Author: Faith Ashlin
Publisher: Totally Bound
Cover Artist: unknown
Rating: 4.50 of 5 Stars
Can love grow and survive for two men on opposite sides of the deepest of chasm—slavery?
In this world one country has cut itself off, and is closed and mysterious to everyone else. What’s the secret it’s hiding? Magic? Monsters? No, just the cruel reality of slavery. But inside its borders life goes on as normal, and it competes with the rest of the world at sport just like everyone else, just to prove that it’s the best.
Nicky accepts that, and is happy in his own small, simple life as a gymnastics coach. He accepts it because he’s never known anything else, but he stays as far away from the brutality of slavery as he can, until he’s given a present he doesn’t want and isn’t allowed to refuse.
As for love? Well, he loves his sport, isn’t that enough?
Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of slavery.
Josie Goodreads’s View:
Can a slave and his owner find love? Can two people forced together by circumstances neither one has any control over build a future together?
To Stand Close by Faith Ashlin is a riveting and thought provoking story set in an AU country that is frighteningly similar to our own, but with a dark secret. Within its closed borders slavery exists. Nicky is an instructor for an elite girl’s gymnastic team. He lives alone in a small flat, content with his lot in life, just happy to be working with ‘his girls’. As the team is successful the girl’s mothers gift Nicky with a sex slave. Their generosity is not without ulterior motives though, the slave, Michael, is handsome, and they hope Nicky will share him around.
Nicky doesn’t want a slave, he certainly doesn’t need one, and he knows he can’t afford one, but he sees the fear in Michael’s face when he tries to dismiss the mothers ‘gift’ so he grudgingly accepts. Nicky knows the look of fear, he’s seen it on his own face before and he’ll do anything to chase that look away. Nicky’s place is tiny, cramped, not really big enough for two men to live in, and the early days are awkward and difficult. Nicky feels his home isn’t his own anymore and Michael is desperate not to be noticed, tiptoeing around Nicky trying not to be nuisance. Nicky is a kind owner, considerate, something Michael never dreamed he’d get and he’ll do anything to stay.
A friendship gradually develops between the two men and the barriers between owner and slave breakdown within the confines of their flat but they still have to show the outside world that they are exactly what is expected, owner and slave. When Michael wants to take their relationship further Nicky is reluctant to do anything to jeopardise their friendship, after all if someone tells you they love you can it be real? Can you believe them if they can never walk away, if you own that person?
Faith Ashlin’s stories always make me think, her AU worlds are so close to our own but she adds a small change that makes them a disturbingly different place. The idea that a country can exist in our modern world with slaves is frightening. A sub set of humanity denied any choice or freedom. This is the world that Michael finds himself in. Michael is an American, a backpacker, he became a slave when he accidentally crossed the border into Nicky’s country and was captured by border guards. No one from his old life knows where he is, he’s helpless with no way out, to him Nicky must have seemed a saviour, a guardian angel, a considerate thoughtful owner in a world gone mad. And Nicky, I loved Nicky, so quiet and thoughtful and resolute, he felt undeserving of Michaels love.
The relationship between them grows slowly and realistically, the initial awkwardness building to contentment and then to much more and I loved how they bonded over a shared love of books. I adored the girls from the gym and how they fall a little bit in love with Michael too. Adeline with the cakes she bakes, and Becky, Nicky’s best friend and assistant coach, they all care so much for Nicky and that naturally falls to Michael too. The girls understand the hardness of the world in which they live in, and as much as they don’t like it they also accept it, it’s all they’ve ever known.
The word building is contained, quite insular, but also consuming, the whole story revolving around the two men, ignoring the wider social aspects but also not letting the reader forget that Michael is a slave. The facets that litter the story keep that uppermost at all times, from the creepy delivery driver Willy, who eyes Michael like he’s prime beef, to the guys groping Michael at the supermarket, on to Mrs F in the flat below, it’s all sublime and quite unsettling in its normality.
I am not saying anything further about what life holds for Michael and Nicky, I want you to read the book and discover it for yourself. I don’t think it’s any secret that I am a die-hard fan of Ms. Ashlin. I love writers than make me really think and give me stories that linger long after I’ve finished them. I adored To Stand Close; it’s a gentler, far more contained story than anything I’ve read from her before. It’s a beautiful story of hope even in the midst of darkness. Highly recommended.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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