Story Rating: 4.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Kirt Graves
Length: 10 hours, 18 minutes
In his nineteen years, Riley Shepard has been abandoned, abused, institutionalized, and conditioned. His only moments of fractured peace came when he submitted to whatever punishment or circumstance he was confronted with. Thus, the most Riley hopes for from college is to be allowed a small measure of freedom to learn and tangentially experience life as a “normal” young adult. Having been taught to cower away from confrontations, feelings, and physical contact by the only foster parent that kept him, Ms. Janet, and his own crippling social anxiety, Riley is treated like a servant by his obnoxious, bullying roommate and only has one friend, the kindhearted RA that takes pity on him.
That changes when he meets the intriguing, yet opposite in every way, Jai and Noel. As Riley runs into them on campus and his wariness wears away, he finds himself drawn to the men, and after a series of strange events, Riley learns why. Believing guardian angels are real is relatively easy for Riley; believing that he is somehow worthy of not one, but three, is something he struggles with…until some of his past is revealed.
As the first book in the series, Revelations is a very character-driven story. While there is some action, the majority of the book centers on getting to know Riley and portraying the depths of religious and psychological conditioning he experienced at the hands of his abusive foster mother and how it dictates his behavior. Knight does an excellent job in making sure that Riley’s inclination to roll over and show throat in every situation (no matter how uncomfortable it makes him) provokes sympathy rather than irritation. As a reader who has little patience for characters that spend the majority of their inner monologues whinging about how bossy their besties are, while refusing to stand up to them, I appreciated the in-depth approach Knight takes in examining Riley’s mental landscape and trauma.
That being said, this is a rough book to get through in some regards. Riley is too precious and innocent for this world; with Ms. Janet still terrorizing him from afar and threatening to pull him out of school if he isn’t a “good boy,” every interaction this poor baby has is fraught for one reason or another, even with people he likes, filling his day-to-day life with anxiety, fear, pressure, and self-disgust. The few glimpses of what his true personality might be like when he interacts with Jai are welcome breaks.
Additionally, the slow-burn promised in the blurb is glacial. This is not a complaint or a bad thing and makes absolute sense for all the characters and the story. Riley has been trained to view any physical contact and attraction as sinful, so sexual feelings aren’t even on his radar; for the majority of the story, he berates himself for enjoying holding hands and platonic hugs. As for Riley’s Guardians, while the narrative makes it clear that angels in this world are sexual beings and that Jai and Noel are far from virginal, it’s heavily implied that sexual feelings towards their wards are rare. Moreover, Gideon, the prime in the trio of Guardians, is almost as averse to touch as Riley is. There are indications that the natural protectiveness and care the Guardians have for Riley is more intense and personal than usual, and by the end, Riley has become aware that he’s attracted to his Guardians. However, aside from a few hints that Noel (the only self-proclaimed gay guy) is sexually attracted to Riley, things remain platonic.
As a book so heavily structured around understanding Riley, narration is super important and Kirt Graves does not disappoint. As usual, Graves manages to deliver a balanced, natural performance that doesn’t try to create drama in quieter scenes or turn emotional moments overwrought, and I honestly never expected to find words like “coitus” and “defiled” expressed in such a prim, pearl-clutching way utterly charming, but Graves pulls it off. Riley’s naïveté, struggles, and small triumphs are conveyed with heartstring-pulling sincerity; I could feel his anxiety, panic, and quiet joy. There’s a scene where Riley is being accosted by a spoiled sexual predator that I almost couldn’t handle; I’m not sure if I would have experienced Riley’s overwhelming panic and terror as viscerally if I had been reading. I highly enjoyed Graves’ take on the characters, and found Revelations to be a solid, engaging poly story that I look forward to continuing and highly recommend.