Ok, this is a genre I haven’t read before. In fact the only novel that comes close is Laid Bare by Lauren Dane. But to be honest, Dark Soul is a completely different kettle of fish. Firstly it’s m/m and secondly the sex scenes are totally out of my comfort zone – but boy, was this book good!
I heard about Dark Soul and the author from a fellow blogger on Twitter. It’s a raw, dark, intense, and at times uncomfortable read, but this sequence of short stories (five volumes in total) is also completely addictive, well written with amazing characters.
I was immediately drawn into the life of Stefano and Silvio, but I will say that the plot is limited. Yes, there’s the backdrop of the Mafia, and the take-over by the Russians, but really it isn’t explored in too much detail. Dark Soul is very much an erotic romance, focusing mainly on Stefano, Silvio and their relationship. This is what made the entire collection absorbing, but also too intense at times. The sexual scenes are explicit, and sometimes verge on the masochistic.
Stefano is a Mafia boss who meets Silvio at a mafia meeting of sorts, and there’s an instant attraction. Although Stafano is married and loves his wife, Donata, he’s always refused to let out the other side to himself. Until, that is, he meets Silvio. That night Stefano finds Silvio and his bodyguard, Vince, fighting. He manages to apprehend Silvio and ties him up, and under the pretence of torturing him for information, Stefano sexually assaults Silvio with his gun only to find out he actually likes it. This was one of many scenes I had difficulty reading, but somehow the author’s writing just kept me reading.
Silvio, who’s an experience killer, is sent to the States to help Stafano in the war against the Russians. There is a story from the view point of Silvio, which I loved. There’s something so dark and broken about him, and there are hints to a troubled past life.
Silvio’s boss, Battista, who ended their relationship based on Silvio’s increasing age, is still pulling Silvio’s strings even though he broke his heart. Battista acts very nice and seems to have treated Silvio well over the years they’ve been together, but their sexual relationship is based on Battista controlling Silvio and some of their times together gave me the feeling that it was really abuse and taking total advantage of Silvio’s vulnerability, especially as he was only a young boy when they first got together sexually.
Things move on between Silvio and Stefano when Stefano is badly beaten by the Russian’s. It’s from this point that Stefano begins to relax his guard and emotions for Silvio, and starts to acknowledge he’s bisexual.
Volume three of the collection was probably the most difficult to read for me. The first story is from the view point of one of the Russians who beat Stefano. He picks up a transvestite prostitute and takes her/him back to their motel where he and the rest of his gang have sex with her. It is consensual sex, but still, it was hard to take, especially when it is revealed who the transvestite is. I had my suspicions but having them confirmed made the whole thing incredibly dark and twisted, and the ending even more so.
Another story is about incest. Silvio’s brother comes back from the French Royal Legion a broken man, although we find out that both him and Silvio were broken early on in their lives by their father in the snippets we are given into their pasts. I’m not a fan of incest in my books and it’s probably one aspect of literature I find difficult to read, and usually avoid at all costs.
With that in mind I didn’t like reading about Silvio and his brother, and having their sexual relationship described in such detail. But this is a personal thing and you may not be effected by it. Personally I could have done without it, especially as there was so much else going on with Silvio and Stefano, as well as all the other guys Silvio beds throughout the book, that it really didn’t need incest thrown into the mix as well.
I will admit to feeling a little let down by the end of this collection as I was hoping for a show down between Stefano and the Russians. Instead the ending I got felt like an easy way to end the story. I also felt that Stefano’s wife, Donata, excepted Stefano’s bisexuality way too easily, and she was too excited to get involved in a three way with Silvio and Stefano after just a couple of weeks of finding out about Stefano’s affair and his new-to-her sexual orientation.
I wish this aspect was developed further as for me it all happened too quickly and made this last batch of stories feel rushed compared to the others, and gave an unrealistic element to the conclusion.
I found it difficult to pick a rating as there was so much about Dark Soul that I loved but also much that shocked me and made me squirm. However, there were many things that kept me reading, but mainly it was Stefano, Silvio and the writing. I loved the characters and their relationship. I enjoyed their struggle and intensity. Voinov’s writing is great, it flows well and pulls you in from the first page. But for me I think that there were too many scenes that made me uncomfortable and I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. I found that I could just about cope with the violence of some of the sex scenes at the beginning, but after a while it all became a bit too much. This is obviously a personal thing and not a criticism of the author.
However, I’m glad that I read it – I’m always open to reading different genres and broadening my reading experiences. I’ll definitely be looking to read more from this author, (I’ve heard from Smexy herself that Soldiers is just pure crack) but maybe not just yet. I need to catch my breath.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Dark Soul by Aleksandr Voinov
(The Complete Collection)
Erotic M/M Romance
Riptide Publishing (Oct 2011)
Kindle Edition, 310 pages