by E.M. Lindsey
Series: The Carnal Tower #1
Publication Date: February 2, 2022
Source: Grey's Promotions
I received an advance review copy of this book from Grey's Promotions. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
“The path to paradise begins in hell.”― Dante Alighieri
On a small path leading to nowhere sits a looming cathedral, once-abandoned, now hosting the most dangerous of pleasures.
And Stone Brice is the most dangerous of all: Lust. A former acrobat, Stone’s life was changed dramatically after an accident, and now he runs The Carnal Tower, a place where people can go to have their deepest and sometimes darkest fantasies realized.
Stone is a man who is rarely taken by surprise, so when he meets the artist, August Ashley, he doesn’t expect to trip and fall at his feet—literally. But there’s something about the quiet stranger in the park that Stone wants to take apart, and that feeling only gets worse the more Stone gets to know him.
Stone is well aware he can’t mix business and pleasure, but when August comes to him with a proposal for a trade—seven paintings for seven nights with Lust—he can’t say no. Not when it means he’ll be able to have August exactly the way he wants him—even if it’s just for a week.
Stone has every plan to strip August down to his very soul, but the longer the week goes on, the more Stone comes to realize that August might very well be his undoing.
Shades of Lust is the first book in a new series. It features a bi-awakening, high heat, low angst, and the human embodiment of a seven deadly sin whose sole purpose is to make sure his client never forgets their week at The Carnal Tower. Each book in the series can stand on their own, and all contain no cheating, and a happily ever after.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this series. I’d read and loved one of the author’s previous books, but, I mean, a brothel based on all of the seven sins? It seemed like an interesting concept, but one that could go full bananapants rather quickly. Well, I shouldn’t have doubted them! The book completely sells the concept and the individual characters very well!
After a traumatic vehicle accident at nineteen, Stone bought an old abbey a short distance from a small town and set up his own Dante-inspired Carnal Tower brothel. He and the other six men who work there each embody one of the seven deadly sins, but more than that, they’ve all become his family. Even with them, though, Stone admits that he’s lonely… until he literally falls head over heels for a shy man he meets in the park. August isn’t sure how the large, tattooed man will react to being tripped by his dog at first, but he certainly doesn’t expect the attraction he feels for him, or that it seems to be mutual. A bargain to trade seven of August’s paintings for seven nights with Stone, as Lust, seems like a deal from heaven (or hell?), but the more time he spends with Stone, the more he thinks that he’s the missing piece of his own life – if only they can both accept that they’re worthy of the other’s love.
“I don’t think you’re a freak,” Stone rumbled very quietly, “but I’m also a man who set up a brothel with a hell theme and gets paid by strangers to fulfill every single one of their dark fantasies. So I might not be the best judge.”
I’ve only read one or two of the author’s previous work, but one of the things I loved was how they included characters with disabilities. Stone’s disabled, and while the book doesn’t minimize the accommodations necessary – like how sending his usual prosthetics out for repairs means that he has to use either his expensive running legs or a wheelchair – it’s just another facet of him, not the thing that defines him. Though August’s anxiety is treated similarly, it’s also a bigger part of the story. For the most part, August’s learned to live with his anxiety and has his own accommodations, mostly meds and therapy, but he struggles with thinking that someone else would want to put up with him. He sees himself as strange and different, and yeah, he’s an amazing artist, but dates in the past have lost interest once they realized they couldn’t “fix” him. Stone’s not like that, but August’s anxiety still crops up as their physical relationship progresses. He’s a virgin, but also in the middle of realizing he’s bisexual, and it’s handled very skillfully by the author.
Both men are committed to their careers and excel at them. While not all of Stone’s clients are looking for a sexual relationship, he does work at a brothel. I liked that August intuitively understood there were two parts to Stone – the man himself, and then the part of him that’s Lust. There’s never even a discussion of Stone stopping his work just because he’s in a committed relationship with August. Similarly, Stone understands that sometimes August needs to focus exclusively on his work, and that it’s not a rejection of him.
The found family feels with the rest of the Sins are lovely. Stone’s the caretaker, and through him we get to see little bits of the rest of them, some more than others. They each have their own traumas that have led them to where they are, and Stone is aware enough to know not to push while simultaneously understanding how best to support each man. In additional disability rep, one of the Sins is blind and another has progressive hearing loss, and both are treated and accommodated like they’re real people.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this and I’m looking forward to the next in the series!