Rating: 5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★
Cameron “Candy” Michelson Jr. doesn’t have time for distractions. He’s too busy restructuring the red-light district into an adult playland for City M and running the Hidden Gem. But when his companion, Avery “Ivy” Laurent, grows closer to Jack, an investigator for the Institute of Scientific Study, Candy can’t hide his jealousy. Nor his own interest in Jack.
Ivy is crazy about Jack, but he’s also in love with Candy. Ideally, Ivy longs for all three of them to be together, but between Jack’s nonexistent libido and Candy’s supercharged needs, Ivy isn’t sure how to make it work.
When Jack gets called in to help the City M police department investigate a series of violently murdered companions, both Candy and Ivy brace for trouble. But nothing prepares them for Candy becoming the prime suspect.
In a future landscape of corrupt government officials, brutal BDSM crimes, and a host of dark creatures, Candy, Ivy, and Jack must work together to find the killer, save themselves—and learn how to trust each other.
The Hidden Gem stories by Lissa Kasey captivated me from the very beginning with her horrifying vision of a world in chemical ruin, its environs toxic and governments reduced down to geographical areas, even cities where populations clustered, clinging to life such as it was. Throughout the populations were AMs, mutants both forced by experimentation and born into their genetic forms naturally by evolution…but all hidden from the citizens due to fear.
In each story, the title refers to a pleasure place. The Hidden Gem, is the top “house” in City M, and Misaki “Aki” Itou is its highest paid and most sought after “companion”. He will find love with detective Shane McNaughton, and their story sets in motion all the action and relationship dynamics to follow. Its a 5 star magnificent ride and I couldn’t figure out how Kasey would top it. But of course, she did with Cardinal Sins (Hidden Gem, #2). Again its the name of a house of pleasure and gambling that the owner of the Hidden Gem finds, renovates and reopens for an unimaginable reason…its amazing tunnels of fish tanks that thread through its halls. Here its the enigmatic Paris Hansworth, former “companion” turned senator and all powerful man who ends up finding the love of his life, Rain, in the most unexpected place. Each story gives a clue through the beautiful covers of Shobana Appavu. Yes, its in the blurb but its doesn’t prepare you for the power of the finding and the story itself.
Again, each book is building towards something more but I had no idea how strongly the author was preparing us for the final story in the trilogy until I came to Candy Land. If I could give a book more than 5 stars I certainly would do so here.
Candy Land picks up the story almost immediately from Cardinal Sins and the three characters, one recently introduced and two we’ve come to know and love in all the other stories. They all seem to be headed for something interesting as far as a matchup together, a triad, if they can communicate and overcome the enormous physical demons they have and plot hurdles ahead of them. Cameron “Candy” Michelson Jr we met in the first book as the best friend of Aki and as high a paid companion as Aki was. Now Candy is running Hidden Gem, has matured and is having trouble finding his way in staying Candy and the boss. Avery “Ivy” Laurent,a psi paid companion at the Hidden Gem, Candy’s love interest is also interested in Frank, a AM who was partnered with Shane back when they were both cops. Yes, circles upon circles of relationship dynamics and it all works. Its important because these Venn diagram relationships are needed when the AM murders and explosive government politics start to intrude upon City M and their lives to the point of horrifying consequences to all.
One of the things I most admired about this story was Kasey’s ability to balance the need to bring the characters maturity along together and apart (especially Candy and Frank) while keep the suspense and deep intrigue mounting on the larger plot level. Candy had to come to understand and accept Frank’s asexuality if their triad was to work, Frank also had to understand Candy’s need for dominance and Ivy’s need for them both. It was a delicate give and take between all three and it works so beautifully here. We get their vulnerability, their strengths, their humor and their pain…in short, we get them as whole viable people. I loved them all and together even better. That’s saying a lot as threesomes usually aren’t my thing. And this one is outstanding.
Even better? The plot! That nail biting, hold on to your seats because you won’t believe what’s coming next plot. I ended up reading whole pages twice because they were so damn good. Had the popcorn going, just hunched over the action, the drama, and the sequences that unfolded on the Kindle before me. It had it all, angst, parts that had me weeping in anger, sadness and then unbelievable joy. Yep, this book is over the moon.
When I got to the end, I was so thrilled, I was stunned with joy. It was everything I had wanted for each and every character. How many times do you say that in a story? Or a trilogy? That you were completely satisfied with how everything worked out? Now would I be happy if Lissa Kasey goes back and give Ono his own HEA? You bet. I think he deserves it after all this. And then there’s that little matter of the boat people. But the main characters? Happy, happy, happy.
So do I recommend this book? Silly question. Of course I do. All of them to be precise. And Lissa Kasey too. I will be picking them all back up and reading them in a row now that I have the trilogy complete to see what I may have missed. Do yourself a favor, grab them all up, do it too. Make yourself some popcorn while you’re at it. You will be there for a wonderful fantasy ride!
Cover art by Shobana Appavu is as outstanding as the book. Each cover a clue as to the major element inside.
ebook, 274 pages
Published April 25th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634771672 (ISBN13: 9781634771672)
Trilogy: Hidden Gem