Kilian Kildare just wanted to save lives. He worked his ass off to make it into the Army’s special paranormal unit as a human, to fight ruthless, killer paranormals. When he had the opportunity to save even more lives by turning into a Judas vampire to fight ever more dangerous paranormal beings, he took it. Unfortunately, the ramifications were considerable. First, Kilian’s extremely religious, extremely Catholic family rejected him for accepting supernatural powers associated with the famously disgraced disciple. Then, after Kilian managed to survive not one, but two vicious attacks that left the rest of his Army unit dead, his fellow soldiers rejected him, as well. Despite the social isolation, Kilian still wants to dedicate his life to saving others. He just never imagined he could accomplish that by becoming bodyguard/companion to a man half-possessed by a demon. Much less a man Kilian used to babysit years ago.
The demon wasn’t actually meant for Stephen Nguyen, it was meant for his ailing mother. But something went terribly wrong during the ritual and, now, Stephen’s mother is dead and Stephen is housing a powerful demon. For now, the Army’s special paranormal unit has offered Stephen an arrangement: he helps them track down and neutralize the worst of the worst paranormal threats and they let him live. But Stephen cannot control the demon at all times and there is a very real possibility that the demon could wholly overpower him. Not a good situation given how powerful the demon is and the fact that no one knows how to exorcise it. Which is why Stephen needs not only someone who can remind him of his humanity, who can give him a reason to fight the demon’s control, but he also needs someone who can cope with a dangerous demon if push comes to shove. Kilian, with his vampire venom and healing abilities, fits that bill perfectly. Their reunion is a surprise to both men, but they find they are able to strike a balance between jailed and jailor…until something dark starts growing in Kilian as well.
Chaos Etched in Flesh is a modern paranormal thriller from author Lyn Gala. I am familiar with her Claimings series and loved the characters and the world they inhabited. I was super excited to pick up another title by Gala. If you enjoyed the Claimings series, I think you will find the story of Kilian and Stephen every bit as complicated and their world just as involved. Through Kilian’s third-person narration, the society where paranormals live side-by-side with humans and the dangers inherent therein comes to life.
Kilian is an extreme example of the difficulties paranormals may face. Not only is he a vampire, the one paranormal being that seems to be universally distrusted, but he is an extra-loathed Judas vampire. The dialogue makes it very clear just why Judas vampires are so ill-favored. That, coupled with Kilian’s internal guilt, which stems from his upbringing in a hyper devout Catholic family, makes him a very interesting character. Stephen, on the other hand, seems to have the market cornered on sarcasm, bluntness, and a surprising cruel streak. One of the brilliant aspects of Stephen is that Kilian (and by extension, the reader) isn’t necessarily always aware of when Stephen is speaking and when the demon is, so similar are the two matched in snarkiness. This verisimilitude makes for a great reveal at a crucial moment when Kilian and Stephen are about to finally get some help regarding the dark something growing within Kilian.
There is something of an age gap and something of a slow burn to this story. Both Kilian and Stephen were non-paranormal humans growing up; Kilian was the older neighbor and Stephen was the younger, hyper-active kid Kilian would sometimes babysit. When they first reunite in the book, I loved the breathless disbelief Stephen shows. He assumes the Catholic-raised Kilian would never dream of turning vamp. The disbelief soon gives way to Stephen bluntly admitting he is attracted to Kilian now and had an enormous crush on him as a child. It was an interesting mix of reminding someone of how taboo such a relationship would have been and a blatant indication that they’re both adults now.
Gala delightfully unspools little elements about this world and how it works through dialogue between our two MCs. I thought it flowed so naturally with both of them being curious about what happened to the other after Kilian joined the army…but also not really up for twenty-questions every time their separate pasts come up. The piecemeal approach really worked. I liked how they almost take turns throughout the book revealing little bits of their past to each other. That felt more organic than a single info-dump style heart-to-heart. Plus, while these two grow very close to each other, their physical relationship definitely ignites before they develop a deeper connection.
My only disappointment with the story is that there wasn’t more of it! I felt like Chaos Etched in Flesh just barely scratched the surface of these characters and then the book ended. The back matter indicates this is not a series, but I am panting for more. One of the best features of the relationship between Kilian and Stephen is the fact that no one knows when Stephen ends and the demon starts. Of course I want to believe all the tender moments that are sprinkled through, the sexy moments, the loving ones are really Stephen…but we just don’t know. Kilian himself isn’t sure sometimes. So even though the main arc of Stephen’s accidental possession gets resolved neatly and despite the book being an enormously entertaining read for angst lovers like me, I feel like these characters’ story is just getting started when the book finishes.
Overall, Chaos Etched in Flesh was an irresistible read that absolutely left me hungry for more. I loved these deeply flawed characters who get thrust together and find a way not just to coexist together, but build a relationship. If you like the idea of unreliable characters, then Stephen will be absolute catnip for you and because he’s possessed, you may find yourself second guessing everything he does and says. There is a big old happy-for-now that resolves the major issues, but still leaves plenty to chew on regarding where the MCs could go in future. I would highly recommend this to any paranormal, slow-burn, and friends-to-lovers fans.