Øystæinn by Marishka Grayson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The description of this book read a bit like a Eurovision Song Contest best off: M/M romance, Russian mob, Norse Gods … what more can a girl ask for? And this book delivers it all and then some.

I will be honest, the first few chapters (I’d say the first five or so) felt pretty weak to me. Descriptions were vague, the first person protagonist came across as a bit of a doormat and the tropes were all over the place, from coffee shop over academia to mafia. Everyone was lusting for everyone else, and the protagonist just keeps getting kidnapped in violent ways by different parties. And everyone wants to bang him, which he isn’t all that opposed to most of the time.

The writing style completely changes later, though, the descriptions get more detailed and sensual, and I started to enjoy the book much more, once it had found it’s rhythm. That rhythm, for most of the rest of the book, is one chapter set in the present (still with kidnappings, sex and violence galore), followed by one chapter of backstory set in some weird version of Norse mythology, that reminded me of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in places. Turns out, kidnappings, sex and violence are very much a thing of that time, too.

The main character is a bit all over the place. On the one hand he is this extremely powerful, knowledgeable and skilled deity, on the other hand, he remains very passive and just gives into his fate for most of the book. I can’t really make up my mind if I like him or not, but we are stuck in his head throughout the book, because it is written in first person POV.

There are no women to speak of in this book. Actually, it took thirteen chapters or so before the first woman is even mentioned, and in that case it is an unnamed female flight attendant. The story focuses exclusively on a bunch of very gay men. Gods. Dragons. Whatever.

I’m not telling you all this to turn you off. I’m just mentioning it, because, even though it probably should have, none of it did turn me off. The truth is, I enjoyed this read much more than I probably should have. Partly that is due to the twisted but very well written sex scenes (What can I say? I’m an erotica writer. Smut is what I’m here for.), but mostly it is due to the author being so true to herself and to her writing this book exactly as she wanted to write it. That gives it a raw honesty, that is rare in more conventional genre-abiding books. Because in this modern world, where everything is aimed at perfection, at following formulas and fulfilling norms, we crave something real, something coming directly from another persons heart.

The tropes of this book are hardly original, but the way they are woven together into something completely new and unexpected is. It is the kind of book that every literary agent and every editor on the planet would tell you is not sellable. It’s a book that simply would not exist in the traditional publishing space. And that would be a shame. Because if you allow yourself to be swept up by it, it’s a hell of a read.

Personally, I’m giving this book four stars, but I find it hard to recommend it to others, because I’m sure many readers will not enjoy it as much as I did.

You’ll probably like this book if you like slash fan fiction, Sense8, The Sandman comic books and the Eurovision Song Contest, preferably all at once. You’ll probably not like this book if you love ironing your clothes, spend a lot of money on fancy planners and organize your bookshelf by color. There is nothing neat and organized about this book. It’s a confusing, twirling, disorienting, very hot maelstrom.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reader copy of this book, but I’m under no obligation (except maybe a moral one) to review it.

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