Handled – Romilly King
Serial killers think if it all goes south and they finally get caught that their swan song is a day in court, making the families relive the agony while they get off on that delicious pain, all over again.
Not happening. Not anymore. We’re not making celebrities out of monsters. We’re not giving them a stage to strut on.
Now they get an audience of two.
One to Handle the problem, one to Witness it.
I’m a Witness. I trained for six years to do my duty, to manage my contracted killer, and to watch justice be done.
I knew it would be hard, the first time, to watch the eye for an eye moment.
I expected to feel a lot of things – fear, disgust, guilt.
I didn’t expect to feel turned on.
And I didn’t expect my contracted killer to look quite so pretty with blood on his hands.
HANDLED is a dark gay romance with themes of justice, retribution, and unsuitable love. It is not for the faint of heart and contains graphic scenes intended for an adult audience. Further trigger warnings inside.
So deliciously dark! I love Gray!!!
I’ve read a lot of serial killer mysteries and just when I’m getting the same old same old feels about the genre, Romilly King creates this novel world of Handlers and Witnesses in her riveting new series, Handled. The way I see it, it’s fighting monsters with monsters.
Handled introduces us to a government program where they controlled and trained young psychopaths into Handlers. Basically killers sanctioned to render whatever punishment they see fit on serial killers roaming in the wilds. To make sure these Handlers are doing their jobs properly and within the bounds of the law, they are assigned a Witness each. It goes without saying that Witnessing is a very dangerous job. Attrition rates are extremely high.
The book is a police procedural of sorts. We follow Gray and Nathan as they go about their business of investigating the prime suspect and establishing concrete evidence for their cases. The government requires hard evidence before they are allowed to handle a certain client a.k.a the guilty party.
The world-building here was very well-thought out. It was done without much info-dumping. Everything felt real. I had no problems following the set-up. The jargon was easy to pick up. I got some slight dystopian vibes from it. Especially with the government involved.
It’s Nathan’s first time to Witness and he was assigned the best and most notorious Handler, Gray. Now this Handler doesn’t play well with others. When Gray doesn’t like a somebody, the least you can expect is lose an eye. The rare exception is Nora, his long-time Witness, who is now passing the baton to Nathan.
It was lust at first sight for our young rookie. Like most psychos we loved, Gray exuded that magnetic charisma that had Nathan mesmerized even with the full knowledge of what the man is capable of.
Gray loves pain. All kinds, whether inflicted by him or on him. When he is in a killing mood, the man is intense! That big scene with Nathan and his client at the climax was pretty nasty. But it was glorious!
I wouldn’t put it past her to plant the seeds knowing something might blossom because the wily Nora chose the perfect man as her successor. Nathan was totally green, he made errors that could have been fatal. But Gray sensed he was different.
Nathan was a bit naive but direct. He’s scared but he didn’t give his Handler bullshit. He was respectful of Gray, taking time to ask him about his background instead of simply reading his file. He sassed him back once in a while too.
I love Nathan! As he acclimatized to his grim job, we see him drawing out Gray’s various nuances. The way he complemented Gray’s personality, they just fit so naturally. I appreciated him for considering that Gray could be something more than what the system thinks he should be.
And holy heck, the chemistry!!!
The dynamics between the two was fantastic. They played off each other so well. The interactions were fraught with danger and sexual tension. Any minute Gray could snap. You’d never know if he would kill Nathan or fuck him. Both really.
I am so happy the book is written in dual POV. Not knowing what goes on inside Gray’s head would be totally frustrating. I love that even though we are privy to his thoughts, it didn’t diminish his mystique. He’s still an enigmatic figure you’ll want to know more about. I enjoyed watching him deal with feelings Nathan is making him feel, feelings that are mostly foreign to him.
Handled grabbed me and didn’t let me go. It’s a great balance of blood, gore, sex, and romance with a huge heaping of mystery, suspense and sprinkles of sweet. I didn’t find any of the scenes gratuitous. The plot just worked so well.
