Over the last several months, Elijah has earned his place not just under Shai in bed, but at Shai’s side at the top of what’s now their organization. Maybe some feathers were ruffled. Maybe some lips flap about how insatiable Shai has become in the bedroom. But it’s not for nothing that Elijah has come to be known as the “baby-faced assassin.” Elijah is more than a lover and a protege to Shai. He is a force to be reckoned with. Which is why it’s so damn baffling when Elijah, the second most powerful and fearsome man in all of Deadwood, disappears without a trace. His absence leaves a hole in Shai’s organization. That hole is one Shai’s men struggle to fill as they chase non-existent leads and push at the boundary lines under their control. That hole threatens to ruin Shai’s famous ability to strategize and plan and always come out on top.
The organization that took Elijah claims they only want to help him. To fix him. And they bring in a facilitator named Dale Miller to help. While the psychiatrists themselves–and whoever they work for–treat Elijah like a prisoner, it’s Dale who seems to draw out inklings of the man Elijah was before. Dale proves to be useful, maybe even a friend. And then there’s that spark of interest in Dale’s eyes. After living for so long being subjected to Shai’s every single whim, the tenderness Elijah senses from Dale is stunning. Suddenly, the walls around his heart and mind, the walls Elijah thought were impenetrable, just might be showing cracks. The more Elijah cooperates with the men who hired Dale, who captured him, the more Elijah can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Too bad someone is lying…and the truth will get someone killed.
Elijah is book two in H.L. Night’s Twisted Web series. The book picks up less than a year after Elijah first meets Shai. Like the first book, there is a strong focus on the physical relationship between Elijah and Shai. Night accomplishes this by splicing together two timelines in the story. There is the “now,” which centers on what Elijah, Shai, and newcomer Dale are doing and thinking. Then there is “before,” which is almost exclusively used to highlight the sexual side of Elijah and Shai’s relationship. If you were disappointed (me, I was disappointed) that some of Shai’s threats in book one about just how far he’d push Elijah (inanimate objects, for example) weren’t carried out, then rejoice in the “before” chapters. The intimate scenes are copious in number and almost always include intense sex. If the idea of multiple narrators and multiple timelines sounds like a lot of work, rest assured it was pretty easy to keep everything straight. Elijah and Shai have very distinct narrative voices and the scenes, as well as what tends to happen in them, kept the story flowing seamlessly.
Personally, I was breathless with excitement reading this book. Book one was all about Elijah picking the lesser of two evil crime lords and coming out the other side as a new man. As Shai’s man. In book two, that new man is the star of the “before” chapters, but this new Elijah gets put through the wringer when that shadowy organization catches him and forces him to undergo a sort of psychiatric treatment regime. The Elijah of the now gets subjected to psychoanalysis by professional psychiatrists who are working for someone who wants to put Shai behind bars. They want Elijah’s cooperation because they feel Elijah will have all the information necessary to put Shai away for a long time. I really enjoyed watching Elijah enter this new “we’re here to fix you” storyline. I enjoyed feeling conflicted. In book one, Elijah at least started off using sex as a way to stay alive, then falls into what seems like a Stockholm Syndrome type of affair with Shai. In book two, Elijah shows us in the “before” sections that he may not exactly be consenting enthusiastically, that sometimes, sex is still a means to stay alive. As the psychiatrists start to wear Elijah down, we begin to see cracks form in his cocksure attitude. Cracks that Dale is only too willing to fill.
Dale was a trip, too. He’s hired by the same person who hired the psychiatrists, but is kept in the dark about a lot of what the doctors are doing and what information they have. If nothing else, Dale seems to understand he’s meant to be a neutral third party…someone to witness Elijah’s sessions with the doctors and to be there for Elijah when he finally breaks free from the shackles of a false love. Only he starts to have feelings for Elijah. He thinks those feelings are reciprocated and acts on those emotions. Here, too, I loved mulling over the idea that Elijah might have a new love interest. I also really enjoyed not knowing who I was rooting for. Did I want Shai to come storming in and taking back what was his, or did I want Elijah to fall hopelessly in love with Dale? I really loved how I would process the events of the story in between reading sessions and how I would vacillate between which “team” I was on.
But of course, a goodly portion of the book is leading the reader down the primrose path. There was one scene where I thought something felt off between two characters who are, at this point, in a fairly stable relationship. But I was not prepared for the layers upon layers of lies and subterfuge to get peeled back to reveal a simple truth. Years ago, I read a book that contained a line that basically said one of the characters was so brilliant, they would plan a feint within a feint within a feint. Years later, I feel like I have finally read a story that painstakingly crafted exactly that sense of “a feint with a feint within a feint” to superb effect. Even better, I was wholly sympathizing with the one MC who gets the shortest, shittiest end of the stick…only to have the book end with a whole extra feint to make me question how short and shitty that stick actually is. Incidentally, it also ends on a huge cliffhanger.
If your interest is at all piqued by anything in this story…just read these books. Even with the cliffhanger ending, I think the final chapters of book two are well worth the effort. If you like puzzling things out, book two will keep your brain whizzing for as long as you read it. And at least for me, drawing out the reading time only enhanced my anticipation. The breathless “will he or won’t he” where Elijah’s loyalties lie was so very worth the effort. And, of course, that final feint at the end. I am agog for the next book in the series.