Escaping Darkside by Amanda Steiger – review

Rating: 5/10 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 
Title: Escaping Darkside
Author: Amanda Steiger
Genre: Fantasy/romance
URL: Changeling Press
Price: US $4.49
Other Information/warnings: Violence, explicit m/m, gawdawful Poser Cover
Summary [from the publisher]:

Death is just the beginning of Christian’s problems. After he’s killed in a hit and run accident, he wakes up in Darkside — the demon-infested world between life and death — and learns that he’s being hunted by the merciless Council.

Then he meets Seth, an inhumanly beautiful man with silver hair and golden eyes. He offers Christian his protection, and a glimmer of hope. At the far end of Darkside is a door to Earth. If Christian can reach it, he’ll have a second chance at life.

There is only one problem. Going back to Earth will mean leaving Seth behind forever… and Christian is falling in love with him.

My review:

It’s going to sound odd to say this about a story which starts with one of the protagonist dying, but the main flaw in this novella is a total lack of angst. Or tension. Or real conflict.

Warning – this review is about a bunch of things which hit my Do Not Read button, even though I know perfectly well that my DNR list is someone else’s ‘gimme’.

This is a story about fated, perfect love. Christian meets his soul mate, Seth, who’s perfectly handsome except for a sexy mysterious scar. They have perfect sex shortly after meeting. The guy can read his mind so there’s no chance of misunderstandings and so he can guide Christian over his little mental speedbumps with a masterly hand….

They even have perfect breakfast together! Come on, Seth’s an Angel, but you can carry this kind of thing too damn far. If love comes unearned, where’s the power in it? And that’s what I read romantic fiction for – the struggle, the earning. The winning through. While the author has created an interesting set up, the execution is so by the numbers – as is indeed the copious sex – that there’s not a shred of anticipation or anxiety about how this will all end.

So that’s a huge DNR for me. I need that tension – some real conflict. Some sense that it all could go horribly wrong if the people involved don’t really put some effort in. I also need to feel I’m in a character’s head, but although it’s told from Christian’s POV and it’s all terribly traumatic and worrying for him, the author’s style of writing and story telling technique puts us at a distance. To be blunt – and repetitive, since I make this point in every second review – it’s ‘tell not show’. Supposedly Christian is tormented and anguished, but we never once feel that, and the author never lets him really endure for long before Seth cuddles him and sends him to sleep like a kid. There’s a lot of that in this story.

Christian is also drippy. He cries. He asks Seth to be gentle with him – which is something that shouldn’t happen outside of parody. He’s passive sexually and mentally, needing to be saved from every situation. Seth’s history is much more interesting, as is his character, but we never get into his head (though I suspect we might be set up for a sequel where this could be explored. The problem with that is that we need to be hooked now.)

I ground my teeth as I read this, itching to make the writing less flaccid and passive, to see sex scenes which actually got inside the heads of the characters, and action and plot with some real uncertainty about the outcome. However, I am not the target audience for this, I suspect, as there’s a lot of m/m fiction written in this style and with these kind of soft-lensed characters. So while it bored me, and annoyed me because of what it could have been, if you are looking for undemanding romance, lots of smut, some moderately diverting settings, and the obligatory ‘ahhhh’ at the end, you won’t find this unsatisfying.

Just don’t look at the cover, I beg you. No monster in Darkside can give me the nightmares this thing can.