For possibly the first time ever I’m not entirely sure whether or not this review contains (a)spoiler(s). Proceed with caution.
First things first. While this is the third book in a series it can easily be read as a stand-alone. In fact at no point while reading this story did I feel I was missing information or wished for more background on either the characters or the world the story is set in. While Staged certainly made me curious about those earlier books, I don’t think there’s any need to read them first…unless you want to of course.
Staged. *sigh* The story is told from Sky Blue’s perspective and I think Kim Fielding did an amazing job getting into the head space of a man who was born a slave, raised a slave and destined to always be a slave. His descriptions of his life were devastating. It wasn’t just the fact that he was treated without any consideration, at best, and with cruel disregard at worst, although that was heartbreaking enough. What really got to me was that he basically lived a life without any possibility of it ever getting better. It wasn’t so much that he lived without hope, because he still wished for an owner who wouldn’t be cruel, who wouldn’t hurt or mistreat him, but as hopes go, that is scraping the barrel. What really got to me was his resignation and the fact that it made perfect sense. When being a slave is all you’ve ever known, when you’ve been told so often that you are less, that you don’t feel like normal—free—people do, that you almost believe it, resignation is probably the only way to survive.
Given that context it makes perfect sense for Sky to be utterly confused when his new Master, Morgan Wallace (or is it Mackenzie Webster?) treats him with kindness, looks after him, buys him nice clothes, and cooks him great food. Sky has never encountered this before. Nobody has ever cared about his comfort or his feelings, and he has no idea how to deal with someone who appears to do just that. Especially when that same person is also the man who hands him over to strangers to be hurt and abused in the most horrific ways, only to tenderly nurse him back to health afterwards.
Poor Sky is confused and doesn’t know what to think. For me the one issue I had with this book was that I didn’t share Sky’s confusion and fear about his new Master. As early as the third chapter Wallace has told Sky that he’s sorry about what he will have to put him through, but that he doesn’t have a choice. While Sky doesn’t have the frame of reference to either understand or fully believe that statement, for me as a reader, that was the moment the story lost some of its tension and became less dark, despite the fact that the horrendous abuse scenes were still to come.
This is of course a very personal opinion and others may well disagree with me, but I would have preferred it if I’d been kept guessing about Wallace, his motives, and his feelings towards Sky. While the fact that I, as the spectator, didn’t worry about Wallace as much as Sky did, was a wonderful way to illustrate how Sky’s slave mind worked, it did, for me, make the story less edgy than I thought it would be.
Other than that one point, this book was wonderful. The world it describes is ours, except that slavery is an almost worldwide routine, and that makes the story that much more credible and scary; it’s all too easy to believe in this version of the world. I completely and utterly fell for Sky and cheered him on for every step of his long, difficult, painful, and confusing journey, and rejoiced when he finally found his own power.
I’m impressed that the author managed to give me a clear idea about who Webster was and what he felt without ever getting into his head. We only see him from Sky’s perspective and yet we see Webster’s struggle clearer than Sky can. That is fabulous writing.
One word of warning. There are a few very ugly scenes in this book. While they are ‘only’ scenes and not the tone of the book, they will without a doubt shock some readers. Having said that, comparatively speaking, those dark scenes make up only a small part of the story. Most of this book tells the story of two men from different worlds, with no idea about the other person’s reality, learning about each other and in the process about themselves.
Overall this was a very good, very well written and totally engrossing book. I’m very glad I had four consecutive hours of almost uninterrupted reading time because I don’t think I would have been able to put the book down for whatever reason. While the book wasn’t quite as dark as I expected it to be, and I would have preferred to have been kept guessing about Webster a while longer, I still highly recommend this as a fabulous read.