Title: To Stand Close
Author: Faith Ashlin
Publisher: Totally Bound
Pages/Word Count: 223 Pages
At a Glance: Surprisingly deep and thought provoking.
Reviewed By: Jennifer
Blurb: 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.
Review: I was completely surprised by this book. The premise sounded intriguing, and I thought I was going to get a little angst, a lot of romance, and…something else. To be honest, at this point I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t a book that would leave me thinking about the characters and the world they live in well after the fact.
To Stand Close is a tough one to read because in this alternate world, a country has cut itself off from the rest of the world because it still practices slavery. When Nicky receives a slave as a gift from the mothers of the girls he coaches for gymnastics, he doesn’t want him because he doesn’t want to think about slavery. He doesn’t agree with it, but he doesn’t really care. He has his own problems to worry about, and slavery is not one of them. But when he sees the fear in the slave’s eyes at the thought of being returned to the preparation center, he agrees to take him.
It’s clear from the outset that Nicky is a good man. He isn’t going to use the slave for anything. Not even cleaning his home. But then, in this country, slaves are good for only one thing: sex. They can be used in any way their owner wants, and that’s it. They can even be passed around to others if the owner wants. And, more terrifyingly, if their owner isn’t around, they’re fair game.
The slave is Michael. He initially is a heartbreaking character. Every time he was on the page my heart ached for him, so unsure of himself and desperate to do anything not to go back to the slave prep center. And it becomes even more awful when you discover where he’s from and how he became a slave in this awful country. Nicky promises to do everything in his power to keep Michael safe because, at first, well, that’s his responsibility.
But it changes.
Throughout the course of the novel Nicky falls in love with Michael, and that’s where the questions start to come in. Nicky is, technically, his master, even if they don’t see themselves as master and slave. So how can Nicky ever be sure Michael really does want to have sex with him? He might say it, but how can he know? Because even though Nicky is a great guy, technically he could just take it if he wanted to. He has Michael’s paperwork.
Most of the time when I read books where there is angst and miscommunication, or lack of listening, I get frustrated, but with this book, it was completely believable and I understood the deeper issues at hand. Nicky is completely right in fearing Michael is doing it to keep him “sweet,” as he says. And while Michael doesn’t seem like that kind of guy, let’s face it, he really is at a disadvantage. If Nicky were to say screw it one day, he could very well end up in a terrible place. And for a slave in this country, he has it made.
I felt for these characters so much. And my heart broke. Often. The ending was good, but I would love more from Michael and Nicky. I want to know what happens to them next. And I want to read more set in this world. I know it might sound terrible, but I want to see how other people react to their slaves and what they do to try to change it.
You can buy To Stand Close here: