This book put me in a bind: while I found the story and characters engaging, fun, even, there are aspects that offended me. As I read, I would wonder: "Is this attitude or behavior endorsed by the author, or just described by him in depicting this place and these personalities?" By the end, I decided that there are definite ideologies at work here, including the beliefs that when it comes to family, blood is all; that the younger generation is responsible for squandering the hard work of their parents'; and the conservative viewpoint that if one only works hard enough, one can be successful. Other troubling attitudes that are questioned by characters but nevertheless feel condoned by the narrative: blaming victims of rape or sexual coercion; treating women as objects; racism; masculine pride as more important than the lives of loved ones.
After I finished the book, I read several reviews as I tried to work out my opinion of it. These mention that Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature but that this may not be his best work; that he used to be a social progressive but became a conservative who ran for president of Peru; that some characters appear in other books of his; that some elements are based on real events and his own life.
The book is divided between two alternating and converging narratives with separate protagonists, both fitting the "discreet hero" label of the title. The stories take place in two different areas of Peru, one Lima, one provincial, and their plots appear to have no connection. When they link up, it's very satisfying, even though the connection is quite minor. Each plot has elements of a mystery-thriller that propel the story; I found it hard to put down. The characters are often charming and easy to root for (until they're not). In story one, a man who worked his way up from nothing and owns a transport company is anonymously threatened unless he pays for protection; he refuses. In story two, a man on the verge of retirement and a long-awaited trip with his wife and son finds his life upheaved when his wealthy boss decides to marry his servant to punish his errant sons; at the same time, the protagonist's teenaged son is being approached by a mysterious stranger who may or may not be real, the devil, an angel, or just the kid fucking with his parents (this last mystery is left ambiguous).
Other elements I enjoyed included the relationship between the second protagonist and his wife, his feelings about art's role in life, the police sergeant from the first story, and learning about Peruvian life across two settings.
Donovan Carlisle, descendant of one of the founding families of Lavender Shores, is the town therapist and knows everyone's secrets. Well, at least everyone who's come to his practice and unburdened themselves. He's had a few unsuccessful relationships and has for many years denied his attraction to his sister's husband, burying that deep inside, knowing that it can never be more.
Spencer Epstein is the ex-husband of Erica Epstein, Donovan's sister (there are families trees available on the author's website that explain all this, and Spencer actually took Erica's name upon marriage). Spencer is a high-powered, successful attorney. He's known he's gay but his religious preacher parents sent him to "pray-the-gay-away" therapy for years, and he still struggles with the guilt his formative years have instilled in him. He initially came to Lavender Shores to be himself, but then met Erica, and for some reason that isn't clear to me decided to marry her. Meeting Donovan at the engagement party and falling in love at first sight wasn't in his plans, but Spencer denied and buried the attraction and desire for an entire decade, during which he was faithful to his wife and produced two children.
The book starts at a masquerade party being held by one of Donovan's friends in San Fran, which Spencer also attends. Spencer recognizes Donovan immediately and grabs the chance to take what he's wanted for so long, thinking that Donovan will not know who he is, since the mask and costume hides his identity.
But Donovan does, right after the end of the impromptu blow-job.
It takes a little while but they come clean about a lot of things, and carefully start dating. Donovan has concerns that being with Spencer will be seen as a betrayal of the family, and the ugly voices inside Spencer from years of reparative therapy rear up at inopportune moments. They struggle, not with each other so much, because there is little internal angst in the relationship, but with how to best move their love into the open. There are kids involved, obviously, and some hard conversation need to be had.
I really like this series. Each book is very different from its predecessor, and we get unique couples with unique situations. In this book, considering that the two men have secretly lusted for each other for a decade, their relationship evolved rather quickly but still felt realistic under the circumstances. The ILYs come early, but not unexpectedly - again, it felt plausible, considering the circumstances. Their easy banter was fun, and I loved how eager Spencer was to explore all the things he's missed out on, once they jump feet first into the relationship. Their bedroom exploits were part fun and part super hawt, and I loved how easy this part was for them. The relationship overall had a more relaxed tone, which also felt realistic, considering they've known each other as brothers-in-law and family/friends for years.
I had a couple of niggles. While Erica isn't the only female in this series, her initial portrayal was one-dimensional and flat. She was basically (and has been from the start of the series, really) the designated villain in this book, rude to and full of contempt for pretty much anyone she deems beneath her, and her behavior, through Donovan's and Spencer's eyes both, was cruel and mean and unexplained. It was only later in the book that she became a real human, a real person, when she is honest with Spencer for what is possibly the first time in their entire relationship. We see her struggle with Spencer's new relationship, with the fact that her brother took her place, and that made her real. There was a moment when she let loose a horrible slur, which, I think, shook her up quite a bit once she realized what she said, and then she actually apologized.
My other niggle is that Donovan and Spencer sounded rather alike on occasion, so much so that it was a little difficult to tell who was talking at a given time. This wasn't something that happened throughout the book, but often enough that I noticed it. Their thought processes seemed very similar during those instances.
While this wasn't my favorite of the three books so far published, it's still a solid 4 star read for me, a book about second chances and being true to yourself and finally going after what you really wanted all along, and I would definitely recommend it.
Lamont's story is next. I can hardly wait!
** I received a free copy of this book from its author. A positive review was not promised in return. **
Man, the old style of writing for comics can get clunky. So, so clunky. There's more nuance nowadays: a little more trust of the audience, so not everything has to be said quite as plainly as it is.
Still, I want to see what happens to that lady who went through Terrigenesis, but there was too much going on: two big threats, which meant all action and no real character development which was one of the reasons this was rated so low.
I did like the art, but I also didn't think it was the best art I'd seen in a comic. I prefer the recent comics, though, with more of an emphasis on characters.
They don't actually fight here: even when Crystal has Dusaike take down the X-Men, it's more that he can't save everyone from a riot, and violence, without doing so. Crystal assures him that she'll take responsibility and Storm will understand, since the Inhumans had just tried to help save mutants from the Terrigent Mist cloud. (That is grammatically correct: Terrigen Mist is what it's called, and it's also a free ranging cloud at the moment. Before it was contained.)
Cyclops, who believes that the Inhumans lied about the Mist being safe, warns the world, a world that had been accepting of the Inhumans, making them mistrust Crystal, Medusa and the rest.
Medusa doesn't want to start a war, but knowing what she does? She knows one is likely to come, and perhaps inevitable. If it comes to the mutants or her people, she's choosing her people and wants to plan to win a war that she doesn't want to take part in at all.
The tension, the misunderstandings, the paranoia? I understand it. Each side has been used, manipulated, chased out of their homes. Someone has tried to kill both Inhumans and mutants at many points, and so I understand, and sympathize with both sides. Still, it's making me want to make things better because I feel so much for both sides - and I want to clear up the misunderstandings, try to help them both.
I know how this is going to end, though, and it's going to get a lot uglier before anything good can happen.