It’s Seattle, 1991, and Steven has spent the last few years clubbing, dancing, and getting high with his fabulous, gorgeous, yet toxic best friend Adrian. Steven left school and is not overly concerned with the future. It’s him and Adrian against the world, or so he thinks.
Steven starts to see life in a new direction when he meets the older, successful, and very handsome John. John is not interested in a younger, strung out guy and Adrian’s poison words ensure Steven has lost his chance with John. As Steven starts to see his life and Adrian in a whole new light, it’s up to him to make a larger life for himself and show John that he is worthy.
What a really captivating book with many captivating characters. The book is broken into three parts and at times reads almost as three connecting stories as Steven changes and grows throughout his journey. And, that’s what this is, Steven’s journey. We first meet him high and taking drugs from strangers in a club restroom. I will easily admit that public restroom sex is one of my least favorite venues to read about. But, Bell sets the scene of the relationship between Adrian and Steven, the club, the drugs, the music, and the early 1990s, so that the setting in this case becomes secondary to the interaction taking place.
Adrian is beautiful, broken, and narcissistic and we do not get to learn nearly enough about him. He is that guy that depends on people for what they can give him and, after years of friendship, is incredibly cruel to Steven. After Steven meets John, a series of events has Steven finally seeing thorough Adrian and, although Steven is 25, this becomes his coming of age story.
This story is a slow build and a slow burn with the relationship between Steven and John. That’s not to say that a lot is not going on with Steven. We see people leave Steven’s life and others come in to it and we see him try to get his life on a track that he wants. This is not a typical romance as Steven and John only encounter each other at various times throughout the book, but the longing that Steven has for John is ever present. When we do see them together they flirt with that cryptic banter as they just click, but are not sure of how the other truly feels. There were times that the movement of the story line did slow down towards the middle, but once it picks up pace again it is addictive to see what happens to Steven next. And, when Steven and John do get together, the payoff is so worth it (so very worth it) as the guys are on fire together with so much of the emotion behind it.
At times there are people that come into life that ultimately are toxic and so is the relationship with Steven and Adrian. The way they play out is realistic and I completely get how the author portrays their relationship and the subsequent fall out. Although I would have enjoyed even more of Adrian on page, his presence could have become too much as Steven is the focus here and there is a good balance for Steven’s story to be told. The story is told solely from Steven’s perspective and a bit more on what several of the characters were thinking, especially Adrian and John, would have added more depth to the story overall. There are a number of typos in the book that are unfortunate as a strong proof read should have taken care of them.
This is the first book in a four-book series that will span four decades. While the next main character, John’s friend Shane, may not seem like the obvious choice as he had little page time in this first book, there are so many characters here worth a further exploration. I will certainly look forward to another book from Bell as the series continues. For intriguing characters and descriptive writing, for a story with a slow build and a great payoff, This Charming Man is a recommended read.