I can’t wait to get more of Gray and Nathan as they mete out bloody justice while slowing finding their way to a happy ever after. But for now we are gifted with that super sweet ending.
Please do heed the trigger warnings. I wouldn’t outright recommend this because it gets pretty dark. But if you dare…
“Gray is the book you don’t skip to the last page of to see if your guesses are right. Gray is the book you read slowly and savour.”
Handled is not a standalone novel. Rightly so because you’ll never be satisfied with just one book.
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
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Sovereign: The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey
In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well.
Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside.
But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained.
Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight.
One way or another, the walls of the Blue are coming down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.
The Gilded King is the first book of Sovereign, a dystopian+romance+fantasy YA series. When I first read the blurb, the walled-in city setting surrounded by wilderness vaguely reminded me of Shingeki no Kyojin. The similarity ends there. Instead of titans, we get vampires and zombies.
The book splits into two. First is Julia’s story, where she yearns for freedom and reluctantly becomes the Attendant (a job she never wanted) of a Noble because what choice does she have? The Noble, Lucas was not what she expected and she started having conflicting thoughts. I found Julia a bit naive and too careless about revealing her true thoughts, especially to Rufus, Claudia’s Noble, who was not to be trusted. However, I approved of her conviction there there must be something better outside of her station and outside Blue.The fact that she gave it a try and would have gotten farther if not for some unfortunate timing made me root for her.
The second follows the Invicti, Cameron, as he searches for his friend, Emmy, thought to have been lost or dead for centuries. Being hundreds of years old, I expected Cam to act more world weary and well, old but he acts the way he looks which is 21. I liked his determination to find his friend and also, yes! to his slow-burn relationship with Felix.
I admit, I hit a slump at the part where Cam was on his journey and it took me a while to shake it off. I started feeling invested in the story again when Lucas was telling Julia the tale of the Gilded King and Cam fell into a hole and met Felix. After that, the whole thing hit its stride and I couldn’t put it down. The book flipped from Julia’s and Cam’s POVs and each chapter ended with enough suspense and tension to keep readers on the edge.
In terms of world-building, I wasn’t exactly confused but there were some references and backstories I would have understood better if I had read the Solis Invicti series. One particular backstory that piqued my interest is the politics among the Invicti, how Laila became the Empress and what happened to Sol and Emmy. However, there were legends and fairy tales that served as background information and I can safely say readers can read Sovereign as a standalone series.
One thing I especially liked is that this book is a rare beast wherein the female protagonist, Julia and the male protagonist, Cameron, do not end up romantically linked. I make a special mention of this because all too often, the hero and heroine are always a couple. The romance between Julia and Lucas and Cam and Felix progressed at a reasonable pace and developed convincingly. Also major points for treating the gay relationship as normal as the other relationships.
The book also focuses on friendship. Claudia, Julia’s friend, was somebody who I was close to not liking because I thought she was the type who needs rescuing. But girl proved her mettle and her connection with Julia only grew stronger. Marcella is another interesting character and I am curious to find out if she is friend or foe. There was also Cam’s loyalty to Emmy and his friends but the Invicti was not as united as they want the citizens of Blue to think. What happens if they fall apart?
The two POVs merge into a gripping climax as the world they knew was invaded from the outside. There were revelations I didn’t see coming and that ending was damn!
The search for Emmy continues. Would Cam and his friends finally find her? Would Felix reveal his secrets to Cam (and why does Felix smell like nutmeg)? Is Lucas running away from Blue? Will Julia succeed in getting out? And more importantly, what happens if the king and queen wake up? Would they ever see each other again?
Definitely need that second book!
Thank you to the author, Josie Jaffrey, for providing the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
Imperfect Match – Jordan Castillo Price
A man whose future is assigned – A heart that yearns to be free.
Lee Kennedy’s destiny is controlled by the Algorithm. It’s the reason he’s still in college, regardless of his good academic performance. He’s switched his major repeatedly and stalled on his Master’s thesis, but there’s only so much longer he can hold out. Because once he graduates, the Algorithm must be triggered.
