Conquest by SJ Frost
Vocally gifted singer, Jesse Alexander, has dreams of taking his band, Conquest, to the top. Evan Arden was thought of as a musical genius when at the height of his career he vanished from the spotlight. Together, their relationship is just as intense as their music careers. With success pushing down on them, Jesse must decide between his life of music, or his life with Evan.
This is a very good story with only a few problems. The characters are likable and interesting and the tension is held consistent throughout the story with a good pace. The writing is evocative and emotional without being too angsty and off putting. Despite its lengthy page count, the story is engaging and quick to read. There are a few problems that may turn readers off but I think the overall story, characters, and plot will help overcome any issues.
Jesse Alexander is a gifted man. He’s incredibly intelligent, a fabulous singer and can play just about any instrument. He’s definitely not perfect though as his cocky, arrogant, and over bearing attitude tends to lose band members faster than he can replace them. Lucky for Jesse, he gets his big break when Evan Arden hears Jesse’s band playing one night. The resulting affect brings Jesse to the attention of a record producer and soon Jesse is living out his dream. Not only is Jesse’s band Conquest producing an album but Jesse is dating Evan. However, their bubble of happiness is threatened when the reality of record sales and the labels’ choices conflict with Jesse and Evan’s relationship.
The plot of the story is very character driven as the book spends a lot of time setting up Evan and Jesse, then developing their relationship. Perhaps this part of the book could be tighter and have fewer scenes but I really enjoyed each scene. Although the two men fall in love very easily and there is little conflict or tension, the overshadowing of a future breakup looms very large. The book goes into great detail about the men’s relationship, their personalities and past, showing how they fall in love, but there is a heavy overtone that this particular happiness can’t last. The big breakup is telegraphed very early on so the emphasis on how the two fell in love and how happy they were might have been heavy handed but it is romantic and interesting. The big breakup is predictable, almost from the very beginning, so the tension created is slightly artificial. There is no question of the couple somehow side stepping their fate so the book takes pains to show the depth of their emotion and love in a very engaging manner.
After the predictable break up scene though, the story continues with the same tone and pace as before. This is somewhat confusing as the men still act like friends and the reason for their breakup becomes convoluted. The reason is initially set up clearly from the beginning of the book but once the two break up, there is an emphasis on the personal pain and neither man really questions why it had to happen. It is almost as if they too felt the break up was inevitable and just accept that. This ultimately has their resolution feeling weak and empty. The reasons for their break up still exist but they just arbitrarily decide to get back together again. This is especially jarring when those reasons and concerns still exist and are neither resolved nor mentioned again – instead they are just dropped entirely.
Not only is the couple’s reunion suspect and not entirely explained, but there are other unanswered questions and problems, such as Jesse’s drummer Trish and her issues. There is an excerpt for a sequel at the back of the book so perhaps everything will be wrapped up and addressed in the next book. I am not a fan of that method – leaving several hanging questions and problems for the next book in a series – so this was perhaps more frustrating for me than other readers.
The characterization is decent with Evan and Jesse shinning. Evan and Jesse are given depth and interest, showing their vulnerabilities and fears. Due to the emphasis on building their relationship, the reader is treated to a long intimate look at their conversations, deepening emotions, and of course hot sex. This leaves the two well developed and given much more involvement than any of the secondary characters. I couldn’t help adoring Jesse’s bratty behavior and his unending loyalty towards Evan even as Evan offers his own kind of support and love. The large supporting cast though range from wooden, almost stereotypical characters such as the token female in Trish and the homophobic assistant Tim to more variety and interest with Jesse’s brother, Brandon, and the guitar player, Kenny. Since Kenny and Brandon are very close to Jesse, they are given more development beyond the surface characterization. Brandon is slightly inconsistent as he ranges from wildly protective over Jesse to absent minded brother but sets up an interesting byplay that will likely result in his own book (he is gay of course!).
There are some significant problems that affect the writing and enjoyment of the book unfortunately. The first is the horrible, truly horrible, head hopping. The story is told in third person point of view and switches from head to head, often paragraph to paragraph. This is especially bad during the sex scenes where one short paragraph will be from Jesse’s perspective and the next will be from Evan’s point of view and the third paragraph will jump back to Jesse’s head. This is not confusing so much as annoying and frustrating because it happens for the entire length of the 377 page book. This head hopping occurs in every scene, almost every page, but becomes occasionally painful during the sex scenes. Here is an example:
Evan gazed up at Jesse, seeing an emotion on his beautiful face, in his stunning indigo eyes, that he prayed was true, and at the same moment, knowing he didn’t deserve it. He lifted his hand, resting it on the side of Jesse’s face. Jesse closed his eyes. He turned his head toward Evan’s hand, laying a warm kiss in his palm.
Evan drew his legs along Jesse’s sides. Jesse leaned his weight down on his left elbow and slipped his right hand with lube-slicked fingers down Evan’s body. He gently massaged and worked Evan open, wanting to make him feel as physically special as he had become to Jesse emotionally. He felt Evan’s body melt under him. He slowly withdrew his fingers, took hold of his own arousal, and guided it into Evan.
Beyond the point of view mania are the prose choices. For the most part the prose is engaging and descriptive, injecting a great deal of emotion and depth into the story. There are several dramatic scenes however where the prose is slightly jarring, reminding me that I’m reading a story. Some of these choices are the use of complex vocabulary when the two men are having a heartfelt conversation where the extremely articulate prose seems at odd with the emotion and tone.
For the most part this is an enjoyable book with two men who fall in love easily but have to work together to sustain their relationship. The characters are interesting and the music setting definitely draws the reader in, but the book ultimately felt as if the characters and story were going exactly where the author wanted them to go. There was a lack of spontaneity and the entire book felt almost too scripted. This isn’t bad and as I’ve said, I rather enjoyed reading this. The caveat is just that there are no surprises, even when the characters themselves would seem to demand a change. Perhaps the sequel will hold more surprises but really either way, I look forward to reading it. Check this out, I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
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