Title: Clouded Hell
Author: J.R. Gray
Pages/Word Count: 300 Pages
At a Glance: Any niggles I might have had about Clouded Hell were far outweighed by how much I liked this novel’s darker atmosphere.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: I survive on avoidance. Physical pain to avoid the mental. Disposable flesh to avoid relationships. Work to avoid attachment.
My club became my empire of avoidance. Inside the ring millions are won and lost. The fight is confined to breaths, actions and reactions, fists and pain. Rules don’t exist. Only my opponent exists.
I’d been avoiding my needs for far too long when Remi stumbles into the Inferno and I’m hungry. The promise of a submissive with no attachment is far too tempting. I can’t resist him.
He was only supposed to be a distraction, but I know I’ll never get over him. There isn’t a chance in this clouded hell.
Review: There are a few authors I turn to in this genre when I’m in the mood for something a little edgy, a little raw, a little gritty. One of them is J.R. Gray. And, as if you couldn’t already tell from its title, his new novel, Clouded Hell, is not a shmoopy romance.
What Clouded Hell is, however, is an interesting character study. Its protagonists, Dante Bane and Remi Caci, are both flawed in a variety of ways—Dante due to a loss from which he’s still trying to recover, with little success; Remi because he’s been so busy being someone he’s not for other people, and denying so much of who he is in the process, that he’s no longer comfortable in his own skin. The common bond between the two men is the fear of freeing themselves from the emotional and psychological ties that bind them, and it’s robbing them of even the smallest measure of peace.
Dante runs a fight club in the basement of his bar in New Orleans, where high stakes gambling ensures it’s a lucrative trade. Not only does he run the business, but he fights as well—it’s an alternative means of release when the sadist in him needs a fix. Remi is the son of a mobster who lives with his best friend Kai in California, owns a tattoo shop through which he launders a portion of his father’s dirty money, and has his own stable of fighters in Vegas.
Of the two men, Remi’s life is inarguably more complicated—it’s not easy being the closeted gay son of a homophobic father with mafia ties, a man who has no qualms about killing people, even family, he deems unfit to live. Remi toes an impossible line with the Caci patriarch: wishing he could live up to his father’s expectations…yet knowing to the core of his being that he never will. But being gay is not the only part of himself Remi’s been hiding. Though he’s been Kai’s Dom for years, Remi is a switch (perhaps even more natural sub than Dom) who’s not only been depriving himself of the need to submit but is also ashamed of the fact that the need to be dominated even exists as a part of who he is, seeing his submission as yet another weakness heaped upon his failings as a son.
Turning to Dante, the sadist Remi homes in on as the man he needs to be dominated by—no sex, no strings attached, just pain for the sake of fulfilling his masochistic side—seems like the answer to both of their problems. And it might have been too, if their scenes hadn’t evolved into a thing of intimate desires and complicated emotions. Dante can’t afford to become attached to Remi, or any man, for that matter. Remi can’t disentangle himself from the life he was born to, or the life he created for himself when he and Kai moved to California to put some distance between Remi and his family legacy. There seems to be little chance Dante and Remi will work together. And yet, they’re two pieces of a complex puzzle whose roughest edges fit together to complete a mutual need. Their heads may be saying, no, no, no, but their bodies are saying, yeah, right, whatever. And it’s this conflict heaped upon all the baggage they carry that creates the clouded hell alluded to in the novel’s title.
The fight scenes and the BDSM scenes in this book were both written with the same amount of intensity and a concurrent vibe—each visceral and serving a physical imperative for Dante and Remi. The eroticism is not in short supply either. In fact, Gray brings his A-game in terms of the scenes these two men are in together—whether there’s BDSM involved or not. There’s just a great chemistry between them that’s based partially in denial and partially in obsession.
Clouded Hell isn’t a perfect book—there was one continuity issue that had me scratching my head a little—but any niggles I had were outweighed by how much I liked this novel’s darker atmosphere, the characters and the conflict, and the message that sometimes the mere act of existing is complicated; sometimes we live in a hell of our own making; sometimes hell is forced on us by circumstance; and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you might find someone who’s willing to exist in your hell with you.
You can buy Clouded Hell here: