Contemporary · diverse characters · in recovery · lgbtqia content · mental health · polyamory · substance abuse

REVIEW: The Painted Phoenix by Sarah Kay Moll

The Official Description: With paintbrush in hand, Nate Redfield takes a city full of ugliness and makes it beautiful. His quiet, empty life is a refuge from a harrowing past, and although he has nothing to love, he also has nothing to lose. Standing up to the syndicate is a good way to end up with a hole in his head, but Nate is not afraid to die.

For once in his life, he’s going to do the right thing, even if it kills him. And it probably will.

But the most dangerous criminal in the city—a man whose sadism and ruthlessness have become local legend—decides to spare Nate’s life. On the streets, Ras is a cold-blooded syndicate enforcer, and makes no apologies for it. But he pursues Nate with a tenderness like nothing Nate has ever known. While no amount of violence could compel Nate to betray his moral compass, love leaves him defenseless.

The vibrant portraits Nate paints tell every story but his own: a lost little girl who thinks of him as a father, a lawyer who tempers justice with compassion, a crime boss and an art thief, and the killer who stole his heart. Ras offers him the love he’s yearned for all his life, if only he is willing to close his eyes to the violent truth. But his story is not one of compromise. It is the story of an indomitable spirit, rising like fire from the ashes of his past.

Just the facts: Queer characters, polyamory, organized crime, drug use

Two men trying to heal from their pasts come together… and it’s exposive and dark. – Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit: Nate Redfield goes to the syndicate owned strip club one night to tell them he’s done. He’s done selling drugs and he doesn’t want to work for them anymore. Nate has been clean for a year and he doesn’t want to be responsible for people dying. He knows that means they will kill him because there’s no way that one can leave the syndicate. Fate intervenes in the form of Ras. Ras is second in command of the syndicate, is cold as hell, and is the enforcer.

Ras steps in long enough for Nate to run. It’s not that easy to get away from someone like Ras though and by the time Nate gets home Ras is already there. Ras is impressed with Nate’s art and offers alternative employment. He wants Nate to display his work at a syndicate gallery at which they launder money. It’s not ideal but it’s not dealing drugs and it’s not being dead… so it seems like something Nate can do.

I’m not sure how to describe this book. It’s a journey of self-discovery I think. Nate is in recovery from his drug use but that doesn’t mean that he has recovered from all the things that were done to him when he was a kid. He had a brutal childhood and it has left physical and emotional scars on him.

This story is really well written and I love Moll’s style. The flow is very graceful despite some of the violent content. The author has a way of bringing you in while you’re reading, allowing you to forget at times how brutal some of the events are in the book.

Nate is an interesting character. His story is revealed through flashbacks to his past. His mother was absolutely wretched to him when he was young and he suffered things that no child should have to deal with. The one good thing in his life is Sierra. Sierra is the child of Nate’s ex’s sister – he just happened into her life and was at the hospital when she was born. He felt an instant connection to her and has vowed to try and make her life better.

I really liked Nate. He stuck to his guns and really tried to be a better person than he was raised to be. Part of his journey throughout this book is coming to terms with the fact that the abuse he has suffered wasn’t his fault and hasn’t changed him irreparably.

Ras was a really interesting character as well. Sadly, I felt as though the full potential of Ras doesn’t play out in this novel. The story eludes to Ras being part of the same person as “Jude”. Jude is a person from Nate’s life pre-recovery. It’s never explained whether Ras suffers from dissociative disorder or has chosen to move on from the person he was in his youth. I was extremely curious at first and was looking forward to more reveals about Ras and his past. Sadly, there’s not much revealed. NOTE: I have just looked on Goodreads and it seems as though more of Ras’ story may have been revealed in the first book. The two books are not, however, marked as part of a series.

Ras is an extremely violent man and the counter to that is the fact that he loves fully and completely. Once he loves someone, Ras is the kind of person who will never fall out of love. He just wants to take care of the people he loves and it doesn’t matter to him if that means crime, money or just being there for them. He will do it all. Ras is polyamorous and is in a relationship with Scarlett (the syndicate boss) and his boyfriend Ash. They are great supporting characters in their own right and it would have been great to know more about them.

There was a bit of POV switching which confused me from time to time…but it didn’t take me out of the story. Moll’s writing was beautiful and I kept coming back to that.

I know that some people won’t be pleased with the ending. But I think the author made a brave and purposeful choice. It makes sense to me… and I think that’s an important part of this story. It’s very realistic and doesn’t pull any punches. I’m not going to spoil the ending…but I think it was a brave choice and it fits with the story.

Things You May Want To Know: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: (SPOILERS) homophobic language, mentions sex trade work, addiction, off-page drug use, suicidal ideation, graphic violence, domestic violence, child endangerment, child abuse, murders committed

Links: Goodreads // The Author // The Publisher

I received an ARC of The Painted Phoemix by Arah Kay Moll from NineStar Press via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

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