Story Rating: 5 stars
Audio Rating: 5 stars
Narrator: Joel Leslie and Philip Alces
Length: 6 hours, 21 minutes
Snow has been homeless for a few years now and knows all too well the cruelty of the streets and the men who use it for their hunting grounds. He keeps to himself, keeps his mouth shut and his head down, but when he sees Roy — a monster and mobster known for breaking his toys — playing with a child no more than seven or eight, Snow breaks one of his own rules. He gets involved. Roy agrees to let the kid go on one condition: he gets Snow. It’s not like Snow has a choice; it’s him or the kid, and where he might live through Roy’s games, the boy certainly won’t. So, Snow says yes, but he won’t pay up until he gets the kid back to his pops.
Pops turns out to be Simon’s uncle, the infamous Christopher Manos, head of one of the most powerful crime families in the country. Christopher is grateful to have his nephew back, but he’s also interested in the white haired young man who saved him. It doesn’t hurt at all that Snow is lovely, and that by saving Snow, Christopher not only earns his nephew’s happiness, but he also gets to stick it to the Russian mob, most notably, Roy’s uncle.
But Roy isn’t done with Snow, yet. When two powerful men, both ruthless and determined and used to getting what they want, go to war for one young man, the city will never be the same.
And neither will Snow.
Snow is skinny, short, and scrappy. It’s been hard to survive on the streets, but he’s managed so far — and managed to keep at least a little of his dignity. He’ll lie, cheat, and steal, but he won’t whore himself. It’s part of what makes Roy want him so much; no matter that he’s living on the streets, Snow hasn’t been worn down by his situation. He still has faith in the good in people (except Roy) and, despite everything, he still holds out a bit of faith that tomorrow will be better than today.
Christopher is big man with a big temper and an even bigger reputation, one that’s well deserved. He thinks nothing of torturing someone or killing them; he’s prouder of the time he flipped over his heavy desk than the fights he’s survived, because anyone can get a lucky shot off. It takes a strong man to throw his desk. His sister died, leaving him her son, and he’d do anything for Simon … and kill anyone who dares touch him, which is why he’s caught by Snow. Snow who saved Simon, Snow who Simon clearly adores, and Snow who (once he’s had a shower, a change of clothes, and some food in him) makes certain parts of Christopher stand up and take notice.
Chris doesn’t fall head over heels in love with Snow because he’s beautiful; he’s drawn to Snow when he’s a bright, joyous light, singing in the kitchen, or when he’s drawn sharp and severe by emotion. He wants to cherish Snow, and to protect him, and it’s been a very long time since anyone offered to fight for Snow. He hasn’t been wanted, as a person, in a very long time. Christopher taking care of him, wanting him, not for his special talent, but simply because the two of them are attracted to one another, it makes Snow melt.
There’s a moment in this story, as there are in many, where one character makes a foolish decision. Maybe they agree to go along with the blackmailer, or meet the man threatening them in a hidden location, and Snow may or may not do some of these foolish things, but he does so only after he makes sure that Christopher knows where he’s going to be, who’s trying to hurt him, and that Snow knows Christopher’s coming after him. It’s foolish, but it’s … a smart kind of foolish, and I really appreciated it.
While there are dark moments, such as when Christopher kills someone, or off-handedly has another man killed, there’s such an air of fantasy to the story that it almost seems inconsequential. This isn’t meant to be a gritty take on mob life; it’s a story about two men falling in love and making a family with their loved ones and friends. It’s also a story about redemption, respect, and snark. One of my favorite bits of dialogue shows both Christopher’s cruelty and his charm as he discusses his nephew’s fondness for Snow:
“I see why Simon likes you.”
“Because … I”m awesome?”
“No, because you act like you’re five.”
One of the things I most appreciated is Philip Alces narration for Christopher. In the audio book, it’s Alces who reads for Christopher and he does an amazing job. He turns the narcissistic arrogance into something charming, and more than a little amusing. When he reads Christopher making pompous threats, or mentioning (again) how powerful his family name is — in case we missed it the first two or three times — or how much money he has, he does so with humor and a self-awareness. Maybe it’s the delivery, but his version of Christopher doesn’t seem to get the real world; yes, yes, he’s been arrested … but the way Philip delivers the line leaves me thinking Christopher would be more offended if he hadn’t been arrested. He’s … well, he’s funny.
Joel Leslie, a narrator I’ve always enjoyed, reads for Snow and manages to convey the vulnerability and the moxie with humor and gentleness. Snow could have been too sweet or too snarky, but Leslie walks that line and keeps Snow balanced and sweet. Really, the audio version of this book kept me amused and entertained, and I may or may not have snorted a few times at Christopher’s pompous speeches. If given the choice, I highly recommend the audio book version of this story; these two narrators do an amazing job.