Queer, Paranormal Romance, Novella, Translit
Pub date January 8, 2018
Port Lewis, a coastal town perched on the Washington cliffs, is surrounded by dense woods, and is home to quaint coffee shops, a movie theater, a few bars, two churches, the local college, and witches, of course.
Ryder is a witch with two secrets—one about his blood and the other about his heart. Keeping the secrets hasn’t been a problem, until a tarot reading with his best friend, Liam Montgomery, who happens to be one of his secrets, starts a chain of events that can’t be undone.
Dark magic runs through Ryder’s veins. The cards have prophesized a magical catastrophe that could shake the foundation of Ryder’s life, and a vicious partnership with the one person he doesn’t want to risk.
Magic and secrets both come at a cost, and Ryder must figure out what he’s willing to pay to become who he truly is.
I received an ARC of this book via the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.
I loved it so much.
I fell absolutely in love with the main character, Ryder. My gods, did I ever fall fast for him. Almost everything was perfect about this novella, characterization, pacing, the plot driving the sex… so much is so perfect and I’ll definitely be looking for more work by this author.
Content warning for blood exchange, cutting, and animal death. SPOILER: The last is okay, promise, he comes back.)
Things I loved:
The author didn’t screw up my faith: I’m a witch, both by bloodline/tradition and by choice of faith, and I can’t tell you the number of books and stories I’ve read/seen that get it wrong, harmfully wrong, sometimes. (Stop and think about it, how many books and shows use a pentacle for a fast an easy way of saying something is evil? When it’s actually the exact opposite?) This book deals heavily in the occult, paganism, magic and the author got it RIGHT! I grinned several times seeing my faith depicted well in the pages of this book.
On page consent: This is a HUGE plus for me, and I often mark a book lower in the stars department if it’s not there. If your characters are having sex, you have to write consent or indicate a conversation has happened that shows consent has been clearly, ideally verbally if physically possible, given. (NO EXCEPTIONS other than dubcon in a first-person PoV when you’re IN the character’s head and you, as the reader, KNOW they want it. Writing consent on the page and demanding it be there in our love stories is how we break down rape culture, you have to have it on the page.) Consent is sexy. It’s there in this book. I loved that.
The writing: By now, if you follow my reviews, you know that I’m extremely picky about writing. I have no issue what-so-ever with DNFing (Do Not Finish) a book. There are millions of books out there, my time is precious and I don’t read what I don’t at least like. Being an editor in my day-job means I’m INCREDIBLY picky about writing skill.
The use of language is rich, but not over the top. The description is AMAZING, I could smell the coffee and feel the mist on my skin, feel the cat’s fur and really get into the sex scenes. (Lolz, they did their job, put it like that.)
Ray has an excellent ability to write evocatively, and that is one of my favorite things in reading. If an author can transport me into their world for a few hours? I’m there. As I’ve come to expect from NineStar Press titles, the editing is top notch. I think I caught one homonym error in 33k plus words. That’s it.
On page representation of a non-binary character who uses they/them pronouns. It’s a secondary character, and there’re only a few lines, but the way the gender-neutral language is presented as a matter of course and automatically accepted is amazing. I loved it.
Trans masc main character: The character’s gender, even with graphic sex, is handled so smoothly and beautifully that YES, YES, YES. I rarely see trans romance written this well. I’m so grateful there’s more and more of it that I can get into my greedy little paws. Mirror books (the books I can see myself in) are so hard to find, and so very precious. I also really enjoyed it that the story wasn’t even remotely ABOUT him being trans. He’s trans, it’s fact, the story is about something else (and wow, what an amazing ride it was)!
On page rep of a bi/pansexual guy: I read the love-interest character, Liam as being bi, which makes him a bi guy with on page rep, another thing that I loved a lot. I can’t pinpoint a line that made me think he is bi, and it’s possible he’s gay instead, but either way, he’s wonderful. (I have a huge crush on Liam, too.)
It’s dark: The younger the characters, the darker the book has to be to rope me in. This book would technically fall under New Adult (the main characters are in their early 20s) and it’s extremely dark and delicious. I adored it.
It’s deliciously sexy: Yes, I’m ace (asexual) but I’m also autochorisexual, so I LOVE to read/write about sex. There’s a lot of hot, plot-driven, slightly kinky sex in Darkling. More please!
Things I had a problem with (and why this is a four-point-five-star review instead of a five-star, the writing and story are definitely five-star quality, even in my VERY persnickety opinion.
No safe sex discussion: I’m a former sexuality educator, I’m kinky, pansexual, polyamorous, and I write both erotic romance and erotica.
I had to dock a fantastic story with excellent writing half a review star because there was NO discussion of safe sex anywhere. Nothing about contraception (Ryder uses what I believe are testosterone shots, but it’s not discussed with Liam as anything other than a painful shot, and trans men can still become pregnant on testosterone therapy.)
There is nothing about STD protection, they don’t use condoms, or dams, or finger cots, so yeah. It lost half a star on this point alone, because that stuff is IMPORTANT.
When we write sex, we need to keep things like this in mind. The first place a LOT of people first encounter sex, (safe sex, consensual sex, kinky sex, ANY sex) is in written form. We as authors have a responsibility to be aware of that. We ALL need to be writing safe sex into stories that need it. The lack of discussion completely threw me out of enjoying the story.
Which stories need it? All of them. Unless there is an on-page reason for it not to be needed (IE: Some SFF stories have species that are immune to STDs/are sterile) if that’s stated somewhere, fine, safe sex talk not needed.
Historical and fairy-tale retelling fantasy type stories have a LITTLE wiggle room on this, but it should still be there because our ancestors knew about STDs, avoided them as much as we do, and condoms and sheaths were invented well before the 18th century, we have some records saying they went back to Egyptian times. So I’d still like to see it in historical.
In a contemporary book of ANY kind, there needs to be a safe sex discussion ON PAGE, or there needs to be mention that a safe sex discussion HAS OCCURRED between the lovers. In speculative fiction like paranormal? You could probably even come up with a reason it wouldn’t be needed, but then the reason needs to be stated.
Now. In Darkling, the two main characters have been friends for two years, so maybe they knew one another’s status, but *I* don’t discuss that with my friends as a matter of course, it just doesn’t come up, and the way the relationship is presented (friends to lovers) makes me disbelieve that they would’ve known. GETTING TESTED IS SEXY, have your characters talk about it.
I still really loved the book and I do HIGHLY recommend it. 🙂
Readability: 5/5 I’ve been ill, so haven’t been as easily beguiled by reading as I usually would have been with a book of this caliber. I fell in love with Ryder by the end of chapter one, and usually, I would’ve ripped through this book in a sitting. Instead, I lapped it up slowly, like good chocolate. It’s excellent.
ARCS: 5/5 Story arc, plot arc, relationship arc, they’re all believable, well written and wonderful, my only complaint is that I wish the story had been longer! I hope the author has more to come.
Craft: 4/5 Fantastic, evocative writing. Excellent editing, on par with other NineStar Press titles. Pacing was perfect, the plot drove the sex (something that not all erotic romance can boast of) and the only issue I had was lack of on-page STD/contraception discussion (with no spec fic/SFF reason to preclude its necessity).
Do give this book a read, it’s well worth the purchase price. A coffee costs more.
Buy from the publisher if you’re buying an e-copy, the author and publisher get more money that way, meaning they can keep bringing you more amazing books.