Title: Burn This City
Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Amazon/Kindle Unlimited
Length: 371 Pages
Category: Dark Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
At a Glance: Aleksandr Voinov pushes boundaries, sometimes obliterates them, to offer up his brand of alt-romance that somehow still makes you believe in a happy, if perhaps unconventional, ending that strictly suits the two people he’s brought together.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Some passions can set a city aflame.
Consigliere Jack Barsanti has worked his way up from nothing, survived a vicious Mafia war and, proving his loyalty, done time for his crime family, the Lo Cascio. He’s devoted his life to defusing tensions, reining in volatile men, and keeping the peace between the three crime families in Port Francis to prevent another bloody war. All the time harboring one devastating secret that would cost him everything.
Enter Salvatore Rausa. A boss himself, Sal doesn’t care about peace or the feelings of other made men. The war has cost him the wife he dearly loved, and he’s bided his time to prepare for payback. But he needs intel to wipe the Lo Cascio off the map first.
Nobody in their right mind would lay a hand on a rival family‘s consigliere. Nobody except Sal. When he grabs and bags Jack Barsanti, he knows the clock is ticking. He needs to work quickly to make Jack spill his secrets. Except when he interrogates Jack and uncovers the weaknesses of his enemies, he gets a whole lot more than he bargained for.
Content words: suicidal ideation, organized crime, threats of sexual violence, dubcon, mental health (depression), minor character death (past, off-page), murder (mostly off-page), grief, bereaved spouse, drug use (voluntary and involuntary), corruption, domestic violence (off-page), bisexual rep, demisexual/graysexuality rep
Review: One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Alexandr Voinov’s work is that he isn’t afraid to explore what some might call taboos and the darker elements of what are considered traditionally romantic tropes; in this case, it’s the author’s version of forced proximity. Odd? Probably, because I do love a good heart-melter as much as the next person, but I appreciate that Voinov’s storytelling trends towards emotionally stunted and/or unavailable men, hard men with an unorthodox standard of ethics and sketchy moral boundaries, and then he puts them into situations where they’re compelled to confront some unexpected, frankly softer, emotions, a particular area of softness towards someone who becomes a chink in their armor, and then allows them to fall in whatever version of love that works for them. Nor does this author tend to cater to what are widely accepted as moral absolutes—committing coldblooded murder, for example—and still makes me . . . dare I say . . . like his characters? Voinov pushes parameters, sometimes obliterates them, to offer up his brand of alt-romance that somehow still makes you believe in a happy, if perhaps unconventional, ending that strictly suits the two people he’s brought together.
This is not the author’s first foray into mafia romance, and, in fact, a character from the Dark Soul series (the first mafia-centric stories of his I read a decade ago) Silvio Spadaro, aka the Barracuda, has a cameo role in Burn This City when he’s brought in to do what he does best. Kill. Silvio is still the cold, ruthless psychopath I know and, yeah, love, despite him being more than a little frightening, and seeing him on-page again was a welcome surprise. In fact, I might say that having read the Dark Soul books gave me a bit of an advantage. This book is not directly related to that series, but it’s another version of how the author tells this sort of story—raw, gritty, and not much is off the table to get it told.
Another familiar trope presented in Burn This City is enemies-to-lovers, but enemies is used a lot more literally here than the simple “these guys don’t like each other” way. Mortal enemies, rival families, “I will destroy everything you love” is the picture Voinov draws for Jack Barsanti and Sal Rausa. Sal’s out for revenge after his wife, whom he loved beyond all reason, was murdered; and Jack is the consigliere to the man, Andrea Lo Cascio, who ordered the hit but may as well have pulled the trigger himself for all the mercy he’ll be shown, which means Jack’s life is essentially forfeit when he’s taken captive by Sal and his righthand man, Enzo. Because Sal will stop at nothing to destroy the Lo Cascio, and Jack is the tool he’ll use to start the war.
What Sal didn’t bargain for when he set out to torture information out of Jack is that, while Jack’s hindbrain survival instinct is indeed triggered, he also isn’t all that averse to dying. Being a gay man in the mafia means not only is Jack in the closet, it also means he understands he’s a dead man walking if he doesn’t play along at being straight, so Sal is forced to change tack to get the information he needs. Effective? Yes, but do heed those content warnings for suicidal ideation, involuntary drug use, and dubious consent, as this is where Sal makes Jack an offer he isn’t capable of refusing. Not that Jack is much inclined to when he finally discovers what it feels like to be wanted by someone he feels a connection with.
Sex positivity is a key factor in exploring Jack’s awakening, as there’s nothing Jack has ever done before Sal, and there’s pretty much nothing Sal won’t do, and hasn’t done before Jack, so a good bit of what the Barracuda has been brought in to accomplish, along with Sal’s men—i.e. the death and mayhem part—takes place off-page in favor of the erotic tension and the ways in which Sal helps Jack experiment and explore what he likes, sexually speaking, after spending his entire adult life hiding who he is and wondering why he finds men attractive but doesn’t necessarily experience physical attraction to them. Not until Sal.
Burn This City isn’t a book to consume and then debate over whether or not this is a healthy relationship and will it last. It’s not a book to pick up if you’re looking for something soft and sweet. It’s erotica wrapped around the violent underworld where someone watching your back and offering their protection is as much a romantic gesture as it is the difference between life and death.
You can buy Burn this City here:
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