A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: One dimensional, inconsistent and unlikable characters, uneven pacing, and an at-times unbelievable plot made this pretty much a total failure for me.
This review contains what could be considered spoilers
Xander knew that Sundar was the love of his life, but he’d gotten lost somewhere along the way; and he wasn’t sure if he’d ever find his way back home.
When Xander is accosted by the big, handsome cop and mistaken for a minor gone AWOL, he goes along with it. After all, the guy turns him on big time, and Xander figures that eventually the truth will come out and they’ll have a good laugh.
But Sundar is really miffed when he discovers that he’s wasted his time with this guy, though he can’t just leave him out in the cold for the night. And he can’t deny that Xander’s constant flirting is getting to him.
When Xander makes him a proposition he can’t resist, Sundar’s life gets turned upside down, especially when he discovers that Xander is playing for keeps.
I picked up Schism because of the blurb and the fact that I have read a few other books by this author that I’ve liked well enough. Not only do I think the blub is somewhat misleading, but at times I had to wonder if Manly actually wrote it, so disappointed was I. I took advantage of my normal second reading of the story to see if my assessment of it was unfair or skewed, but I came away feeling no different.
Xander heads from his small town to a gay club in nearby Raleigh, North Carolina to celebrate his imminently upcoming twenty-first birthday while Raleigh PD detective Sundar heads to the same club to track down a teen reported missing by his father. Mistaking Xander for the MIA minor, Sundar drags him out only to discover that he is not who he was looking for and reluctantly lets Xander crash at his place since he is now stuck in the city without a ride home. Xander is not upset at all with the situation as he is sure he’s found the man of his dreams in the big half-Native American. When they smexx it up the day after their misunderstanding, Xander is thrilled and falls head over heels, but Sundar looks at it as just sex because he is not gay. Nope, definitely not. He smexxes it up with women, ignoring the lack of passion with them. And the hard ons he gets when confronted with hot, nekkid men. And how much he enjoyed being with Xander. And some other guys. But, yeah, absolutely not gay. Things become complicated when Xander moves to Raleigh in order to be closer to an internship for his studies, and a female co-worker if Sundar’s decides she and Sundar should be together. Xander is crushed, but determined to make Sundar see the light because he just knows that Sundar feels the same as he does. Is there any way for these two to find their way to be together?
This book started out generally okay for me. We meet our heroes via alternating third-person POVs, which I thought was successful. I was fine with the way they met, Sundar’s unexpected arousal at the club, and their interaction through to the next morning. It was after that when it began to fall apart for me.
I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable or fully-fleshed, especially not the protags, and as a result, they came off as one dimensional to me. As I was reading, I kept thinking that I wanted to know more about them other than Xander wanting Sundar and Sundar drinking or sleeping away his troubles. I think the author was trying for us to be sympathetic to our heroes — and I am sure there will be readers who will be — but in the end all I felt was that they were both dysfunctional and needed therapeutic help. In the case of Xander and his Insta-Love for and desire to be with Sundar, to me, he came off as being on the edge of delusional, obsessed, and stalker-ish. He insists that Sundar loves him, but I got no indication of this from anything Sundar does, says or thinks — and neither do any of the people who know them both. In fact, after hearing what Xander’s plans are for his living arrangements during his internship, his friend and fuck-buddy David says:
“I don’t believe you…I fucking don’t believe you. I am now convinced—you’re nuts.”
Word. And this is echoed by his friends and family as they try unsuccessfully to get him to veer from the unhealthy path his mind is taking him.
For closeted, on-the-edge-of-alcoholic Sundar, I found him to be spineless and seemingly unable to control his life. The girlfriend, Joyce, walks all over him and moves their relationship forward despite his wanting something else, even though he’s not sure what that is. I get that he is being pulled from many sides, but some — maybe even much — of it is his own making. Plus, I never really got why he didn’t want to be gay. We’re not given any insight that he was raised in a religious or bigoted family, had been tormented or had seen others torment schoolmates, etc, to tell him that being gay was a bad thing. Once again, I think there will be readers who find themselves sympathetic to his situation and him being in denial, but I am not one of them.