Everyone in Lee’s family has allowed the Algorithm to match them with a spouse. As has everyone on his block. His neighborhood. In fact, everyone he’s ever known. Pairing with his own chosen match seems inevitable…until, at his sister’s wedding, he meets Roman.
The waiter lives in the Taxable District, a run-down neighborhood that’s only a brief train ride away, but feels like another world. The seedy District is governed by different standards—different expectations—so it’s not exactly a surprise that Roman isn’t married. But it’s definitely a shock to taste his lips.
One forbidden encounter has Lee reeling. He questions everything. His past. His future. And especially the Algorithm. He longs for the freedom to choose not only his own partner, but his own destiny.
When defying the Algorithm will cost everything—family, home, and even livelihood—is Lee strong enough to take another path?
Hmm…did I just listen to this in the wrong frame of mind or is Jordan Castillo Price off her game?
Written in the same style as Hemovore and narrated by the same person, the great Joel Leslie, Imperfect Match is a dystopian story of freedom, self-discovery and the courage to travel the road less taken.
I liked JCP’s style of avoiding info dump by delivering the information bit by bit through casual mentions or as part of a character’s thoughts or actions. This was really effective in Hemovore where the polarized world of V+ and V- cases seemed oh so real. Here, the worldbuilding was patchy. What is a boomer? What makes a boomer different from taxrats? What was that plague? What kind of government do they have? How do you tax the Taxable district when they use the barter system instead of cash? I have so many questions.
For me the Benefit district vs Taxable district conflict was just a convoluted version of your average rich vs poor conflict and I would have enjoyed the story more if it was straightforward contemporary where rich kid Lee had to slum it in some third world country. It would have made it more diverse too.
The romance was nothing spectacular. Both Roman and Lee were likable people but I wasn’t feeling too invested in their relationship. There were big chunks of the story were Roman was not even present and these chunks were the parts where Lee had his awakenings. Nothing really shocking, just a privileged person discovering that his privileges come with a price and that the other side of tracks seemed more and more appealing.
There is not much conflict. The boomers were discriminating against taxrats and Lee’s choices but Lee’s family was supportive and the taxrats were welcoming. And though Lee went against the Algorithm, there were no dire consequences.
I’d say this is okay. I didn’t hate it but this is not a JCP book I would recommend.
Review of Hemovore here.
Review of JCP books here.
2.5 Stars – far from hate but not quite a like
World’s End: Duce – Kai Tyler
One mafia boss.
One rival’s son.
One deadly setup.
Parties and orgies… those are the only things Carlos Carmichael wants to do. It’s the only way he knows to deal with his life as the son of a notorious cartel boss. He’ll get whatever he wants by any means necessary.
Until he tangles with a man who plays by totally different rules.
Dante Orsino has been raised in the old ways of honor, loyalty and respect of the business. His role as mafia underboss is more than just a job. It also makes him an heir to one of the biggest families in the Southern Territories.
When Carlos meets Dante and plays a silly game, their weekend tryst sparks a deadly cartel war.
For Dante there’s no other life except—the life. And he wants Carlos in his. But in the New World, a gay man is a dead man. Can he find a way to keep everything he loves and stay alive?
In a new world gone mad, even the good guys are bad. Welcome to the World’s End series.
This is so shallow. A huge disappointment for me because the blurb sounded good and the cover looked OK.
The mafia + dystopian setting has some potential but the author didn’t fully make use of it. There were just some passing nods to technology and dystopian elements but had this been set in the present world it would not make any difference to the story.
The characters themselves lack depth. Carlos and Dante were like caricatures of whatever character types they were suppose to be.
The so called romance was so unconvincing and unnecessary it, again, wouldn’t make any difference if it was removed from the story.
The first person POV for both the main characters sounded off especially when they were describing themselves. Some chapters had third person POV and this would have worked better if it had been from this POV all throughout.
The narration was also flat and most of the voices sound the same. I think the whole thing was a mess.
Anyway, I’d say ditch the romance and just focus on mafia politics.
2 Stars – it’s a struggle to finish the damn book