Adrienne WilderSkin Deep (Gray Zone, #3)Dreamspinner Press, July 9, 2012 | 290 pages
Author’s website | Goodreads | Buy book here
Taylor Simmons has everything he’s ever wanted: a decent job, a nice apartment, and Joey Martin, his perfect geek boyfriend. But all that is about to change.
First Joey gets sick. He’s feverish for days, starving for food. Finally a terrified Taylor calls EMS only to be told there’s nothing they can do. Joey’s body is changing, and he’s not going to be Human anymore. He’s a Lesser-Bred.
Suddenly Taylor, who has always taken care of Joey, can’t even begin to fulfill his needs. Joey needs to eat—to feed. And that means he needs a sexual connection with Gabriel, a Lesser-Bred being kept by a Kin named Pavel. Stripped of his job, his cushy apartment, and his connection to the sweet, dorky Joey he fell in love with, Taylor struggles to maintain a sense of identity—and humanity—in Atlanta’s Gray Zone, where Human dreams become nightmares. Suddenly it’s Taylor, not Joey, who needs to be protected. Because the people around him are dying, and if Taylor doesn’t open his eyes, he might be next.
A Bittersweet Dreams title: It's an unfortunate truth: love doesn't always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.
Genre & Keywords: M/M, Urban Fantasy, Kin, Dragons, Feeding, Humans, Metaphysical, Bittersweet Title, Dominant-Submissive (Non-bdsm), The Gray Zone, No HEA/HFN
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Heat level: 1 out of 3 flames
Reviewed by Lis/Larissa:
**Warning this review contains spoilers**
Skin Deep is one of Dreamspinner’s bittersweet titles, meaning there is no happy ending. And oh boy is that ever true for Skin Deep. The lack of a happy ending is not something that bothers me. Some of the best books I’ve read didn’t have a happy ending, but it is something you have to be in the mood for, especially Skin Deep. So be warned. That said there is really nothing positive in this story. It’s all misery and drama and more misery and that is something that didn’t quite work for me.
The story pretty much starts after the blurb. Joey turns out to have latent draconian genes and within two days he’s no longer the sweet, geeky, insecure man Taylor knew, but a ‘lesser-bred’ instead and not even quite that. The changes in Joey are not only physical but in personality and mentally as well. It’s actually quite a dramatic and heartbreaking scene to read.
Joey and Taylor had nothing to do with the world of the Kin before and now they are deeply immersed by something they have no control over. From here on out it only gets worse for them and it was especially heartbreaking to read how Taylor loses control over everything and his feelings of helplessness.
Skin Deep is the third book in the Gray Zone and it’s the first time the reader gets an insider view into the Kin world, but from an outsider’s perspective. The result of this is that the world of the Kin is not only seen as heavily flawed, but also portrayed as such.
In the previous stories, there is never a real inside into the Kin world, it always ends when the characters turn or become Kin or part of the Kin world. In the world of the Kin there is no place for human emotion or morale. It’s about sex and food or about belonging. It’s why this world is doomed to fail.
Now even more than in the previous books it shows that the world of the Kin is just a set-up for an erotically charged story. The author tries to build and layer the world building, by adding several complicated relationships that are only sexual and violent in nature. The lack of a good, round society, species, makes it so that there is no sympathy towards the Kin, all it does is giving the humans thumbs up for hiding the ‘inhuman’ element. It’s a very one-sided, underdeveloped world that has so much more potential, especially given the previous stories.
The story is written very one-sided. While that was also true for the previous stories, it’s something that didn’t work for Skin Deep. The Kin world is seen from a human’s POV – Taylor’s – who is manipulated and used for selfish gains. It makes Taylor, a character with his own human flaws and who is far from perfect, an unreliable narrator. This is coupled with Pavel and Gabriel’s inability to explain the Kin world to Taylor and Taylor’s role in it. As a result Pavel and Gabriel come across as bigoted, selfish and manipulative assholes. It’s not clear if this is intended or unintended by the author, but it makes it so that the Kin and the lesser-bred have no redeeming qualities in this story.
I liked Taylor as a character. He is strong and caring and is deeply in love with Joey. Even after Joey changes, he still cares for him and doesn’t walk away from Joey while a lot of other persons would have and maybe Taylor should have. He is no prude, but not a fan of group sex, so his hesitations regarding group sex are understandable. As stated, he also has his flaws. His inability to let Joey go is what causes a lot of trouble for him and other people.
There are not a whole lot of other characters. While Joey is an important part of this story, he is more a plot device than he is his own character. He is a set-up for a later twist in the story. This makes it that Joey is a flat character. There is also so much foreshadowing regarding him, that you could almost see the great big red arrow pointed at him.
Gabriel is the smug asshole of the story. Like Pavel, he’s not a fleshed out character. He serves a purpose in the story and because of his sudden change from asshole to saint half-way through the story it’s hard to like him.
Pavel is a mostly absent character. He’s there at key moments, but not enough to get a good feel of him and that doesn’t help the story much or gives the reader a good understanding of how his relationship with the other characters work.
What bothered me as well was the unfinished end of the story. Joey’s turning and the weeks after that were very detailed, showing the complications that come with a human added to the Kin world. Then the mystery and murder angle is added and the police are involved, but it’s never completed. After the big show down, Taylor suddenly belongs to Pavel (who is once again mysteriously absent) and while he’s not all right Taylor more or less throws the towel in and accepts his fate and then it ends. It was a very sloppy ending. It’s too much of an abrupt ending without it being a cliffhanger.
For me it’s very hard to find good qualities in this story. Skin Deep is not necessarily a bad story, but it’s written overly complicated so it’s hard to sort through everything to see the story behind it. The lack of even small positive elements in the plot, gives the story an even darker feel than was probably intended.
While I very much enjoyed the previous stories, this extended foray into the kin world did not help the series.
Links to reviews of the previous books:
#1 To Adam with Love