Aidan Swift is a 23-year-old man in an abusive relationship. He is only beginning to realize the danger in which he lives with his “boyfriend” Piers. Piers had been a doting, loving partner until this past year when he moved Aidan far from their shared apartment in London into a remote mansion in Trowchester—all that privacy makes it so no one will hear it when Aiden screams.
James Summers is an archeologist who has had a ten-year relationship with Dave, lead singer for an emerging punk-type band. They began dating in their early twenties, but have slowly drifted apart, and now all the papers buzz with rumors (not unfounded) of Dave’s infidelities. James is unwilling to trust that there is nothing left—and drops in unexpectedly on the tour—learning firsthand what a cretin Dave truly is.
Aidan and James meet at the Trowchester museum when Aidan sneaks away from his beautiful cage while Piers works. It’s the beginning of something special, and the lifeline Aidan needs. The synopsis hints at abuse, but the book brings the reality into stark focus. I felt a sterner trigger warning was needed, as the only fade-to-black business in the on-page domestic violence scenes comes when Aidan literally passes out after Piers beats him. We are witnesses to the escalating violence and growing danger, all centered around Piers’ inability to allow Aidan any freedom. His growing paranoia regarding Aidan’s faithfulness seems a flashpoint that is likely to cost Aidan his life.
Expect two decent men to suffer greatly because of the men they are attached to. For Aidan, this is physical abuse. For James, Dave is an emotional abuser, and a complete user. I was totally enraged by Dave’s arrogance, but also by James’ meek handling of his situation. I didn’t think “Man up, man!” but I did wonder why James went to such great lengths to spare Dave inconvenience. I was completely flummoxed when Dave got off with all his seriously grievous trespasses without even a reprimand.
James does step in between Aidan and Piers, but the growing affection between himself and Aidan is not all that easy. Aidan has suffered years of psychological abuse, to match his newly upgraded status of battered partner. Piers immediately began his physical claiming (read: rape) of Aidan, something Aidan never wanted but had no skills to refuse as a teen. As an adult separate from Piers, Aidan realizes that sex just isn’t his thing, at all. He likes being a partner to someone (hopefully James!) including cohabitating, kissing, and cuddling, but he isn’t a fan of the messy stuff. He is the first Ace (asexual) character I have read.
I think I was a little confused as to Aiden’s status because his asexuality could be construed as a reactionary issue. See, Aiden has essentially been a sexual slave of Piers for the past seven years and so I thought, with time, he’d warm to the idea of consensual sex with James. Both men harbor an intense attraction after all, but, nope. By the end, I had the distinct impression that Aidan’s opinion of sex was one of annoyance, bordering on repugnance, which, for me, left little hope that their relationship would survive. James is a 30-year-old man with a healthy sexual drive that Aidan merely seemed to suffer. It didn’t bode well that they could weather this rather large storm and stay together, despite some perfunctory language to the contrary. For me, it felt like a Happy For Now ending, which was a rough way to end a story that already had a lot of emotional carpet bombs.
Expect to see Finn and Michael from Trowchester Blues in the roles of assistant White Knights, something fans of the series will enjoy. There are plenty of supporting characters that are fun and interesting, but the book is heavy with conflict and not all of it does the plot justice.