Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
First off, let me just say that I love, love, LOVE the Five Boroughs series, and I struggled with what rating to give this book. I’ve become very invested in all of the characters, and I’ve also joined Mr. Hassell’s Patreon to read additional short stories that he writes in this universe (check out Patreon if you’re interested, it’s worth it!) He includes a pretty broad spectrum of NYCs queer community, and I continue to enjoy how all the characters are represented in each novel, even if only as cameos.
That being said, I think that Ashton Townsend, the main character of this book, was probably the one that I was least interested in reading more about. In First and First, he was written as a wealthy, vapid, oversexed party boy who had no direction in life and didn’t even seem to want one. I think this book started out a little behind the eight ball as the author had to reinvent Ashton as a lost soul who had a fabulous cover as an oversexed party boy, and that really was a bit of an uphill battle. Valdrin Leka is a completely new character we haven’t seen in the earlier books, and the first from the Bronx. He’s a cab driver by day, and amateur boxer by night, and has his sights set on qualifying for the Olympics so he can eventually go pro. His mother was Ashton’s nanny, so these two men have known each other since they were pre-teens, and in many ways they grew up together despite coming from drastically different backgrounds.
This isn’t a story about falling in love. These two men have been in love with each other for years, but for various reasons they have been unwilling to admit it to themselves or to each other. And I guess that’s the main reason I didn’t like this book as much as I enjoyed the others in the series. There seemed to be a very abrupt change, especially in Val, from being distant to being unable to stay away from each other. The reasons given as to why they changed weren’t really convincing to me, and the angst in the book – yes, of course there is angst, even more than usual for this series – was mostly due to the secrets Val kept from Ashton, and Ashton’s deep seated insecurity. And while the relationship between Raymond and David, or Michael and Nunzio, also had the same themes, for some reason I just wasn’t feeling it for Val and Ashton. When these men just got over their issues at the end of the book, I could only wonder why the hell it took them so long.
Despite feeling a bit disappointed in the characters and the plot, I was happy to see another facet of sexuality introduced – the demisexual, or one who only feels sexual attraction infrequently, and usually only after a significant emotional bond has already developed. Now in the Five Boroughs universe we have many gay characters, several bisexuals, a pansexual man, a lesbian woman, a demisexual man, some monogamous couples and some swingers. The group of friends is increasingly diverse in regards to class and ethnicity as well, and I find it amazing how they all interact so well and so naturally with each other. I am looking forward to the next book(s) in the series, which I think will be Jace and Aiden’s story, but I have to say that I am shipping Charles and Clive and hope that they will get together at some point as well. Even though this is my least favorite in the series so far, I still can’t get enough of these characters and Mr. Hassell’s writing. His characters are unique and interesting, his dialogue is fluent and effortless and some of the best I’ve read anywhere (not just in this genre), and his writing is exciting and just leaves me thirsting for more. Very highly recommended!
Cover art by L. C. Chase, is, as always, amazing. I would believe that Mr. Santino saw this model before he even dreamed about Ashton, he is so perfect.
ebook, 366 pages
Published April 29th 2017 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN 1626495629 (ISBN13: 9781626495623)
SeriesFive Boroughs #5