A Free Dreamer Review: Amberlough (The Amberlough Dossier #1) by Lara Elena Donnelly

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

A double-agent sacrifices all his ideals in order to save his smuggler lover before a government coup takes over their decadent city in Lara Elena Donnelly’s glam spy thriller debut, now a Nebula finalist for Best Novel!

Introducing…

The Smuggler: By day, Aristide Makricosta is the emcee for Amberlough City’s top nightclub. By night, he moves drugs and refugees under the noses of crooked cops.

The Spy: Covert agent Cyril DePaul thinks he’s good at keeping secrets, but after a disastrous mission abroad, he makes a dangerous choice to protect himself…and hopefully Aristide too.

The Dancer: Streetwise Cordelia Lehane, burlesque performer at the Bumble Bee Cabaret and Aristide’s runner, could be the key to Cyril’s plans—if she can be trusted.

As the twinkling marquees lights yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means — and people — necessary. Including each other.

Review: First of all, I think we need to talk about expectations. When I read the blurb, looked at the publisher and what people shelved ”Amberlough” under, I’d expected 1920s America with magic and romance. What I got was an espionage thriller AU of 1930s Europe, before the Nazis came into power. And a little bit of romance. Had I known what kind of setting to expect, I wouldn’t have read this book. So I’m glad I got the wrong impression because “Amberlough” is utterly amazing and brilliant and one of the best books I’ve read in 2018 so far. It would have been such a shame to miss it.

I was actually quite surprised to see a review request from Tor pop up in my inbox. They’re on of my favourite publishers out there (Brandon Sanderson!!!!) and I had high, if false, expectations. I just didn’t know they had LGBT protagonists in their books too.

I absolutely loved the setting. The nightclub ambience was fascinating and the world building was brilliant. It was so easy to just get sucked into this glamorous world full of intrigues and backstabbing. There are so many little details that make the whole world feel alive and real, without lengthy info dumps. A brilliant example of how to do world building.

I won’t say too much on the plot itself, as it lives from the suspense and surprises. This is not a romance novel. It’s probably more gay literature than gay romance, even if the relationship between Cyril and Ari is essential to the plot. It’s heartbreakingly romantic. But really, this is a thriller that happens to have a gay couple in it. The plot might make you believe there’s going to be a MMF relationship but there isn’t. We have a homosexual relationship and a heterosexual one.

I usually don’t read thrillers because I’ve always felt the characters stay kind of shallow. It’s just not my genre. But here, the character development was excellent. We have three main characters: Aristide, the glamorous male stripper with a bit of an illegal side business; Cyril, the spy who can’t keep his hands off Ari, even though they’re very different; and then there’s Cordelia, also a stripper, who’s worked her way up the hard way. I loved all three of them and how they played together. Each had their own distinct voice and it’s always obvious who’s POV you’re currently reading.

Honestly, I don’t really have the words to do this book justice. I loved every single second of it and it drove me mad that I couldn’t immediately start book two. Because there’s one hell of a mean cliffhanger at the end. Yet another thing I usually can’t stand. But I guess Lara Elena Donnelly just has a way of making me love things I usually hate. The suspense nearly killed me. Definitely not recommended for people with a weak heart.

Long story short, read this book. You’ll love it. Just don’t expect a fairy-tale romance full of hearts and flowers. This is not a happy fluffy love story and I’m still unsure if we’ll ever get a happy ending. “Amberlough” is gay literature at its finest. Oh, and you might want to make sure you already have book two waiting for you.

Cover: Oh my gosh, that cover. It’s so gorgeous in it’s simplicity. I love, love, love it. Makes me sad I only have this book on my reader and not on my physical shelf.

Sales Link:  Amazon

Book details: Kindle Edition, 398 pages

Published April 2018 by Tor Books (first published February 7th 2017)

ASIN: B01F20E73S

A MelanieM Review: Sūnder (Darksoul #1) by Lexi Ander

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

If Sūnder Alārd had been born female he would have been cherished for being faeborn—born with magick—and his birth celebrated. Instead, his L’fÿn mother insisted on his death. Only his Panthrÿn father’s desperate escape through the forest saved him. With most Chándariāns uneasy in his presence due to rumors he is doomed to become a darksoul, and unlikely to find a mate because of it, Sunder has nevertheless carved out an honorable existence as a warrior and commander. Serving as bodyguard and chaperone for the Chándariān prince, Sūnder accompanies his charge to the annual mating festival on Earth, and when the prince is injured, he can’t help but be fascinated by the tongue-tied nurse who attends them at the hospital.

At sixteen years of age, Gabriel St. Baptista came home to discover his parents had taken off into space, leaving him behind to look after himself. Gabe never recovered from the unexpected desertion, and keeps everyone at arm’s length to avoid being abandoned again. However, after meeting Sūnder, Gabe finds himself unable to resist the bond between them and breaks all of his carefully crafted rules to spend time with the Chándariān, regardless of the fact that Sūnder will soon leave. Scared by what he feels for Sūnder, Gabe can only hope his heart won’t be too broken when Sūnder returns to Chándaria.

But deceit and treachery is all around them, and when Gabe saves Sūnder’s life, it sets off a chain of events that could either tear Gabe and Sūnder apart or give them both exactly what they want.

I’m totally captivated by the fantasy world and characters of Sūnder (Darksoul #1) by Lexi Ander.  Finishing at wee morning hours, I lay there lost in the relationship of Gabe and Sūnder, the amazing resolution of the saga that had unfolded through the night hours, all the beings that I had met and fallen madly in love with and knew I was not ready to leave any of them behind.

Ander has created such a deeply layered, diverse universe for the Darksoul series.  There are a multitude of beings, hybrids, mixtures of cultures,  planets, religions, levels of soldiers, magics and technologies interwoven with history, past wrongs and current politics (galactic and racial).  That’s a lot of elements to juggle but Lexi  Ander does a remarkable job of it while keeping the tension and suspense tight and the romance between our two main characters hot and everything you love to read.

Yes, you can have a remarkable foundation but without the characters, the heart of the story, you have nothing.  Here the author truly delivers.  Gabe is one that almost breaks your heart.  Abandoned by his parents inexplicably when he’s in his teens, he has but one friend in his life, Ronan, whose family took him in when his parents left.  Now grown, Ronan remains his best and perhaps only friend who helps him recover from things like his latest boyfriend breaking up with him and going off planet.   Gabe’s that endearing mixture of vulnerability, kindness, and intelligence that draws you in immediately.  Then he meets Sūnder, the faeborn with his own anguished past and pained present, one who smells sooo good, and I’m so connected to this pair that the thought never occurs to me to put down the story.

Told from Sūnder’s perspective as well as Gabe’s, you understand  what Sūnder has gone through his entire life, being on the outside, never being acknowledged for who he really is.  Like Gabe, he too carries his own family induced pain, lessened only by the love of his adoptive mother Princess Válora (adore her too).  Ander lets both Gabe and Sūnder become true partners to each other, working through and supporting each other.   It’s such a joy to read, especially with all the amazing storylines going on around them that adds to the suspense.

There’s so much more I’m not going into here. A Jade forest, Guardians, moving trees, battles…this story is a feast on every level!  I just love it so!  And there’s the promise of more.  I especially want Ronan and Akira’s story so I hope the author is listening.

If you love fantasy, run immediately get this book!  And prepare to fall in love just as I did.  It’s going right on our STRW Fantasy Rec List!

Cover art by Kirby Crow is perfect for the character and book.

Buy Links: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iTunes

Book Details:

ebook, 2
Published September 4th 2017 by Lexi Ander
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesDarksoul #1