Review - Release by Marie Sexton

book cover

Release

by Marie Sexton

My rating:

Volume 1 of Davlova

Tags: Science Fiction Dystopian

Posted in Book Reviews on July 9, 2023

Misha was orphaned at a young age and grew up in the “trenches” of lower Davlova, where the poorest citizens scratch out a living without technology while the high-born “purebloods” live in luxury behind the thick protective walls of the inner city on the top of the hill. In some ways, Misha was lucky. He was taken in by one of the clans, criminal gangs that ran all sorts of operations in the city. Over the years, Misha learned the fine art of pickpocketing. Sometimes he also turns tricks. It was a good way to see if a potential mark had a lot of money, and where he kept it.

One day, the woman at the head of the clan offers Misha a new opportunity. One of the most powerful men in the city is looking for a new toy boy and wants someone “exotic.” Misha fits that bill. The clan leader isn't just asking Misha to prostitute himself. She wants him to gain the man's confidence and learn his secrets. The information may provide the catalyst that unleashes the growing resentment towards the purebloods and start a revolution. Misha's target, Donato, is an easy man to hate at first, but the more Misha gets to know him, the harder it is to contemplate betraying him. The situation gets even more complicated when Misha meets Ayo, a sex slave gifted to Donato, whose life seems one of unending misery.

I found “Release” in my wishlist. I have no idea how long it had been there or why I didn't read it sooner, but it's a cracking good read. However, you will want to heed the content warnings about the on-page violence. The violence is all part of a fascinating look at the evolution of an abusive relationship. It's all set in a dystopian city-state ruled by a careless oligarchy that has beaten down the lower classes to the point of rebellion. Sadly, such a state of affairs is all too easy to imagine in today's world.

Miguel Donato is an extreme example of a bipolar personality, to put it nicely. His mood swings are extreme, making him a real Jekyll and Hyde. When Donato is in a good mood, he's nice enough to Misha to make the young man fall in love with him. But when his frustrations with the world makes Donato angry, he takes it out on Misha and, especially, Ayo. He's always very sorry afterward, as abusers always are, but how can Misha trust that his lover will never go too far and kill him or Ayo, even if by accident?

While Donato is a hard character to love, Misha is an impossible one to hate. He retains a surprising amount of compassion and empathy for someone who has seen so much of the crueler side of life. Although he may have turned a few tricks from time to time, Misha never considered himself a sex worker. The process of coming to terms with selling his body while retaining his self-worth is portrayed quite believably, as is the dichotomy of falling in love with someone that has such a violent side.

This is the first of a two-part story. The ending of this first book isn't a cliffhanger, but it leaves the fate of a few key characters unresolved and a questionable future for Misha. Stay tuned for part two.

“Release” is available from Smashwords and Amazon.