Rating: 5 stars
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Ten years ago, Nerva died, but there was no funeral. Instead, his body kept moving; his lungs kept breathing, his heart kept beating, his blood kept flowing, but the spark of life within him was extinguished. Always the good son, the dutiful son, the responsible son, Nerva has taken over his father’s Hanged Men, trying to make his father proud. Where Jove ruled like a force of nature, Nerva is a cold, ruthless, callous son of a bitch. A son of a bitch whose life is falling apart.
In between the drugs — whatever he can get his hands on — the drink, and the violent, unsafe sex with any one of the mindless brutes big enough to make it hurt, Nerva forgot to call his brother on his birthday. Nerva has never before, in all of his nearly 30 years of life, forgotten birthdays. While his father was often absent, Nerva was always there for Hadrian and Dio, always there to support them, yell at them, help them and let them know they were loved. But he was too busy hating himself to remember Hadrien’s birthday.
It’s yet one more way he’s failed. One more sign that he’s not the person he’s supposed to be, that the veneer is wearing away and soon everyone will see the pathetic, broken, useless thing he is. And that can’t happen. The Hanged Men need a leader, his brothers need someone to look up to and Nerva … Nerva will just have to keep going. One step after the other. Again.
Ten years ago, Joseph Pascal lost everything. His father, his family, his husband, his life. Where a man used to live is now a monster with only vengeance and penance as the only things he truly owns. And for the first time in ten years, Pascal has come home to reclaim something else of his. A horse that isn’t a horse; a Sobotní. His Sobotní. But to get it, he’ll need Nerva’s permission to enter the Hanged Man’s territory.
Ten years ago Nerva’s husband died, leaving behind only their wedding ring and taking Nerva’s reason for living with him. And now he’s come back for a fucking horse.
This is the second book in the Hanged Man series and it’s just as good as the first. If you want humor with your violence, angry hate sex between two men who love each other, gore, redemption, reunions, family bonds, and killer horse-shaped monsters, then this is the book for you. While Nerva and his brothers made their first appearance in Blood Sports, this book is easily read as a standalone (though, really, the first book was so very good that I do suggest you take the time to enjoy it, too).
Nerva was not born a monster. He learned to be one, though, when Pascal died. He learned to use indifference as a weapon, to slash out with the brittle, broken fragments left of him to keep people from getting too close. If it weren’t for Harry, his babysitter, uncle figure, right hand man, maid, cook, and bodyguard, Nerva would even now still be alone. But Harry’s there to feed him, to pester him, to natter at him, to make sure he gets tested and treated after another night of violent, painful, unsafe sex with thug number three, but Harry just isn’t enough. No one is. Because Nerva’s already given up on himself.
Pascal’s first visit to Nerva, to the man he loved, the man he was forced to give up ten years ago is an unpleasant one, listening as Nerva is fucked half to death by his driver. Nerva, who had always had difficulties letting go in Pascal’s arms is living his life as though Pascal didn’t matter, had never mattered. And it makes him want to break the other man as he has been broken; the jealousy, the possessiveness, the pain … things Pascal hasn’t been allowed to feel in nearly a decade.
This story is heavy on the angst and the pain. Nerva has been soaking in self-loathing and self hatred, drowning in it, and it’s not going to go away just because Pascal is suddenly there in front of him. Pascal has spent ten years as a monster, trying to free himself of the chains that have been welded into his soul to earn the right to come home, only to see that Nerva is just fine without him. And that anger, hurt, and pain doesn’t vanish just because he fucks Nerva once. (Or twice. Or three times.) These two who used to be so close, who were each other’s firsts in every way, are now almost strangers, and the struggle to get back — not where they were; they can’t have that — to common ground is going to be a long one, and the author pulls no punches in drawing out the heartbreak and the healing.
There is a fun little plot in this book, and more world building — and more monster horses! — but the focus is pulled tight into Nerva and Pascal’s relationship. These are two main raised in mafia families, used to power and violence, who practically speak violence as a mother tongue. Having put the characters through so much pain, the resolution between them couldn’t be sweet and fluffy, but it is cathartic and fitting for the story. Nerva finding happiness, Pascal finding peace, and both of them finding each other. I loved it.
The side characters here, as in the first book, feel like people. Mars, an assassin who likes wearing women’s clothing and fucking pretty boys; David and Yuan, who bicker like a married couple; and Harry, the one man Jove Alms trusted to raise his children, shows more of who he was before he became Nerva’s babysitter. And, of course, the brothers: Dio, with the fast cars and fast horses, and Hadrian show just how much they care for their brother, and how aware they’ve been of his hurting, even if they didn’t know the cause.
All in all, another five star read with a promise of a third book on the way! If you like them dark, brutal, and romantic (with a side of meat eating horse-monsters), then I highly recommend this book.