When Kaos finally came to his senses and realized that his current relationship would never be more than one violent episode after another intermingled with regret and assurances, he packed up his meagre belongings and left behind a job he loved and the few friends he had. There was one man who would always have his back and that’s who Kaos went to in order to start again. Returning to Makai, and Makai’s lover Emil, allows Kaos to breathe once more and embrace his feminine and masculine sides more freely. Worrying that the folks living in the small town of Acker, Wisconsin may feel differently, Kaos soon realizes that the town is a safe place for him. When the young man meets the older Padraig Donovan, the town vet, he is shocked to discover his own interest in the silver fox. But Doc Donovan is chasing demons of his own and still suffering from the death of his first and only love four years earlier. Plus, Doc has never been attracted to feminine men—until he meets Kaos.
Tia Fielding has released Four, the second in her Love by Numbers series. I will forewarn you that this really can’t be considered a standalone novel since it relies heavily on the main characters from the first novel, Makai and Emil, and in particular, Makai’s history with Kaos. Therefore, if you haven’t read Ten, you may want to skip this review and do so first. For those who remember the previous novel, Kaos was Makai’s cellmate in prison and the two became best friends. Makai looked out after Kaos and helped him survive. Kaos is a tattoo artist who is also genderqueer—having days where he embraces his feminine side and others where he is comfortable as a man. The story tells us fairly quickly that Kaos goes by male pronouns and so I will do the same for this review.
Much of the story focuses on two main components—one is Padraig trying to come to terms with his ongoing grief and his attraction to Kaos. The other is Kaos trying to get beyond the trauma of the way in which his ex became violent and physically abusive every time he wore makeup or feminine clothing. Both broken men in some ways, their gradual fall into a relationship is not without its problems. But after Padraig is able to reconnect with an old friend, he begins to realize that he needs to take off the rose colored glasses he has been wearing as it regards his deceased husband and understand the man was not perfect by any means. After an incident where a decidedly overwrought Padraig returns home and is angered by something Kaos has done, he also sees that he should resume counseling to deal with the buried issues he has surrounding his former relationship.
In many ways, Padraig’s journey in this novel was the more realistic and honest. Much like Makai, Kaos also really could have benefited from accepting that he probably needed counseling to handle his PTSD from the abuse he withstood at the hands of his ex. The fact that the author had Padraig realize his need for counseling and pursue it, but never broached the same resolution with Kaos left me confused. The other issue I had with this novel was a bit more worrisome, primarily because I am not sure if it’s a valid concern. However, it was statements from this story like the one below that made me squirm a bit at the over generalization and cavalier way the author threw a hypothesis out there and never had a character challenge it. Let me show you what I mean. This comment was thrown out while Kaos and Padraig were discussing Padraig’s confusion at being attracted to Kaos’ feminine side. Kaos goes on to explain why his ex, Trev, didn’t like it.
“He didn’t like the feminine gay guys we knew, because of this internalized black-guy homophobia.”
I would have taken this comment in stride if the “black guy” portion had been left out—but frankly, the line stopped me dead in the middle of reading for what I felt was a really broad criticism of black men in general, since it felt like Kaos was intimating that most, if not all, black guys were homophobic. Again, perhaps I am merely being overly sensitive to it, but there were other instances in the book where I felt the author causally crossed the line with more sweeping statements when it should have been localized to the one individual she was writing about.
I think if the novel had developed in a different way, having both men pursue counseling and there being more common ground between Kaos and Padraig, I would have taken more things in stride. Instead, Kaos just felt so young—with Makai often rushing in to save him and going as far as holding him in his lap while his partner Emil looked on. Those scenes seemed a bit over the top to me and fairly screamed out that the guy needed to talk to someone professional to help him get a grip on his very real and understandable fears. I also didn’t really get a good sense of an equal partnership between Padraig and Kaos, but perhaps that was okay—perhaps Padraig needed someone to take care of and nurture. Often Padraig seemed to be walking on eggshells around Kaos so as not to trigger him, and Kaos sometimes did the same for Padraig as it pertained to memories surrounding his late husband.
I wish I could say that this novel was a great follow-up to the first. Instead, it felt lopsided and unfinished to me. After the stunning first book in this series that I felt was just marvelous, I think my expectations were a bit too high for this one. Fundamentally there is nothing really wrong with Four, but it just didn’t spark the same emotions in me the first in the series managed to do.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.