Title: First Blood
Author: Aleksandr Voinov & Barbara Sheridan
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M contemporary action/adventure romance
Length: 224 pages
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
An engrossing and highly entertaining action-packed subterfuge drama which grabs you from the first page.
On their last assignment, GORGON agents Chris Gibson and his partner John Soong protected Russian mob lawyer Andrei Voronin rather than killing him. They covered Andrei’s tracks, forged a shaky relationship, and their international intelligence and paramilitary group staged Andrei’s death and took him into the fold.
Nikita Kazakov, a Russian cop who had used Andrei as a source and promised him protection, plots to avenge his protégé. He soon tracks down Chris—the “killer”—only to find a man he desires, and Chris is just as intrigued. Amidst the danger of the unsolved mystery still lingering around Andrei, Chris and Nikita stalk each other, meet for heated sex, and try to work out who the other is: criminal, cop, hitman… or lover.
First Blood is a sort of sequel to Clean Slate which I reviewed here, but I don’t really think it’s necessary to have read the first book. Clean Slate ends with the three heroes in a ménage relationship, one which I felt was a little forced. At the beginning of First Blood, Chris has been separated from John and Andrei and is on a mission for GORGON in London. The time apart has given him an opportunity to consider their relationship, especially the way that John and Andrei have a closeness that he doesn’t seem to feel. This makes Chris restless so it’s not surprising when he visits a local cruising spot and picks up Nikita, a dangerous looking Russian who presses all Chris’ buttons. When it turns out that the meeting was not entirely accidental their relationship takes on a dangerous edge as both men skirt a fine line between compelling lust and a thirst for pain.
I’ll start with a warning: Do not start to read this book if you’ve got anything planned for the rest of the day, or just before you go to bed! The start of the book grabbed me instantly and I was thrown into the seedy world of espionage, shady government departments and the push/pull of the relationship between Chris and Nikita. I was so engrossed in the book that I could barely put it down and several jobs that I needed to do were left undone as I raced through the book, desperate to find out what was going to happen. As you may imagine, the plotting was swift as we move around the globe following Chris and Nikita as they unknowingly work towards the same goal whilst mistrusting each other’s motives. The story is told in alternating third person narratives from the point of view of Chris and Nikita, something which worked well as it gave me an insight into the motivations of both characters, even as the characters themselves are unsure whether to trust the other man.
It wasn’t just the swift pacing and story which pulled me into the book, I was also gripped by the relationship between the heroes. Both men are strong, alpha types and in theory shouldn’t work as a couple, but they did. Chris discovers a new side to his sexuality which complements that of Nikita, and Nikita learns to compromise his own rigid rules. The way that this develops through the story was quite fascinating and realistically done. The sex scenes were hot, but what appealed most to me was the way that the tenderness began to creep into their couplings, making the romance believable alongside the action plot.
I also liked that I was given more information about the mysterious GORGON organisation through the investigations of Nikita, which filled in a few gaps from the previous book. We also find out more about Chris’ past and how he came to be part of GORGON, making him more fleshed out as a character and giving an insight into why he often behaves as he does. Nikita is a little less rounded, and I would have liked to know a bit more about him, but he certainly wasn’t in any way two dimensional.
My only real concern about the book was the way in which Chris breaks away from his relationship with John and Andrei. After the events of the previous book I was expecting something a little more emotional, more difficult for Chris but that wasn’t the case. In fact I was a little disappointed at the amount of disdain and derogatory comments that Chris has for John and Andrei’s concern for him and their obvious upset over his rejection of them. It detracted from what had happened in the first book, which I felt was a bit of a shame.
Other than that niggle, this was a pretty terrific book. The action plot was sustained and realistic with a great mix of gun-fights, chases, thrills and heart in your mouth moments for both characters. There’s also a fair amount of graphic violence which may be off-putting to some readers. As for me, I was hooked from the first page and thoroughly enjoyed reading First Blood. I would recommend it to readers who are looking for a action-packed story of dark goings on, where no-one can be trusted, and the heroes are on hand to save the day. Marvellous!