Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.25 stars
Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 7 hours, 16 minutes
Sebastian Brambini has spent the entire summer trying to “behave” and regain what little of his father’s approval he had before a photo of Sebastian kissing his roommate popped up on social media. Quiet, introspective, and a math genius, Sebastian has never managed to gain the same level of affection his older brother has. In Arrigo’s eyes, his son has never measured up to being a “real man”; he’s too soft, too intellectual, and being gay would bring the ultimate disgrace to the family name. When Sebastian meets a gorgeous man at one of his father’s parties, his biggest concern is whether or not he’ll be allowed to return to Harvard in the fall, but after sharing the most passionate kiss of his young life with the stranger, Sebastian’s biggest concern becomes staying alive. While he knew his father considered him useless, he never thought it also meant he was expendable.
Kyle Grant is one of the best at what he does. As an operative for The Association, he lives by the rules—no emotions, no personal involvement, and do whatever it takes to get the job done and keep the world safe. So targeting naïve, innocent Sebastian to gain entry into Arrigo’s personal space doesn’t give him pause; after all, a lot of his jobs involve innocent collateral damage. However, when the location of the chemical weapon Kyle is sent to retrieve proves more elusive than expected, Sebastian becomes Kyle’s only hope of finding it.
Being confronted with the truth of his father’s ruthlessness and with hitmen on his tail and no viable options, Sebastian is forced to rely on Kyle to stay alive, which wouldn’t be so infuriating if he could focus on the fact that Kyle is a ruthless killer instead of how Kyle’s touch burns away all his inhibitions. Logically, Sebastian knows he can’t trust Kyle not to kill him when this is all over, but his gut (and other places) makes him think he can because as cold as Kyle can be, he can’t seem to keep his hands of Sebastian either. Kyle can’t understand what it is about Sebastian that gets under his skin; he’s not sure why he plans to keep his promise to help Sebastian start a new life when his mission is complete instead of doing the expedient thing and killing him…and he doesn’t want to. At the end of the day, it’s irrelevant. Whatever feelings or protective instincts Sebastian arouses, there’s no room in Kyle’s life for attachments. No matter how beautiful or resilient or brave he may find Sebastian, if they manage to survive, the best thing Kyle can do for Sebastian is let him go.
The Chimera Affair is a fun spy adventure with plenty of chases, spy craft, and inappropriately timed sexcapades expected with this type of story. The premise is very straightforward—keep the chemical weapon that can kill millions out of the hands of terrorists—and since Arrigo is the seller, Sebastian’s knowledge and observations about his father can help Kyle stop the sell. There’s a bit of intrigue and distrust (both from Sebastian and Kyle) that adds some danger and unexpected side adventures to the narrative. Kyle works for some generic international intelligence(?) agency; the details are vague, but I got the impression of some shadowy, private organization who you can only comfortably pinpoint as the “good guys” because the MC works for them. Some of the suspense elements are a bit shaky and at times ‘70s-Bond silly to me, but YMMV. I was also a bit disappointed that Arrigo goes full on on-the-top monologuing villain during the climax given a fleeting glimpse of humanity/feelings for Sebastian he shows during an earlier scene, but it isn’t out of character and fits the events.
Sebastian and Kyle have great chemistry and are well matched despite the difference in their age and life experiences. Sebastian may have been sheltered and naïve, but he’s a survivor. His journey is a coming of age via trial by fire where he definitely rises to the challenge. He’s intelligent, observant, a quick learner, and has a strength and fortitude Kyle can’t help but admire. With the story told in dual first person POV, it’s apparent that Kyle becomes intrigued by Sebastian while studying him as a mark (whether he’s willing to admit it or not), and his backstory and how he became an operative dovetails well with Sebastian’s own discoveries about his father, striking a chord of camaraderie in Kyle he tries to ignore. Andrews does a good job establishing Kyle as a logical, efficient operative while balancing that with his difficulty in staying in control and aloof with Sebastian. Once Sebastian learns to trust Kyle and Kyle realizes keeping Sebastian safe is personally important to him, the two begin to operate like a team, and throughout the story it’s great to watch Sebastian not only hold his own, but become an asset to Kyle and the mission.
The audio version of The Chimera Affair is from the book’s re-release and includes the short story The Argentine Seduction (both previously published by Loose Id in 2012 and 2013), which takes place 3 months after the epilogue (6 months into their relationship) and is a slice of life look at where the characters are. It’s basically an extended epilogue/bonus caper as the characters haven’t progressed in their relationship and their circumstances have only marginally changed. But it’s fast and fun like The Chimera Affair.
Joel Leslie gives another solid performance as the story’s narrator; Kyle and Sebastian’s voices fit their ages, personalities, and experiences well. There’s a moment in the first few minutes that threw me off because Sebastian is suddenly speaking with an accent when he wasn’t before, but it’s subtle. Sebastian mentions he’s been working on his English accent and the rest of his perspective is with an American English accent, so maybe it’s included as a character beat/lapse since it’s the only time Sebastian’s voice changes. My one personal gripe is a production issue that I’ve heard in several of Leslie’s releases lately. It isn’t as prevalent in this one, but it was distracting enough that it kept throwing me into proofer mode instead of the story itself. Other than that, the sound quality and the narration itself are good. One of Leslie’s strengths as a performer is conveying emotions and nuances, and The Chimera Affair definitely benefits because he makes actions/timing that are a bit ludicrous feel more viable than they might on page. If you’re in the market for a well-narrated, turn your brain off spy adventure with a plucky, passionate virgin learning more than a few tricks from a seasoned spy hiding a bruised heart as they avoid assassins and try to divert disaster, then The Chimera Affair might be for you.