Slater is … well, crazy. He holds on to what little sanity is left to him by surrendering himself to Talha, the man who gives him pain, the man who makes him obey, the man who — when Slater is good, and Slater is always good — gives him pleasure. But Talha is softening, is doing things Slater doesn’t understand. A kiss, a gentle touch on the shoulder. This isn’t what Slater wants; this isn’t what Slater needs.
And Talha is going to learn that the chains that bind the madman to him go both ways.
Slater isn’t a person. He’s a thing, a trained killer with no sanity and far too much cleverness. Like poisoned candy, he’s temptation and devastation all wrapped together. Broken, he’s unable to take responsibility for himself, and wouldn’t if he could. What he wants is his Master; what he wants is for his Master to be his God, to be all powerful, all knowing, and frightening in his wrath. Slater wants to obey, he wants to submit, he wants to be told he’s good for doing the things he’s good at. So why is his master not using him, not setting him onto true challenges, but instead wasting him on piddly little nothings?
In order to be the Master Slater needs, Talha has to be perfect. He must never lack control, he must never let down his guard, he must never make mistakes. Ambition, though, his desire to spread his power and influence to Europe, risks bringing down everything he has ever built. In order to get Europe, Talha has to marry a powerful and dangerous woman who wants two things: For Talha to give her a child, and for Talha to give her Slater. She wants to use the infamous killer for her own plans … and Talha agrees.
That one moment, that one choice, leads to a brand new holiday: Christmas in July, which is an evocative and gleefully excessive scene that begins the dark spiral down into a dark story of obsession where Talha is forced to come face to face with the man Slater truly is. Because Slater is human, Slater adores him, and Slater obeys him. Iblis — Slater’s true self, the monster that hides beneath his human skin — is disappointed in him. As he said to Talha on the day they met:
Betray me, and I’ll kill you. Disgrace yourself, and I’ll kill you. Fear anything, and I’ll kill you. Get weak, and I’ll kill you. Rules are simple, Talha. […] Are you scared yet?
I am not really a fan of these sorts of dark romances, where pain and blood and debasement go hand in hand with pleasure and ecstasy, but there is something appealing in this book, even so. Slater isn’t a born submissive who revels in pain. What he is is a monster, an unrepentant psychopath who revels in is the full and undivided attention of his Master, in the strength and brutality of his Master, and in serving a monster just like he is. The role reversal, the anger, the calculation in both men as they try to outplay the other (or even outplay themselves) is interesting in a bitter, creepy sort of way. And even with all these dark moments, there are sparkles of humor, breaking up some of the unrelenting tension and horror, such as Slater’s thoughts on Talha’s marriage:
Because of children, Master?” He cocked his head, considering. “Slater can steal as many children as Master wants.
Overall, this book is a good example of the genre. It revels in the twists and turns of the human soul, even as it throws hints of a plot with the same careless ease of Slater throwing a knife. And yet, there’s romance there, too. Soft moments where the two characters get to be human. They hurt, they grieve, they regret … If you’re a fan of the dark romances, I hope you’ll enjoy this one because I did. And, even if it’s not your cup of tea, if you’ve been interested in this sort of story or just want to take a look behind the curtain and see what’s there, this book has enough of character, creativity, writing, and wit that it’s one I’d recommend you try. I mean, it’s still a brutal read with non-consensual sex, dehumanization, and torture, but for the genre (as I understand it), this has enough romance to balance out the darkness.
Also, is it wrong to say I kind of want a sequel?