I admit starting this book with some trepidation, because of the sexual assault that is central to the plot of recovering trust in oneself, one's skilI admit starting this book with some trepidation, because of the sexual assault that is central to the plot of recovering trust in oneself, one's skills, and in others. I’ve read other work from this author and trusted her to carry me through difficult territory.
I am glad I read this book.
The two MCs are masters of different martial arts, and the differences in the forms’ philosophies are central to the conflict between the men, and the difficulties they have with each other and with events. Aikido, Sean’s discipline, promotes calm and defense, where Asbjorn’s karate and military background make the attack equally important. As he points out to Sean, you can’t expect the opponent to stay within your preferred style.
And unfortunately, the opponent doesn’t. Sean’s skills become the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight: it doesn’t matter how good he is at what he does. Here’s where I have to admit to skimming, because I could not read the assault scene all the way through, for my own peace of mind, but I stayed with the story and with Sean and his aftermath. He’s got severe struggles with doubt over his skills and the rightness of his philosophy, and it’s as if he’s having a religious crisis of faith. He’s followed all the rules, lived correctly, done the right things, learned the skills perfectly, and still this terrible thing happened. His constant rehash of what his sensei would think, what he would approve of or disapprove of, was like endless pacing of the tiger in the cage, no way out within the structure of the cage of discipline. If the tiger grew wings, the tiger could escape into the sky. Sean has to find his “wings”, the flexibility to learn skills not found in aikido, and the mental wherewithal to use them. I got the distinct feeling the sensei had never been confronted with a real enemy.
Asbjorn has, and doesn’t mind using any trick or tool in his more aggressive repertory to defend, and if needed, to attack. He’s a 4th dan black belt and still considers that sometimes the right move is calling in air support or dialing 911. He’s a rock for Sean, who isn’t at all used to being supported, and Asbjorn’s oddly virginal for someone this comfortable with his sexuality, though the reality of being in the military encouraged him to keep a lid on his activities. This sense of inexperience led to my raised eyebrow at an event toward the end of the book, even though it was a reasonable thing to try.
Sean’s planning to date sensei’s sister, giving the feeling that he’s interested in sensei but at one remove. After the attack, Sean feels safer in being with a partner who doesn’t need to be protected (though Sister would probably demonstrate a few swift kicks at that thought). That's my thought, not something the author said, but Sean's never had a male lover until now.
Sean and Asbjorn do a delicate dance of respecting autonomy, finding confidence, and catching the perp, complicated by idiotic remarks from third parties. Sean’s on the wrong end of a lot of cultural assumptions about what happened to him (including inside his own head), and he deals with it by finding his strength in various places, including in bed with Asbjorn, who respects his boundaries there. I found this perfectly believable. Asbjorn’s torn between wanting to protect, defend, support, and not smother, and if he doesn’t always do it well, he’s trying. It’s rugged going, and when it seems like he can’t make it work with Sean even on the level of basic courtesy, it’s a very dark moment.
The author gives us a very rich and detailed world, letting us feel the gym mats rubbed with the sweat from a thousand falls, the tang of the air over the Charles River in the early morning, and the rasp of body hair under a lover’s hands. The detail of the martial arts is probably at the level of oxygen to practitioners, although it’s more strong perfume to those of us who think the aikido trousers are really palazzo pants. The style is fluid enough to drag me through the forest of unfamiliar terms.
The ending has hope, sweetness, and the promise of another Sean and Asbjorn book that comes like a blow to the face. I can’t wait. ...more
There were a lot of things I liked about this, the mystery was riveting, the developing relationship with its delicate dance, and some really interestThere were a lot of things I liked about this, the mystery was riveting, the developing relationship with its delicate dance, and some really interesting secondary characters. Where the book lost me was on the rather glib treatment of transgender issues, which played a pivotal role in the plot. This was treated entirely too lightly, just to get someone in the right place. There had to be a better way to handle this. The strange relationships between exes was given much better treatment.