Title: Dark Soul #1
Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Length: Novella

Rating: 4.5

Dark Soul is broken into two short stories, Dark Soul and Dark Secret.  In the first, Stefano Marino, a west coast Mafia boss, has traveled to the East Coast to hold vigil at the death bed of a family patriarch.  While there he meets Silvio “the Barracuda” Spadaro, a cold-blooded killer and heir to Gianbattista Falchi, a retired senior member of the family.  Silvio seems to live outside the rules, protected by his connection to Falchi and his cold-blooded reputation.

Stefano is instantly attracted to the young man, drawn to his hypersexuality and lithe body. Although he has been attracted to men before, Stefano has never acted on it, hiding his bisexuality in his marriage to the wife he loves.  Being gay in the mafia world can get him killed and he knows better than to reveal his attraction for Silvio.  Yet he is irresistibly drawn to the man. In one of their first encounters:

Stefano turned around to find himself standing way, way too close to the driver. Those black eyes were without light, without reflection. The stare punched the air from his lungs, and those lips . . . God, those lips. Distantly, he heard his conversation partner making his excuses, but he paid the man no mind, and neither did the driver. He could feel the heat from the driver’s body. Imagined touching. Being touched. He blinked and stepped away.

And later on as the group dines together:

Stefano cleared his throat and tried to not stare at those wine- wet lips. It wasn’t that Spadaro was conventionally good-looking. He was too cold for that, too expressionless, too predatory. At the same time, there was something off about him. A turn of the head, a glance, the long legs. Feminine. Camp? If it weren’t ridiculous to think of a seasoned sicario as feminine. He didn’t speak with a lisp or wave his hands around in a limp-wristed kind of way. But something about him exuded sex like a cat in heat. Knowing, tempting eyes that sucked all the light from the room. Centers of gravity.

Stefano’s attempts at control are further challenged when Silvio breaks into his room in the middle of the night, attacking Stefano’s body guard Vince.  Stefano’s desire for the man, along with his need to establish his dominance, send Stefano to the edge as he pushes Silvio for answers about the break in.  This leads to a violent sexual scene (involving dubious consent and gun play) that turns both men on, but doesn’t provide any answers to Silvio’s motivation.

In Dark Secret, Stefano has traveled to Italy to meet with Falchi himself, seeking help with problems he is having with the Russian mob infringing on his territory. Afraid to involve other currently active family members, he comes to Falchi even knowing there will be debts to pay for his help.  During the visit, Stefano struggles with his continued attraction to Silvio, knowing it would be dangerous to act on any feelings. At the same time, he learns more about Silvio and Falchi’s relationship and the dynamic between the men.

While the stories are told from Stefano’s point of view, the focus is on Silvio.  He is magnetic, alluring, and appears soulless, yet he totally captivates Stefano with his mixture of cold strength and sexual compliance.  He is the lure that Stefano can’t help but follow.

I really enjoyed Dark Soul and was intrigued at this first glimpse into this world.  The story was hard for me in places, specifically the violence. These men definitely are cold and calculating in a ruthless business and death is commonplace for them.  Yet I was still drawn into the story, wanting to learn more about Silvio and what was is going on behind those soulless eyes. Voinov does a great job showing Stefano’s inner turmoil, faced for the first time with a man he can not ignore and feelings that he can’t push aside.  The story kept me captivated throughout and I am eagerly looking forward to the future volumes.

Dark Soul is currently available for preorder and will be released on October 30 from Riptide Publishing.  Volumes 2 and 3 will be released November 21st and December 19th respectively.  Voinov will be at Joyfully Jay to talk about all three books on December 20th. Can’t wait!

Cover: Just gorgeous, yes?