Review: precious_boy by K.Z. Snow
I had held off reading this book because of the age disparity between the characters. Ukes and semes aside, I'm always a little creeped out by sexually aggressive twinks and dominant older seducers. And I say that as a gay man who had his first boyfriend in high school who was ... um.. NOT in high school. It's a hard thing to do well without writing a NAMBLA jerk-story or a bleak Death in Venice mood piece.
The reason is that often "twinks" in M/M fiction become feminized androids, male only by a narrow margin. It is very easy for them to slide into objectified passivity. Also in gay romance, porn is often a flimsy excuse for a lot of robotic harder-faster-longer f%^k-times which are about as romantic as a colostomy. Not here. Ethan is a sexy, believable character, pained and painful. The sex industry is treated as a real business with appeal and dangers. The novel doesn't shy away from hard questions about consent and responsibility... even as it stays firmly in the realm of romantic fantasy. And sexy as it is, dirty as it can get, it is thoughtfully restrained about its sexual encounters. Smart-smart-smart!
Actually Jon was a wonderful character as well, with flaws and anxieties and concern that make him not just appealing but literally heroic. He isn't a cartoony love interest or a handsome lecher. His affection and interference come from a real place. He is a man and like a man he wrestles with his desire and his fear. Yum. He is "rescued right back" as Julia Roberts might say. And the power dynamics between him and his young lover are complex and constantly shifting in surprising and intriguing ways. More than once I found myself wishing the page count of this book was double or triple what it is, just to let these characters unfold further.
Interestingly it is the teenager's fantasy that is the focus, not Jon, the "older" lover. With one neat authorial stitch, she eliminates pedo-creepiness while still wringing angst out of the age disparity gleefully. Clever Ms. Snow! The odd, uncomfortable, inspiring history between the two lovers makes for some lovely tension and stakes that could have driven a much longer novel. That history justifies the porno-track that's claimed such a sensitive young man AND the crushing ambivalence of his love interest. Drama and passion to spare... and not once did I feel that Ethan was being made into a sex object, which is no small feat since he insists that he IS. Snow very carefully builds motivations and conflict and painful pasts that compel all of her characters to do what they must, consequences be damned.
A delightful, moving, sexy short novel. I don't want to spoil any of its pleasures, but I will say that the reveal that Snow brilliantly holds back until the final pages was devastating and RIGHT on every level. Beautiful. She totally tricked me and I was overjoyed to be tricked.