Damien has been lucky enough to unexpectedly get a job at a renowned art studio. The place is not at all what he anticipated and things there are somewhat strange. His boss, John, seems particularly odd, but that doesn’t stop the attraction Damien feels for him, despite having a boyfriend, Levi. Things with Levi have been somewhat tense lately, as he is Damien’s former professor and since Damien is still a student, Levi insists on keeping their relationship hidden and it is wearing on Damien. So despite knowing it is mistake, he can’t help but find himself drawn into a relationship with John as well.
Damien tries to be honest with Levi about what is going on; he cares about Levi too much to want to ruin things between them. But his feelings for John are also growing, and Damien finds himself caught into between the men. But the bigger problem is the strange things going on at work. Something is not right there, and as Damien gets sucked in deeper, his health begins to suffer. Damien’s friends and family are worried for his mental health as well, as the stories he tells about work and John are becoming increasingly hard to believe. Things are spiraling out of control and Damien needs to figure out how to get things right again, even if that means saying goodbye to one of the men he loves.
Wow. This is a really hard book to review because there is so much spoilerific stuff here, I am having a hard time talking about it without ruining the suspense of what is really going on. So I am going to keep this review spoiler free and get at the meat of things without revealing too much (keep an eye out for the spoiler tags).
Ok, so first off, I will admit things start off slow here. The story is told in first person, present tense POV, which I think is absolutely the right choice for this book. We are all about what is happening to Damien here and so being in his head as we follow along with him is essential. It gives an immediacy and an urgency to the story that works really well. However, at the start of the book, Damien is really confused about what is going on and the story reflects that feeling of things not all fitting together. Which means as readers, we are also confused about what is going on and I was a bit overwhelmed at first trying to get grounded into the story. But at about the 25% mark, I started to get glimmers of what was really happening, and from that point forward, I sailed through the story and couldn’t put it down. So if you try this one, I’d tell you to at least read through Part 1 before giving up if you find yourself struggling.
The reveal about what is really happening here is done so well. Even as I started to figure it out, the pieces came into place so nicely. I could look back with some “aha” moments as I thought about things with my new perspective. Langley does a nice job keeping us just a little off balance along with Damien. Even when we know what is happening, the tiniest part of me still wondered if just maybe he is in fact losing it. If maybe his friends and family are right. And even if they aren’t, how Damien is possibly going to undo the muddle things have become. I found the story takes on a really emotional, poignant tone toward the end, and like I said, I found myself really engrossed in how things would all play out.
On the relationship side, I had a harder time, mostly because I didn’t really feel the connection between Damien and either of these men until right at the end. Damien is totally into Levi, but mostly he seems focused on how hot Levi is (John as well for that matter). Levi says all the right things, but I just kept getting this patronizing vibe rather than really feeling the emotional connection between them. And other than the fact that Levi is hot and really nice to him, I just never got what the attraction was, or honestly, what Levi sees in Damien in return, again besides being hot. The connection between Damien and John felt stronger to me, especially at the end. But even with him, physical attraction and circumstance seemed to be playing too big a role and I wanted to understand what they really saw in one another. Part of this issue is likely that we are only in Damien’s POV, but even from his side, I just wasn’t feeling the chemistry between these pairs nearly enough for me to feel captivated by the love triangle the way I would want. I could kind of take or leave Levi, which really threw off the tension of the story for me on a romantic end. As I noted, Damien is having a relationship with both of these guys, and while John knows about Levi, Levi is kept more in the dark about things and Damien’s connection to John does ultimately become a hindrance in their relationship. So be aware if cheating isn’t your jam that this may not be the ideal book for you.
A few other things threw me out of the story a bit. First off, there is a major issue at work that should have been a massive red flag to Damien that he just totally ignores. [spoiler] He fully believes the studio artist is dead. Yet the folks at the studio talk about him like he is alive and refer to their conversations and interactions with him. It is never really addressed why Damien isn’t fazed by that, or what he thinks is really going on there. [/spoiler] To me this is something Damien should have been really struggling to understand, yet he mostly ignores it. Also, [spoiler] the time travel element is not explained at all. I don’t need things to go all scientific and technical, but why Damien? What is happening? Why this time, this place? [/spoiler] I feel like we needed some more explanation just to put things all in perspective.
I read this book for Judge a Book by It’s Cover Week in our Reading Challenge Month because I found myself drawn to the cover almost immediately. The hair and the cheekbones pretty much had me from hello. I love the stylized color, the sense of movement in the hair, and the way the font looks like brush strokes, which works well given the art connection. I am not sure it really captures the vibe of the story, nor does it really feel representative of Damien (at least I am assuming it is Damien as he is the lynchpin in the story). But I still find it incredibly gorgeous.
In the end, I found this book kept me really engaged after the first section, and packed an emotional punch that made a big impact on me. I didn’t find the love triangle nearly as compelling as I had hoped, mostly because I didn’t quite feel the connection between the men that I wanted. But I still found this to be a interesting story and a nice one to try if you are looking for a book that is a bit different with some clever moments and a nice bit of intensity.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a prize pack from Interlude Press that includes a signed, print copy of Not Your Villian by C.B. Lee, plus e-book copies of some of their award-winning books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Judge a Book By Its Cover Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.