Story Rating: 3.5 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Brad King
Length: 8 hours, 33 minutes
Max Farley is a man of simple pleasures, and those pleasures are best kept brief. Uninterested in more than a one night stand, he finds himself trapped in his own net when the breathtakingly beautiful ballet star, Valentin Bychokov, singles Max out for a night of mind blowing sex … only to kick him out as soon as it’s over. For the first time in a long time, Max wants more.
Valentin is dancing on a razor’s edge, figuratively and literally. Damage to his Achilles tendon may cost him his one joy in life. If he isn’t allowed to rest, he could end up crippled, unable to dance again. And if he isn’t dancing, if he isn’t pleasing Dmitri, Valentin may find himself shipped back to Russia with nothing but the shirt on his back. Dancing sets him free, lets him see the world, lets him be someone else — someone who isn’t in debt to a mobster, someone who doesn’t have to sell pieces of himself.
When Valentin makes the foolish decision to call Max back up for a second night, he ends up setting in motion a chain of events that will destroy all the walls he’s built around his heart, because when Valentin falls, he falls hard, and for once, Valentin is trusting that someone will be there to catch him.
Valentin is, at first, the stereotypical ice prince who armors himself in arrogance and makeup, who uses cool looks and a sharp tongue to keep people away from him. He lies, flirts, charms, and pretends, but he never lets anyone get close enough to see the real man beneath the mask. When the ice does begin to chip, we see a young man trapped in a situation he can’t get out of. He’s not ashamed of it, and he’s not secretly hoping for a prince on a white horse to come save him. One, he doesn’t believe in princes, and two, if there were a prince, he’d be the one cast in the role. He is, after all, a star.
Max isn’t exactly known for his reliability. He’s well known as the guy to go to if you want a no-strings fling for a night, a fact which doesn’t exactly please him, but it’s the truth, so he’ll accept it. However, when it comes to Valentin, for the first time in a long time, Max is willing to go back for seconds. And thirds, and soon finds himself wanting more than just a quick fuck with a flexible young man. Instead, he wants to know who Valentin is. When he learns the truth of Val’s life, Max suddenly wants to be the sort of man who can get Valentin out of trouble, who can give him everything he wants and needs — even if it’s at his own cost.
It’s Valentin who is the strong one between them. He’s willing to let go of Max and his dreams of a normal life with a man who loves him so that Dmitri will leave Max alone, but when push comes to shove and Max is hurt, Valentin is the one to take assertive action. He may be an ice prince, but he’s got nerves of fucking steel and it’s refreshing to see that he isn’t painted as a damsel in distress. He’s an active participant both in his own life, and in the fight for his freedom. Valentin is the star of this book, start to finish. He knows he’s more than just a treasure for Dmitri to parade about and he’s more than a victim. He’s a star.
I don’t mind the lack of gritty reality, especially when the book is primarily a light romance with the promised happily ever after, but there are some parts of this story that just irritated me. Valentin is a ballet dancer, and a good one; it’s his life and his passion, and yet it’s never the subject of his thoughts or a conversation or a scene. No mentions of positions, stretches, shoes, music, any of it. I don’t mind things being little more than a bit of window dressing to add flavor to enhance a story or character, but there was nothing in this particular window except a sheet of thin glass.
The narrator of the audiobook, Brad King, did an amazing job. Going between English to Russian, conveying the uncertainty and fear in Valentin that was hidden behind brusqueness, he really managed to bring Valentin to life. There wasn’t really much personality to Max, but King still managed to give a good performance. I’m on the fence with the story, as to whether or not I enjoyed it. There were parts that stood out to me, and they were due almost entirely to King’s narration. If it weren’t for the life and sparkle he brought to Valentin, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it even half so much.
Max, as a character, never really clicked with me and I didn’t get a feel for him as a person. He was just a normal guy who fell in love with Valentin at first sight, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The world is made up of normal people; but I found myself looking forward to Valentin’s chapters, and just getting through Max’s scenes. I am well aware that not everyone will have the same ‘meh’ reaction to Max, but I hope that, if you give this book a chance (and I highly recommend the audio version), you will enjoy Valentin’s story as much as I did.