Rating: 3.5 stars
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I still want to hurt him sometimes. He would let me. He deserves that, for this. He might want to hurt me too. I would let him, I think. I deserve that. Maybe. For this. For so many things.
Winters and Summers, Sam and Max. Two young men born to a world of violence and power, where knives and guns speak with the eloquence of diplomats, where mob kings rule with fists made of drugs, money, sex and death. It’s a harsh world, a violent one, and the men it makes of its sons are violent, brutal monsters. Max Summers was born to be a loyal enforcer in the Winters’ empire, to live and die, kill and be killed at the whim of the Winters family. Max’s father had other ideas and attempted a coup, wanting to claim the crown for himself. He failed, and his failure cost Max everything.
Two car crashes have shaped Max’s life since that war. One killed his mother, ending his life as a mob enforcer, and the other introduced him to Natalie, his wife and the mother of his children. She was the person who brought light and love and laughter into his world. Natalie was the other half of his soul until she, too, died. Now, Max is a single father of a son and daughter, an elementary school teacher doing his best to raise his children to be good people, like their mother, when Winters comes again.
Sam Winters has recently lost his own wife, and is now a single father to two sons and a daughter, heir to a kingdom made of smuggling, violence, and horror. It’s a life he doesn’t want for his children, but he sees no way out — either for them or himself. Max is a childhood frenemy with whom Sam exchanged bone breaking blows and devastating insults, and he is now the father of Sam’s son’s best friend. Having Max in his life again is addictive. Max never sucked up to him, never curried favor. Max was a rival who could almost take him in a fight, who was smarter, meaner; Sam’s obsession with Max hasn’t faded over the past decade. If anything, it may have gotten worse.
I found this a strange book and it’s one that’s left me with mixed feelings.Taking place in the same universe as the author’s Liquid Onyx series, this book — the first in the Danger City series — is an enemies-to-lovers romance between two men who have both lost their wives. There are lots of eloquent and well-written passages about grief and loss as Max (and even Sam) has to deal with the reality of living beyond the person he loved most in the world, of having to raise their children without her, and of falling in love with someone else.
There is also a very large emphasis on the kids. This story is very much a slow burn, for all that the characters are reunited within the first two chapters, and the gay chicken almost-flirting they get into ghosts around the edge of the story. Even so, the majority of the book is either an exploration of the depth of Max’s thoughts or cute family moments with children. The pace is so slow, and while I appreciate the author giving the characters time to grieve and come to terms with the losses of their respective wives, I found it to be a tiring read. When Sam and Max do come together, well, to be honest, I wasn’t able to invest in it. So much of the book is in Max’s thoughts (and he waxes dramatic and poetic in equal measure, especially when he’s rhapsodizing about Sam and their past) and it never really leaves them.
Max feels, to me, very much in love with the idea of Sam as this horrible arch rival who comes together with Max because their foul blackness is matched only by the depth of evilness in the other … but nothing Sam does, beyond being pissy and dramatic, feels all that evil. Max thinks very highly of himself, which is very in character, but not supported by the book. Sam comes across as tired, lonely, and feeling the weight of years on his shoulder, as someone who wants to feel young and vital and alive again, which he has in Max, his childhood rival. Sam’s obsession feels more with the past and who he was in the past rather than Max, let alone the Max standing in front of him.
Both men seem so in love with the imagery of the past, with defeating or winning over the old Max and Sam, that they’re not terribly present in the actual events of the story. And this isn’t bad. Max — the primary viewpoint and narrator of the story — is well established as being up his own ass, of thinking so highly of how low and vile he is that everything flows naturally from point A to point B. I just wasn’t invested in the story Max was telling himself.
All in all, this isn’t a bad book, it just didn’t call to me the way I wanted it to. This is a sweet, slow burn romance with plenty of kids, cute moments with kids, and thoughts on grief, regret, and nostalgia. If that sounds like something you’re in the mood for, I hope you enjoy it.