“I am not beautiful…”
Knife’s entire existence has been as twisted as his flesh and his face. The only thing beautiful in his life is his sister. When Gwennie is obliged to turn a suitor down because she fears to leave her brother to the brutality of their village, Knife is desperate for anything to ensure her happiness.
Her suitor’s cousin offers him a way out, but it won’t be easy. Aerie-Smith has been cursed to walk upright in the form of a beast, and his beloved village suffers from the same spell. Aerie-Smith offers Gwen a trousseau and some hope, if only Knife will keep him company on his island for the span of a year and perform one “regrettable task” at year’s end.
Knife is unprepared for the form the island’s curse takes on his own misshapen body. In one moment of magic, he is given the body of his dreams—and he discovers that where flesh meets spirit and appearance meet reality, sometimes the only place to find truth is in the darkness of a lover’s arms.
‘Truth in the Dark’ is a Dreamspinner e-book by Amy Lane. It is a very different type of M/M erotica and *utterly* brilliant.
Naef was born ‘crooked’. He has a club foot, twisted spine, too-big teeth and walks with a limp. In his little fishing village he grew up tormented and teased, abused and violated by the villagers. His only saviours were his mother and sister. Naef grew up despising himself, and throughout his life he has refused to look in a mirror.
One day his beautiful and tender-hearted sister, Gwennie, falls in love. Her man is a sailor called Klyn who offers for her hand, but an obligation to stay with Naef and defend him against village persecution forces Gwennie to refuse. Klyn will not give up so easily however, and sends his cousin to help him in his courting.
And so Aerie-Smith, Klyn’s cousin, arrives on the island, proposing that Naef come away and live with him on his own private isle for one whole year in exchange for a marriage chest for Gwennie. Aerie-Smith is a nobleman, rich and well-connected. He is also half-lion.
A ten-year old curse has seen Aerie-Smith take the shape of a lion-man; able to walk on two feet and speak through his muzzle, but with fur and a mane he looks more beast than man.
For his sister, Naef agrees to the year-long exile to Aerie-Smith’s island. But Naef gets more than he bargained for when he realizes that Aerie-Smith’s curse extends to the inhabitants of his island, humans who have taken the forms of animals. And Naef is further surprised when he reaches the island’s curse and his twisted body is made smooth and beautiful...
I loved this book! It is a very odd type of MM – a combination surrealist/fantasy/fable. There’s no clear time period in which the novel is set, and it could plausibly be modern day, alternate universe or from ‘a long, long time ago’. Either way, I was hooked from the first page of this book. ‘Truth in the Dark’ is a very poetic MM romance, and I’m not actually 100% comfortable with labelling it ‘erotica’ because I think there’s a lot of merit in the book beyond the smut.
Don’t get me wrong, the romance is hot and sensual, even when half of the couple is a lion. The sex scenes are intense and blush-worthy. Half of the joy in reading them is because Naef genuinely loves Aerie-Smith and adores his body. He doesn’t care that he looks like a lion, because when he touches him all Naef can feel is man. It’s beautiful and adds a layer of intensity to the lovemaking.
Amy Lane’s writing is beautiful – lyrical and passionate and utterly charming. The opening chapter is confronting and awful, truly harking back to brothers Grimm fairytales in which the hero is existing in the worst of circumstances. Naef is a wonderfully complex character – he thinks himself ugly on the outside, and has therefore made himself ugly on the inside. But scenes with his mother and sister reveal a tender-heart that he safeguards, and for good reason. Naef’s life is sad, lonely and the opening chapter is heartbreaking.
Enter the white-knight, Aerie-Smith who whisks Naef off to his private and cursed island. It is here that Naef’s body is transformed by the curse. Where the magic made all of the island’s humans take animal form, the magic gives Naef the body he was denied. Naef’s complexities are revealed when he rages against his new perfection;
“Change it back,” I muttered, hating it. My insides matched my outsides... I had spent years...I had spent my entire life twisting myself inside so that I could match the body and the face the fates had plagued me with. “Change it back!”‘Truth in the Dark’ is an MM romance – emphasis on the *romance*. The fable quality of Naef and Aerie-Smith’s coupling is wonderful. The obvious connotation is ‘Beauty and the Beast’, but when I was reading I was reminded of the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche. That Greek myth has a moral message about trusting your love, and seeing with your heart what you can’t with your eyes. I think that’s the message in this book, and the love between Naef and Aerie-Smith.
I highly recommend ‘Truth in the Dark’ for those who want to read slightly high-brow MM erotica. Amy Lane does wonders with the prose and characterization, but at its heart this is a sexy fairytale romance, and one that will surprise you.
I would say if you enjoy Josh Lanyon's variety of M/M romance (à la 'Adrien English') then this book is for you.
I must thank K.C. of ‘smokin’ hot books’ for recommending this to me.