The secondary cast is also not fully developed, though in some ways I liked Xander’s people the best because, while I didn’t get to know any of them as much as I wanted, they were realistic and consistent about what Xander was putting himself through, providing sound advice that he pretty much ignored. On the other hand, Joyce, the woman looking to snag Sundar as a husband, is a horny, harping bitch who seems to only want to be with her fellow detective for his looks and that he is a champ in the sack. Sundar’s mother seemed like a shrill airhead who wanted nothing more than for Sundar to get married and provide grandchildren, and his father remains an enigma to me.
Additionally, many of the characters act inconsistently. I got whiplash watching Sundar’s back and forth over Xander (and the several other men with whom he has relations), and while he spends almost the entire book in denial, he seems to suddenly do a 180 in his feelings for Xander and decides to change his life at the last minute for reasons that, even after two readings, I can’t fully explain. Joyce gets totally pissed at him for something, then turns around and wants to smex it up half way through a conversation. Sundar’s father, who has spent his life denying his heritage, suddenly has a change of heart toward the end of the story, again for no well-explained reason.
I thought the pacing was a bit uneven and confusing, and there were times where I wasn’t sure how much time had passed between sections (and was surprised to find that several weeks, for example, had gone by). Additionally, there were things that the characters did that had me rolling my eyes in disbelief. An example of this was Sundar keeping a suspect in his car for over fifteen hours before taking him into the station claiming car trouble. Another was the entirety of Sundar and high school acquaintance Mark’s involvement. Yet another is Sundar and Xander smexxin it up just as Sundar ends his sweat lodge session when he is out of it. And it seems that Sundar has a magic penis that causes anyone that he smexxes it up with once to fall in love with him.
The dialog was a bit odd to me in places. I felt like there were multiple conversations that were truncated just as they were getting going with an abrupt shift in topic. For example, Sundar and his mother were having a not-quite argument about Xander, then she asks him in the same breath to check the turkey in the oven. Or Sundar and Joyce were quarrelling over something or another (since they did it a lot) and Joyce suddenly wanted to have sex. There are other examples I could name, and in none of them did I feel that the conversations were finished before they went on to the next thing.
For those of you who like your protags to meet and only have relations with each other during the story, note that this is not the book for you. Both heroes sleep with others while in pursuit of the HEA. Related to this, there is a het warning: Sundar spends some of the book in a relationship with a woman, and there are a few scenes of not-terribly-graphic, but on page smexxin between them.
There are some smaller issues that I found, a few being continuity-related. For example, Xander says to Mark “Look, I know about you and Sundar…” yet he had already confronted Mark about it. Another is when Xander and Joyce are talking about Sundar disappearing and she tells him that he hadn’t shown up for work, to which he responds with a seemingly surprised “He didn’t?” He had been going all over town telling people that he didn’t think Sundar went to work. There is a scene in the very beginning of the book where the cops at Sundar’s precinct douse him with champagne in a celebratory fashion with no explanation as to why they were doing it. Sundar has an uncle who is “a man who looked much like his father, only older,” yet later in the story his father says “My father gave it to me as the eldest son…” There is a minor sub-plot of Sundar and his father’s Cherokee heritage that I didn’t think was developed enough.
Lastly, there were a few editing errors that surprised me for this author’s writing, such as “Xander tried to sound irritated but he was,” when in context, it seemed to me that should have been a “not” in there (so that it read “…tried not to sound…”). As it was, the sentence didn’t make sense. Also, I think there is an instance where there is a wrong character attributed to a piece of dialog.
Schism may be of interest to fans of the author or those who enjoy stories of closeted men in denial and those who love them, but it wasn’t for me. As always, I am but one opinion of many, so I welcome those who feel differently.