Author: SANTINO HASSELL
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: 26th October 2015
Genre: Paranormal Contemporary M/M Romance
(ARC provided by the Author in exchange for an honest review)
Spoiler free review by KASIA BB
Reading “Stygian” by Santino Hassell reminded me of an old children’s nursery rhyme in my native language about a man desperately seeking for his glasses, not realising they were on his nose all the while. Sometimes happiness might be right in front of us, but we are too engrossed in the very process of searching for it, to notice that. Similarly, “Stygian” is, in my opinion, a story about four young men looking for hope and sense of belonging through music, but actually finding those values in each other and their complicated camaraderie. It is about discovering love, restoring trust and overcoming guilt.
This book differs significantly from Hassell’s other novels. I found the new aspects to his writing very refreshing and enjoyable. What I especially valued about this book is its suspenseful and atmospheric nature. The Southern Gothic element – the haunted foreboding mansion, its mysterious landlords, the eerie surroundings, the strange occurrences – is executed perfectly. The horror here is not exactly of the “scary” variety, but one that subtly evokes a feeling of creepiness and nervous uneasiness. I can totally see this book as an intended homage to Poppy Z. Brite.
Hassell did a truly brilliant job on the descriptive language. The writing is imaginative, creative, very visual, and easily appealing to the reader’s senses, without being wordy or boring. The descriptions of the woods, the stillness, the mansion and the supernatural have a cinematic quality to them. And they send a chill or two down your spine.
The book has undoubtedly a New Adult feel to it. Surprisingly – I quite enjoyed it, although usually it’s not my cup of tea. The style doesn’t ring false in the “I’m-desperately-trying-to-get-down-with-the-kids” kind of way. It is also void of irritating juvenile immaturity and naivety, which I often find unpalatable and annoying in that specific sub-genre. Instead, it sounds honest, naturally “cool” and moralizing free.
While there are certain new aspects uncovered in “Stygian”, at the same time, the author also revisits some familiar gritty themes, characteristic and prevalent in his prose, which I invariably find appealing. As ever, Hassell seems to be drawn to a specific kind of character, the type he creates extremely well – flawed, conflicted and damaged; marked with dysfunctional upbringing or past trauma. An oppressive, overwhelming, and crippling sense of guilt appears to fascinate him. Similarly, there’s emphasis on an excessive, nearly compulsively pathological willingness to shoulder responsibility for other people and also escapism through substances, such as alcohol or drugs, but also art and music.
Secondly, it becomes evident again that Hassell excels at writing complicated romances, featuring relationships fraught with obstacles and trust issues specifically. A fear of being ridiculed, rejected or eventually abandoned, often forces his characters to avoid intimacy and commitment, or deny the true nature of their feelings.
Finally, the author confirms his ability to write erotica wonderfully and effortlessly. Sexual tension practically drips from the pages and saturates the air, even though – unlike in his other novels – the romance plays second fiddle here. There are fewer sex scenes and they are less graphic and explicit. Nonetheless, it’s still powerful and damn sexy.
I thought the pacing was mostly spot on throughout the book. The last few pages were gripping, however, the ending left me wanting. It felt somewhat rushed and abrupt. It brought the sense of déjà vu, as I experienced a similar impression while reading Hassell’s previous novel, “Sutphin Boulevard”. It seems to me that in both cases, a few more pages devoted to tying up all the loose ends and smoothing things out would have provided a more cathartic closure.
In conclusion, I enjoyed this book an awful lot. I wouldn’t hesitate to strongly recommend it to all M/M readers – not only the paranormal romance lovers. It’s original, atmospheric, eerie, dark and creepy as hell. Not to mention sexy in a sticky, sweaty, tattooed way.
(My husband’s Gothic guitar. Rock on.)