A guest review by Jenre
Times are tough in the Rust Belt, where once mighty industries now wither and die. As a city struggles for survival, two men find passion, comfort, and redemption in each other’s arms.
Seth is scarred, body and soul, by his experiences in the Pit, an illegal fighting ring where men are brutalized for the entertainment of the crowd. Though he managed to escape, Seth will never forget those he had to leave behind. When he meets David, he is instantly attracted to him but knows that the sexy, bookish blond is far beyond his reach. Then David is attacked on the street and in an eyeblink, Seth alters both of their lives forever.
For lonely, virginal David, Seth comes out of the night like a hero from one of his favorite books, only hotter. Seth’s passion and tenderness pierce the protective shell of isolation David has drawn around himself. In the wake of their shatteringly erotic encounter, David asks Seth to live with him. But just when it seems like happily ever after can happen even in Detroit, Seth’s past comes back to drag them back into the Pit.
This is the third Jessica Freely book I’ve read now. Whilst I’ve always said her writing is good and the romance in her novels affecting, the paranormal aspects of her Awakenings books haven’t worked for me. Rust Belt is a contemporary novel with no paranormal themes at all. As a result, I found this book to be an arresting read and quite moving in places.
The book begins when homeless guy, Seth is brought some left over Thai noodles by David, who works at a nearby bookshop. Seth is homeless because his Grandmother died and he came to the city to look for work. On arriving, he was tricked into going with a man who offered him a job and then sold him to an underground fighting establishment where Seth was raped and brutalised before having to fight for his life in order to entertain the members of the club. He escaped, but had no money or anyone alive to help him back on his feet. After David’s kindness, Seth tries to pay him back by keeping an eye on him when David walks home from work, something which proves fortuitous when Seth is able to save David from a street gang.
This isn’t the sort of ‘will they, won’t they’ type of romance because the two heroes get together within the first few pages of the book, but more of the sort of book which looks at two scarred men and how their mutual support of one another changes them for the better. I loved this first part of the book as both Seth and David work through things that have happened in the past and help each other. The story is very focused on the men at first with only one other character getting any page time in the first half. This made the feel of the book very emotionally intense and I found myself getting drawn into these men’s lives and also sympathising a great deal with them. The sex scenes are hot, but with an underlying tenderness which was quite lovely. By the time the book began to branch out into other characters and move away from the insular feel of the two men alone in the world, I was so invested in Seth and David that even some of the slightly implausible things that happen to them later in the book, didn’t detract too much from my enjoyment of the book.
As well as the sweet romance between the pair there is a dark shadow which tinges their relationship. Seth has killed two men and his past is slowly catching up with him, no matter how much he tries to distance himself from it. This shadow is represented not only by Seth’s thoughts and nightmares, but also in the physical setting of the novel. The streets are rife with danger for the two men and every time they venture from the cocoon of their apartment, the oppressive feeling of trouble on the horizon becomes apparent. The setting is littered with abandoned buildings, dark and dangerous places and even the upmarket area when David works seems to be hanging onto its reputation by a thread and in danger of falling into the same disrepair as the streets surrounding it. This darkness contrasted with the love that Seth and David have for one another, making it shine out into the dark world. Together they are safe; apart they face peril, both known and unknown.
Although I liked the introduction of other characters, such as the two sisters Karine and Yolande, later in the book, this part also caused a slight shift in focus from the heroes to a more action based story. It was in this part and specifically where Seth is forced to return to ‘The Pit’ where he had been held captive, where I found most of the problems with the book. I was extremely sceptical that the police force would allow a civilian to go undercover where the chance of him getting killed was very high, even with high-tech surveillance equipment. The reasoning being, apparently, that this was the only way of finding out the location of new premises for The Pit. However, I could figure out at least one other way they could have done it so that excuse didn’t wash with me. It lent the last twenty or so pages a bit of a forced edge to it, which was disappointing when the rest of the book had been so realistic and believable. After a while though, I decided to put aside my disbelief and just go with the story which ended with a very satisfying climax.
Despite this slight negative, I really enjoyed Rust Belt. The pace clips along at a fair rate and I was thoroughly absorbed in the beautiful relationship between Seth and David. This book is definitely one for the romantics amongst you. I’m also glad to have read a book by Jessica Freely which has shown that, given the right type of story, her writing can really stand out from the crowd. I’m looking forward to reading more of her contemporary books in the future, but for now, I’d recommend that you read Rust Belt.