Clouded Hell (Book 1)

This book is not a dark romance, though it gets pretty dark at times. Not because of the kinks between the main characters, but simply because of the worlds of organized crime and underground fighting they’re involved with. It’s immediately clear, however, that Remi and Dante are anti-heroes rather than villains, and I’m pretty sure that they’re the only two who are surprised that they fall in love.

As much as I enjoyed the push and pull between Dante and Remi, I also really enjoyed the secondary characters featured in this book (even when I didn’t like them too much as people). Liz, especially, is a fantastic example of representation done right, and I even ended up with a bit of a soft spot for Kai.

One of the major themes of this book involves an aspect of toxic masculinity as related to the BDSM scene and the roles that people play within it. Gray does an excellent job of showing how certain roles/kinks are nowhere near as binary as they appear. All of this adds to the substance of this relatively nontraditional “romance” that involves fewer dinners and flowers and more snarky banter and kinky fun.

Though this book ends on a solid “happily for now” and with no obvious cliffhanger, I look forward to diving into the sequel and finding out how the story continues.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Oasis (Book 2)

Me, before starting this book: Huh, it’d be crazy if [such and such] happened.
Me, at the beginning of this book: Well, that happened.

This follow-up to Clouded Hell is difficult to review without spoiling too many important plot developments that play into how dramatic and epic this novel becomes. Once again, this isn’t a dark romance, but that doesn’t stop Gray from playing with some pretty dark themes and dragging his characters (especially Remi and Dante) through the wringer.

This book does follow up on Remi and Dante’s need to extend their “happily for now” status at the end of the previous book into a proper happily ever after. However, multiple external plot points compound that effort. In the pattern already established, no one can hurt Dante or Remi more than they hurt each other (or themselves), and while this was not an easy read, it was satisfying.

Me, at the middle of this book: I’m not sure how Gray will manage a happy ending without multiple characters dying.
Spouse: How is that a happy ending?
Me: Well, this isn’t a very happy book.

Again, no spoilers here, but one of my marks of an excellent novel is when the author manages to surprise me. No one gets to take an easy way out, but what is best isn’t always simple, even when it seems so on the surface. But this not-so-dark, not-so-romantic dark romance story does live up to the expectation of a final happily ever after. These books may not have been easy to read, but they were worth it.

Me, in a text to a mutual friend after I finished the book: Come get your boy J.R. Gray. JFC my emotions.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

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