City of Soldiers
is a quietly told, very atmospheric story about veterans in Philadelphia and their various relationships, from brotherhood to ersatz
-family to friendship and love. Although it's marketed as m/m romance, I wouldn't really call it that. The story focuses on four men, Sean, asexual Roman, Kristian, and cop Brackett, and something that might become a relationship, maybe even love, between more than just two men. Not everything is resolved in the end, and that's okay. Life doesn't surprisingly shower you with rainbows and roses when you find someone to love; you have to make compromises. Sometimes these compromises will lead to something lasting and good, sometimes they won't. That's all there is to it. I appreciated this touch of realism.
There's also a murder-mystery and an element of magical realism. Frankly, I could've done without both. The murder-mystery wasn't exactly a gripping who-done-it, because the who
was pretty obvious – it was more the why which wasn't answered and the question how everything will play out that kept me interested in this plot-line. And in a story so painfully realistic in any other regard, the magic water of Delphi felt oddly displaced.
But neither of these points did take away from my enjoyment, the good stuff was simply too good for that.
Where City of Soldiers
really shines is in its sense of place and sense of characters. Sam Burke paints a vivid picture of Philadelphia above and underground, the world of tunnels and sewers where a lot of the homeless veterans live. Her characters, especially Sean and Roman, are believable, well-rounded protagonists, hurt, but holding on and struggling for life, for love. Burke writes a realistic asexual character as well, without ever getting into „asexuality 101“ territory or trying to fix him, something else I really appreciated.
And then there's the kink. There's little to no sex in the book, but City of Soldiers
offers few, but incredibly lovely bondage scenes. Non-sexual, but full of intimacy. Others might call it „light kink“ or „mild BDSM“ - I found it to be very realistic, tastefully understated, and oh so very erotic. Maybe the intimacy builds a bit fast – the guys hardly know each other, and activities like that need some level of trust – but maybe that are just my own trust issues speaking. It was beautiful, plain and simple.
Also noteworthy: It's one of the very, very rare occasions where I didn't mind a growled „mine“. Actually, I thought it was cute and fit the situation.
Well played, Sam Burke – definitely not my last book by this author. **off to check out sendal on ao3**
Just one question: What happened to Jason?