At just twenty-one years old, Diego López has been through his fair share of living. Three years ago, he finally emancipated himself from the body he was born in. He has managed to overcome addiction. He can deal well with his grudgingly accepting mother–the very one who bailed him out of detention — which is what has brought Diego out to the desert so that he can earn some quick cash to pay his mother back. All he has to do is “get the job done, get paid, go home.” Then, Diego can put the odd job of refurbishing an abandoned, dilapidated church out of his mind.
If only Diego’s thoughts about the owner of the church were as simple as the manual labor he’s promised to do. Unfortunately, Ariel Azevedo makes Diego feel all sorts of tangled emotions. Ariel seems to notice every last detail about Diego, and he does so without judgment. During the stifling heat of the day, they work on resurrecting the church. At night, Diego is filled with confusion. He feels compelled by Ariel, by his words and his acceptance…and his offer to let Diego pray, to worship. What Ariel is offering is unlike any religious experience Diego has ever heard of, let alone had. It seems too fantastic to hope for, but happiness just might be within Diego’s reach if he can see past what he thought was real to see the truth.
I really enjoyed this exploration of faith, religious imagery, and sexuality. Author Freydís Moon combines these elements to compelling effect, creating a pair of characters I was deeply invested in. The story is told in third person, but subjectively from Diego’s side. I thought this was a great choice given our two MCs. Diego’s actions and thoughts are very human and we know he’s fallible given the off-page run-in he had with the law. From Diego’s point of view, Ariel feels distant and aloof, but that itself can be alluring. Even when Ariel’s true identity is revealed and described, there is still a sense of the unknowable about him. This gets reflected very neatly in the narration. Of course, it was also exciting to read about Diego slowly learning to trust Ariel, even when their nocturnal interactions felt like they raised more questions than they answered.
As far as plot goes, I think this story really centers around Diego finding himself as he finds a friend, confidant, and lover in Ariel. I liked how Diego immediately feels put on guard by Ariel–not because Ariel acts threatening, but because Diego is so unused to acceptance. Their journey towards becoming lovers is colored by Christian religious themes, but lacked what I think of as judgy over/undertones. In fact, I personally loved the frank (and brief) commentary about the origin of the modern Bible. This the first m/m book I’ve read where the author has taken the idea of religion and shaped it in a way that more or less coincides with my studies on translations (a field that unfailingly touches on what translation likely meant for works in the era of biblical texts). It was fascinating and refreshing to have contemporary religious baggage eschewed, then to repurpose the framework for a romance between Diego and Ariel. And boy was it a lot of fun to read how Moon imagines Diego worshiping with Ariel.
Even as I felt Diego was falling for Ariel, the story definitely sets up some murky ground. For one thing, Diego comes from a place where everything is cut and dry. There is no paranormal, no supernatural, no spiritual world. Yet he immediately senses something is different about Ariel. While everything seems pretty straightforward during daytime scenes (maybe just a mirage effect from the heat), the night scenes and how Diego experiences them open the door wide to an unreliable narrator situation. The darkness of the church, the whirling box fans, the lingering heat all set the tone set in the prose in such a way that I was reminded of horror stories. Diego’s first nighttime encounter with Ariel follows a description that evoked these kinds of feelings in me. The combination of starkly different vibe in the story and Diego’s own doubts about what is real play off each other nicely. This first encounter has a bit of a dubcon feel to it and I wasn’t wild about Diego later rationalizing it was up to him to say “no” when he hadn’t explicitly verbalized “yes.” That said, Diego was half sure he was dreaming and did seem to enjoy the physical sensations. And later, when Ariel and Diego have the chance to fully explore being lovers, there is explicit consent sought and given.
Overall, I was entranced with this tiny little world Moon created. They gave their characters such lovely histories, and let those characters share that part of themselves as much as they shared their bodies. The mix of religion, of faith, belief, worthiness, and the concept of home all come to play here. If you like stories starring trans characters, religious themes, cryptids, high spice, or just stories where two people simply fall in love, I think you’ll enjoy this book.