WOW. Just…wow! This book is incredible and blew me away entirely. I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into when I started reading it, and probably wasn’t quite prepared for such an intense emotional onslaught. This is the kind of book that’ll have you sneaking away from a party to read by yourself in a corner or staying up all night to finish. It’s the kind of book that will occupy all your thoughts and feelings even once you’re finished. It’s the kind of book you’ll want EVERYONE to read, to hold up as an outstanding example of the m/m romance genre. And…it’s probably the kind of book you’ll want to re-name to give a slightly less, um, cheesy title…ha.
One might expect angst from a story about a lonely man in a wheelchair, but this was angst on a whole new level. The fact that James is in a wheelchair quickly fades into the background as being far less important than his other emotional issues- his scars and childhood trauma, that have left him with crippling social anxiety, depression, and a raw, desperate fear of letting anyone inside his shields. James’s POV chapters are swamped with his dark and pessimistic outlook on life and his future: he’s at a critical, desperate point in his life where he is truly struggling to see any light. Reading about his journey to overcome his fears- even of small things, like going somewhere new and unfamiliar- will be a visceral experience for anyone who’s faced the same issues. In fact I might even put in a word of caution here for readers with depression; I found James’s battle to be almost distressingly realistic.
James’s caustic outlook on life is contrasted with literal-ball-of-sunshine Michael, who is probably one of the sweetest and most caring characters you’ll ever come across. His level of empathy for his friends and clients, his selfless nature, and his desire to help anyone in need would almost be annoying to the reader in the hands of an average author (as in come on, who is THAT nice, that perfect?), but in this story the author has done an incredible job crafting Michael’s character. While it’s clear that Michael is a naturally empathetic, nurturing person, it’s also clear that this stems from his own loneliness growing up a shy and weird kid and as an only child. Michael NEEDS to be needed, needs to form close, intimate bonds with people with himself in the caretaker role in order to feel fulfilled and useful. It’s an interesting twist in his personality, one that I definitely enjoyed.
Speaking of Michael’s need to be needed: the author did a great job at setting up Michael’s interest in and attraction to James BEFORE Michael found out that James was in a wheelchair; but of course the revelation of James’s disability (not to mention his loneliness, his self-esteem issues, and his virginity) is like fuel on the fire for Michael. I am certain the reader will follow the development of their relationship with a growing sense of concern and anxiety: James switches on all of Michael’s empathetic buttons to such an extent that we can’t help but wonder exactly where the root of Michael’s feelings for James lie. I felt that the author was inviting the reader to question this, even as we’re given reasons for it: James is intelligent and creative, a sci-fi aficionado like Michael, and is “toppy” (i.e. dominant) in bed in a way that has Michael melting. Still, the reader knows there’s a huge battle coming when James finds out about Michael’s sex surrogacy work, and of course when this battle does arrive it is wildly explosive.
As another example of just how talented this author is: one of the main characters is a sci-fi writer, and excerpts from one of his books are peppered throughout the story. Tiny excerpts, no more than a few pages in total, yet it’s enough to follow the incredibly complex story-within-a-story of Lamb the android and to feel devastated when Lamb’s story comes to a distressing end. It’s a sign of amazing writing that readers develop such a bond with a character who’s not even IN the main story, and who gets so little page time. Every word has been chosen carefully for maximum impact. I was beyond impressed!
This is a book I’ll read again and again, both to enjoy and to study the amazing writing. Finishing this book left me feeling stunned and inspired, and I am so excited to read other works by this author!