Title: Release (Davlova #1)
Author: A.M. Sexton
Publisher: Self Published
Release Date: June 22, 2014
Genre(s): Dystopian Fiction
Page Count: 283
Reviewed by: Jewel
Heat Level: 5 flames out of 5
Rating: 4.6 stars out of 5
Davlova: a poverty-ridden city-state ruled by a tyrannical upper class. Resources are scarce and technology is illegal. But in the slums, revolution is brewing.
Misha is a common pickpocket until his boss gives him a new job. Disguised as a whore, Misha is sent to work for one of the most powerful men in the city. But his real task is far more dangerous: get close to Miguel Donato, and find something – anything – that will help topple Davlova’s corrupt government.
Misha is plunged into the decadent world of the upper class, where slaves are common and even the most perverse pleasure can be found. Although he’s sure Davlova’s elite is involved in something horrific, proof is hard to come by, and Misha begins to fall in love with the man he’s supposed to betray. Then Misha meets Ayo – a sex slave forced by the neural implant in his brain to take pleasure from pain – and everything changes. As the lower class pushes toward a bloody revolution, Misha will find himself caught between his surprising feelings for Donato, his obligations to his clan, and his determination to save Ayo.
Warning: This book contains graphic descriptions of violent sexual acts of questionable consent that may be disturbing to some readers.
I will start by saying that Release is a dark read and won’t be for everyone. It was an intense book to read and it’s taken me a while to get my thoughts together regarding it. Even if you normally like Marie Sexton’s writing, Release is very different than her norm, hence the pseudonym. You’ll likely either love it or hate it. I loved it. Heed the book warning, though; some of the content is difficult to read. It’s dark and pulls no punches. It’s graphic and violent but also beautiful. The main and supporting characters can’t be described in just a couple words, but rather they are complex creatures in complex situations. Release certainly pushed a boundary or two for me. I like to read books, every now and again, that push my boundaries, because it keeps my reading from becoming stale. But before you delve into the Davlova universe, just know that it isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s a pretty barbaric place. A.M. Sexton said it took her two years to write Release. The result was well worth the wait.
There is such a disparity between the rich and the poor, in Davlova, and the way the rich treat the poor is not comforting. Whores and slaves are often used and discarded and all too often abused horribly, I suspect. Children are abandoned only to be taken in by clans of thieves. Life doesn’t seem mean a whole lot. And in Davlova, the only people allowed to use precious electricity are the nobles. They have all the money and all the power (literally and figuratively). And Davlova, being an island, is isolated from whatever lies beyond. It’s not an easy place to be.
Misha is a thief, working for one of the largest clans in the city. He’s worked for Anzhéla for 13 years, since he was orphaned at 10. Though Misha does occasionally turn tricks, it’s mostly to set up marks for his fellow thieves to pick-pocket later. He does not consider himself a whore. So, when Anzhéla summons him to take a job at a whorehouse in order to get close to a particular client, he’s not happy about it. Anzhéla won’t force him to do it, but she does heavily encourage it. I don’t think Misha was really equipped to refuse her. He credits her with saving his life many times over and even if she doesn’t hold it over his head, he sure does.
Anzhéla runs the clan with her transgender partner Frey. I rather liked Frey. He got more page time than Anzhéla and was a sympathetic character. He was kind of a father figure to Misha. Frey comes from the wealth of the inner city and was meant to be a doctor, but the fact that he could not conform to societies expectations, set him on a different path. Anzhéla is a pragmatic woman. She does care a great deal for her charges and takes as good of care of them as she possibly can, but she also looks at the big picture and she’s got an endgame in mind and it isn’t until midway through the story that I figured out what some of it meant. Anzhéla has her hands in a lot of pies and I don’t think anyone other than Frey really knows all the things that Anzhéla is involved in.
It isn’t often that an author can write a character, much less an MC, that I both like and loathe. A.M. Sexton managed to do that here, though. Miguel Donato is not only one of the city’s pureborn elite, he is the city’s judge, jury and executioner. His reputation does not speak of a nice man, or even a compassionate one. No, Donato’s reputation speaks of a cruel man, sick with power. However, he is a complicated man. He can be cruel, yes, especially to Ayo, but he can also be loving and giving. Most of the time he is demanding and a bit forceful, but neither cruel nor loving. I wouldn’t say he’s a good man. Not at all. He does feel guilt for letting his temper get away from him, but many abusers do. But sometimes he shows a vulnerability that makes it hard to hate him and that is what Misha struggles with the most. I struggled with it, too. Donato hated himself, probably more than anyone else could hate him, but, in many ways, he was trapped in the life he led.
And Ayo, Donato’s slave – my heart hurt so much for him. He doesn’t know, exactly, how old he is. He estimates he’s somewhere between 17 and 20, but his memories from before he came to live with Donato are really fuzzy. He has a neural implant that makes thinking about certain things impossible and also controls certain responses. He cannot kill himself, though he has often wished to die. Also, he is conditioned to respond sexually to pain. He hates it and he cries and begs for more. The begging fills him with shame, but he literally cannot help it. And he’s never allowed to come. Only one a certain word can trigger it and it’s never been uttered. That poor boy. Looking at the cover for the next book, Return, it would appear that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Ayo. I’m glad that’s so. And I hope he is able to find some happiness. More than anyone in Release, he deserves it.
I do think that Release ended exactly the way it needed to end, even though that last chapter brought me to full on tears, and just thinking about it threatens to do so again. It was heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. And the story is, most definitely, not done. There is no resolution, and in fact, things are left at a very uncertain place. Tragic and hopeful, but still uncertain.
And for those readers that require an HEA, well, you won’t actually find that here. Release is not that kind of story. It’s dark and at times cruel and punishing. But the story isn’t actually complete, so we’ll see what the conclusion brings when Return is released in August. I have my hopes about how it will end, but I don’t dare give them light.