Buy Link: Dark Soul #3
Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Length: Novella

Rating: 4.75

I have been eagerly awaiting this next installment in the Dark Soul series and this book definitely didn’t disappoint.  Once again we follow the saga of mafia hitman Silvio Spadaro, this time in a series of three short stories.  This book is probably the edgiest so far.  I have learned to accept that this series will push me past my normal comfort level and still leave me wanting more.

[Note: Volume 3 picks up the story where the others left off and therefore this review will have spoilers from the first two books.  Check out my reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2.]

The book opens with Dark Lady. Unlike the first two volumes that are all told from Silvio’s or mob boss Stefano’s point of view, in Dark Lady we follow the story from the Russian mobster Sergei’s viewpoint.  The story starts the day after the attack on Stefano from Volume 2.  Sergei and three other Russian mobsters are in a bar when approached by a prostitute offering to take them all on together.  She is incredibly hot, and even though the men soon realize she is actually a transexual, they are drawn strongly enough that they agree anyway.  The men decide to take her to their safe house for a night of fun, never realizing just who it is they have invited home.

This story is really interesting for several reasons. First, although we as readers know that the prostitute is Silvio in disguise, the Russians are never aware of who it really is.  I thought it was an interesting choice that the book blurb makes it clear that this is Silvio, even though the story never acknowledges it because we are only getting Sergei’s viewpoint and he doesn’t know Silvio. I love the way it opens the reader up to seeing so much deeper into what is really happening than the POV character.  This story also gives us a lot of insight into Silvio.  We have gotten hints of his gender fluidity before, but this is the first time we see how comfortable he is in the female role.  And how alluring he can be, and how easily he can win someone’s trust and have no problem betraying them when it is a means to an end.

Dark Lady II is a very short story that picks up the next day.  We see Stefano again as he works through his recovery, adapting to a new second in command, and dealing with the restlessness of inactivity. When the cops come calling he learns the truth behind the killings the night before, realizing that it was Silvio and not a prostitute who picked up the men in the bar. When Silvio makes a seemingly off-handed comment about showing Stefano what he looks like dressed up as a woman, Stefano is intrigued enough to follow through.  He finds that the outward appearance doesn’t really matter to him, just knowing it is Silvio turns him on.

Silvio looked at him, then drew so close that Stefano smelled the makeup, and his vision blurred a little. The black eyes, though, they stayed exactly the same. Living darkness. Silvio’s kiss jolted him down to his toes, and the question of whether he was kissing a man or woman suddenly blurred. It didn’t seem to matter. It wasn’t that the illusion was perfect; Silvio was still Silvio. But whether he was a she, or a demon, or an angel, or a dirty dream, it all didn’t matter in the face of that gut-wrenching desire.

Although Stefano is still too injured for much participating, the men have their most physical encounter so far, and we see a bit more of Silvio’s feelings for Stefano and the intimacy that is growing between them.

In Dark Brother we meet Silvio’s brother Franco, recently arrived in America after eight years in the French Foreign Legion.  Franco is older than Silvio and left the house about the same time as Silvio did.  The story reveals more about their backgrounds and their horrible father, and how the two of them turned to each other for comfort as young men.  Franco is quite lost, still not having adapted to being out of the regimented life of military service and having the freedom to make his own choices.  He is a loner, never really comfortable with other people, with sharing intimacy or even casual sex.  The only person he connects with is Silvio.

The tension bled away. His brother. Possibly the only person in the world who understood him, who really got him. Silvio of all people would never recoil from him—would never be disturbed at what his eyes had seen and what his hands had done—and the relief in that was so enormous it almost took the breath from Franco’s lungs.

Silvio also feels a bond with his brother, and in typical Silvio fashion, feels no qualms about pushing those boundaries to take their relationship into more intimate arenas.  (And yes, the book does go there, and quite explicitly, so be warned if incest is not your thing.)  Franco fights against the pull of Silvio, but as with most battles of will, Silvio wins and in the end Franco gives in, needing the comfort of his brother.

If God had made them, he’d improved on the second try, perfected the model and removed that pesky conscience, too. Still, it felt right—the only other man who’d ever understand him. The only man he could trust unconditionally. Franco felt tears sting in his eyes and closed them to not give himself away. He hadn’t cried in years; he was out of practice.

This was a fascinating story to me and I feel like it is the one where we learn the most about Silvio of any book so far.  Through Franco we get a lot of insight into their childhood and their relationship with their family and each other.  The story also reinforces the idea that Silvio is a man with no limits – he goes with what he wants, what feels good, what draws him, and he has no worries about what other people will think is right.  And Franco is such an interesting character, I was caught up in watching him cave to the pressures and his desires, both sexually and getting drawn into the war with the Russians.  I hope that we see more of him in future books.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I have learned that this series will push me past my normal limits and comfort levels. It is to Voinov’s credit that he makes it so easy to look past the violence and the taboo and just be sucked into the story and even find it incredibly hot.  Silvio is such an engrossing character that one can’t help but be pulled into his world, whether they be the other characters or the reader.  Another great installment and I can’t wait for more.

Cover Note: Another scorching hot cover.  I love the hint of androgyny in the body, the way we get just the slightest curve of that hip muscle that guys have.  So beautifully done.