Titus has been raised as part of the Lambs of God, a religious cult located in a remote compound in Wyoming. Titus is the grandson of their leader, The Prophet, and destined to take over for him one day. When Titus stumbles upon a beaten, unconscious man, Titus first thinks him an angel, the man is so lovely. Titus is wary about getting involved, knowing his brethren won’t take kindly to him bringing a stranger into their midst, but he can’t walk away from the man, and brings Angel home.
Angel took off after a bad breakup, hitchhiking across the country and trying to figure out his next steps, when he was beaten up and robbed. Angel is definitely not so comfortable back in the compound, but being far from a city and without transportation, he must wait a few days until Titus can take him somewhere else. He can hardly believe the kind of life Titus has been living, nor how unaware Titus is of the outside world. In particular, Titus has no understanding of what it means that Angel is gay, as it is not even a concept that is considered in the Lambs of God.
As Titus spends time with Angel, he realizes that the feeling of wrongness he has had for years is due to his own attraction toward men. Even though it goes against everything he has been taught, he can’t help but act on his feelings for Angel. But Titus knows they have no future. He is destined to take over for The Prophet, and being with men goes against everything he knows. Yet Titus isn’t ready to give Angel up yet either. Now he must decide if he is going to live for his family and his community, or if he is ready to seize the life he wants with Angel.
In the Author’s Note at the beginning of Forsaken, author J.R. Gray shares a little about his own experiences growing up in a cult-like environment. Like Titus, it was a place where being gay or genderqueer was not only not accepted, it was something so out of the realm of their world as to be impossible. Gray does a really nice job taking that experience and building it into the story here, showing how Titus has grown up in an environment where he is not even aware of the concept of men being attracted to other men. He sees what he feels as wrong and different, but doesn’t even have the vocabulary to explain it. It is really rewarding here to see how Titus comes into his own, learns about himself, and takes steps to claim the life that he wants, versus the one that has been predetermined for him.
Titus and Angel are an enjoyable couple. Angel has a nice sassiness, but there is a sweetness to their interactions that I also enjoyed. Although at times Angel is quick to think the worst, he also is patient and accepting as Titus works through his new revelations and figures out how, and if, he can move forward with Angel. So I liked these guys together and was really rooting for them.
I struggled here in a couple of places, however. First, the story didn’t have quite the depth or intensity I expected. The set up here is that Titus is in this incredibly insular cult, a place where religion reigns and where being gay is so inconceivable he doesn’t even know what it means. Yet within a day of Angel’s arrival, Titus is accepting his own attraction to men, and within two days he is acting on it. We never see any self reflection, or get any sense of how Titus is able to make this massive switch in his thinking so quickly. Not that I wanted Titus to be full of angst and misery, but given that we spend time in his POV, I would have loved to know more about what he was thinking and how he was coming to terms with all of this. It made everything seem so easy that things just felt kind of light and surface level without the depth and intensity inherent in the set up.
Along with Titus’ quick acceptance and action upon his sexuality, I found some things seemingly incongruous. He flinches at Angel cursing, but then notices how nice his “ass” looks when doing yoga. He doesn’t have internet, tv, or movies, but thinks about “googling” something. Later Titus thinks about how he “was horny as fuck,” not just cursing, but expressing a concept I was surprised he would even know. It just seems like at times we are told how sheltered and limited Titus’ experiences are, but other times he is not portrayed that way.
My other main issue is that the story often seemed to jump weirdly in time. There are places where we skip over things and somehow the reader is supposed to know what happened in between. For example, at one point the guys are close together and we are told “there was beer, of course, on his breath from dinner.” But we never see them have dinner, nor are even told about it, even though the story makes it sound like it was something we should know with the “of course.” This happens frequently, and sometimes the gaps are even more egregious. For example, there is a point where the guys are looking at a house and waiting for an agent to show it to them. They walk around the back while they wait, and then Angel asks about going to a drug store. I figured this happens while they are waiting for the agent to show up, but instead he is supposed to be asking AFTER they had already seen the house. But there is no scene break, no explanation to indicate a change in time period, nothing. The story just literally moves from one time period to the next with absolutely no transition to indicate a change of scene. Things like this just kept pulling me out of the book over and over as I tried to flip back and figure out what I was missing.
I also felt like while Titus’ backstory is explained, Angel’s is left strangely vague. We are told he is hitchhiking due to a bad break up (not clear bound for where). And there is some vague references to the guy cheating maybe, or having a different name. And we are told Angel has trust issues as a result. But again, this is never explained. I kept waiting for detail on what happened, but it is just presented in the barest of ways and left there.
So overall I liked this story and I found the whole concept really interesting. I think Gray does a nice job of presenting Titus’ background, as well as giving us a heartwarming story of Titus finding himself. But I think that the seeming ease with which everything happens keeps the story from every really getting the intensity it needed. And I think the gaps in time, as well as lack of some key details, pulled me out of the story a little too often.