Mandi: When I read Tori’s weekly wrap-up last week, I noticed she was going to start the Dark Soul series by Aleksandr Voinov. I’ve been wanting to try something by him (although I think I read a previous novella by him) so I decided to grab book one and see what it was all about. Whoa. It’s dark, intense, has some extremely uncomfortable sexual situations, and is completely addictive. I really enjoyed it and could not put my Kindle down. The series consists of five novellas, each 50-75 pages long. We watch how mafia boss and married man Stefano meets the heir to a retired mafia boss and a made man himself, Silvio. Stefano has never been with a man before, but can not deny the lust that he feels when Silvio is around. When the Russians invade Stefano’s turf, he turns to Silvio, a deadly killer, to help solve his problem.
Tori, what were your initial thoughts about the first novella in this series, and how did your reaction change as you continue reading?
Tori: When I first stumbled across the Dark Soul series, I was intrigued by the premise. Mobsters and illicit love. The first novella shocked me. Aleksandr Voinov storms out of the gate and doesn’t slow down. We are introduced to the main characters in a way that leaves you feeling like a voyeur. I wanted to step into some scenes and scream, “STOP!” Yet, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t make a sound. I had to, like the characters, stand there and take it. I was immediately hooked. The scenes don’t feel cheap or used to invoke a blind reaction. Voinov does a fantastic job of exploring and dissecting the complicated range of emotions that Stefano experiences throughout the story. He has been taught that to desire another man is wrong and in his world, that desire can kill you. He is torn and those emotions translate well across the pages.
As the novellas continued, I found my feelings changing and expanding, along with Stefano. The story becomes less of an erotic story and more of an suspense with an intense character study as we learn about Silvio and his childhood. We see how and why Silvio is the way he is and my heart breaks.
Mandi: Yes. I have to admit my first feeling in the book one was shock. There are a few scenes that made my eyeballs pop out of my head. And as we continue to read, Voinov never shies away from showing every dark desire Silvio has. Especially in book three, we start to learn of Silvio’s abusive past, and how that has molded his sexual inclinations and the intense need of pain he needs to experience a release. It goes from, ‘omg this is shocking’ to an understanding of why SIlvio acts the way he does.
Let’s talk about Stefano. He is a mafia boss and married to a woman he deeply loves. Yet, Sivlio storms into his life, and for the first time he is attracted to a male. How did you feel Stefano’s ‘gay for you’ personality was portrayed, and did his infidelity ever bother you?
Tori: While the “cheating spouse” storyline is never a big draw for me, I wasn’t put off in here as I normally would be. Stefano is deeply conflicted by his attraction to Silvio. He loves his wife Donata and you can tell by his thoughts and references to her that she is the key to his heart. No matter how it all ends, you know he will never leave her by choice. For Stefano, his being attracted to someone else is physically hurting him and that softened me to his infidelity. If he had been looking for it, I wouldn’t have been so forgiving. I also like that Voinov doesn’t take the easy way out by portraying Stefano’s wife as being the enemy, therefore “okaying” Stefano’s infidelity.
I found his emerging bisexuality interesting. I personally thought that it was Silvo’s androgynous looks that made it easier for Stefano (and us) to accept he was attracted to a man. In a way, it confirms Stefano’s inherent masculinity in that he is attracted to femininity as a whole. The tranny hooker scene is a prime example. Stefano knows it’s Silvio yet gets extremely turned on by the feminine role play.
How did you like mob storyline? Do you think it played well against the romance of the book? I think the mob scenario mixes well into the storyline. Big tough wiseguys, their entire hierarchy dependent on their perceived “masculine” identity. The constant references to what happens to outed gay men in their ranks makes for delicious tension. Watching Stefano change hats in response to his business and personal needs was interesting. He straddles the line, trying to keep everyone happy. He’s so calm, cool, and collected when dealing with Donita and his business…but Silvio completely throws him for a loop.
Mandi: I’m not huge on mafia storylines, but as you said, I like how Stefano not only had to deal with being attracted to someone that made him uncomfortable, but coming to the realization, that he couldn’t tell anyone about this new part of his life. He literally would be killed if the other mafia bosses discovered where his sexual interests lay. This added a lot of external pressure to a situation that was already very intense. I do think when he finally tells his wife about Silvio, that it may have gone over too easy.
Let’s end this chat with talking about the sex. Because, wow. The sex in this one is dark, areas are explored that are taboo. In book one Silvio gets a gun stuck up his ass and likes it. Later on in the series, Silvio explores a sexual relationship with someone who he should never, ever have sex with. Yes, it is explained to us just how truly horrid Silvio’s father was to him. And after I got into the story, although the sex scenes are intense, to me it felt like they fit the story. But my boundaries were stretched Tori. Stretched I tell you!
Tori: LOL. I can’t believe you used ass and gun in the same sentence. While there were some scenes that had my eyes bugging, I think the sexual tension and anticipation was more intense then the scenes themselves. My heart bled for Silvio as he tries to explain through his actions and words what he needs in a sexual and emotional relationship. We and Stefano realize quickly that Silvio is damaged and needs to be handled with care. I enjoyed meeting Silvio’s brother and wished he would have stuck around awhile longer. Silvio’s past. OMG. This poor man was made then shamed by the people who should have protected him.
The confrontation and subsequent acceptance by Donita did go rather easy but I wasn’t displeased with that. I wanted one aspect of Stefano’s and Silvio’s relationship to be easy.
Do you want to see more? I do! We need 10 more volumes.
Mandi: Yes, I would have loved it a little longer or revisit them to see how their life has changed after the book ends. I’ll be making my way through Voinov’s back list for sure.
Tori: Agreed. I have a feeling this is going to appeal to many readers with its darkness, emotional turmoil, violence, and sexual eroticism.