. If readers aren’t fanning themselves throughout, I’ll be surprised.

I am so glad I stretched outside my comfort zone and picked up this series. I want to reiterate, this is not a genre romance. It’s not easily classified, either as conventional m/m or menage. There are some extremely violent scenes, and the characters do some pretty unlikeable things. They are ultimately sympathetic, but it takes some of them quite a while to get there, and all readers may not make the journey with them. But for those who do, this is an incredibly rewarding read. It’s not perfect, but it’s very hard to forget.

Grade for series: A-/B+

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