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If you've followed me on Twitter or read very many of my reviews, you probably know already that I really, really love m/m romance stories that feature Mafia types. Aleksander Voinov's series Dark Soul delivers these men in spades: Stefano Marino is a young, recently happily married West coast Italian Mafia don whose obligations prompt him to travel to the East coast to pay his last respects to a dying Family patriarch. He's feeling off his game already, nervous lest he make a potentially fatal misstep with the other dons also there to pay their respects, but what really throws him isn't the not so minor politicking and subtle dominance games. No, it's the surprise he gets when an almost too feminine form rides up on a motorcycle. This turns out to be the very masculine indeed Silvio Spadaro, who quite surprisingly propositions him.
Spadaro himself is a very dangerous man, one that the other dons wish to give quite the wide berth. Not because he's apparently gay, because they have been known to kill men for that without breaking a sweat over it. It's because he is the protégé of a rather infamous but now retired consigliere Gianbattista Falchi and even more to the point, because he's known to have been the assassin who killed the one man they had all feared with a deep and abiding terror.
Silvio Spadaro's fathomless black eyes are cold, his movements calculated, precise, and well planned out in advance. So when Stefano wakes up that night to his bodyguard scuffling with Silvio, who then allows himself to be overpowered and humiliated, Stefano does not know what to do with himself. He HAS to punish Silvio, but will it come back to bite him on the ass? When the Russians move into his territory and start a turf war that turns deadly, he knows he has but three choices. The first choice, to just let the Russians move in and squeeze him, is not an acceptable option at all. Asking help from other dons is also out of the question, as they will see it as weakness and want a slice of his pie and jockey themselves into a position of power over him. But Falchi is retired and so out of the power game, and in Italy, so away from Stefano's interests anyway, making him a potentially viable third option.
When Falchi agrees to help him and Stefano finds himself having to deal with the pansexual Silvio, he doesn't know what to do with himself. The man oozes a raw sexuality that calls to Silvio. It's a siren song that disturbs him on so many levels running the gamut from upset about thoughts of betraying his beloved bride to fear over being discovered as a man attracted to other men and the death sentence he could expect for it. As events begin to unravel, he finds that not everything can be tidied away as neatly as he finds comfortable.
Over the course of the five novellas, Voinov delivers a romance that sinks its claws right into the viscera and then drags us along for the ride. It's not a romance filled with flowers and sweet nothings, but then these are two hardened men in an unforgiving world locked in turf war while trying to deal with their own emotional issues. Some of the sex scenes are pretty hard to take even for Stefano, as he balks at what he unwittingly witnesses between Silvio and Falchi as well as what his own base desires have led him to do while masquerading it as macho dominance posturing. Uncomfortable at times it may be, but it satisfies on so many different levels, not the least being a rather unconventional sort of HEA in the final volume that was a simply beautiful fit to the series as a whole.
I'd like to thank the publisher, Riptide Publishing, for providing me with a review edition of the omnibus volume. Dark Soul is available as a paperback as well as an ebook in multiple formats.