Yearning Like Honey, Desire Like Blood: Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo

Posted 26th June 2021 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 1 Comment

Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Queer MC, M/M, secondary polyamory M/M/F, secondary Black character
Published on: 28th September 2021
ISBN: 125079028X
Goodreads
five-stars

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six month later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge.

As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Highlights

~bruised boys and fast cars
~queer yearning haunting
~the poetry of masculinity
~no homo, but let me feed you my blood and make you mine
~I did not know ghostly/demonic possession was a kink but that’s a thing now

Take The Raven Cycle and give it shark-sharp teeth. Cross the result with All For the Game. Feed the result gasoline mixed with blood; watch to make sure it laps up every drop. Give it breath like a southern summer, thick and humid and hot as chrome left under sunlight. Make it a nest of bones and secrets and sighs. Let it sharpen its claws on your wrists. Give it your throat.

Do all that…and then scrap it all, because Summer Sons is wholly its own, and no comparisons can do justice to the rich, simmering, chilling ache that is this book.

The comparisons are inevitable. But they’re wrong.

I’ve followed Mandelo’s reviews and think-pieces for years and years, so it was a no-brainer to request Summer Sons when it showed up on Netgalley. I never doubted for a second that this was going to be good.

But it’s not good.

It’s motherfucking breathtaking.

Summer Sons is the kind of book that wraps its fingers around your heart and doesn’t let go; rich and raw and enthralling, an alchemy of the worldly and otherworldly that is pure, dark, thrilling magic. Mandelo’s prose is deft and merciless as a scalpel, soft and deceptive as silk; the heat is scorching, the yearning searing and savage. The pages run with desire so thick it drips like honey – until it gushes like blood.

This is a book that will drag you under.

The official description does a perfectly accurate job of setting the scene for you: this is, on the most superficial of levels, a murder-mystery – even if Andrew is the only one who believes Eddie’s suicide was somehow staged. But although I wouldn’t say the hunt for Eddie’s killer or killers is a secondary plotline – Andrew would never let that happen – it still isn’t close to the whole story.

Or maybe it is, in that Andrew’s hunt becomes as much about searching within himself for answers as it is looking for them without. He has to stalk his own shadow if he wants to unravel every secret; dig deep into memories he’s locked away, thoughts he’s never let himself think, instincts and hungers he’s refused to acknowledge, never mind looked at too closely. To discover what the truth is he has to figure out what it was, and oh, the razor-wire-and-velvet tangle of toxic masculinity and queer longing is such a fucking masterpiece.

Because fuck yes, this is queer. ‘Till death do us part’? Death can fucking try.

And he kept hearing Riley say he was your–on loop. What word should he put after? On paper, a sibling; in practice, something else. If Eddie had been Riley’s friend, he wasn’t that for Andrew. That friendship was a muted fraction of the real thing, the marrow-thing, that tied them together. Through the cavern and their hauntings since, through a life spent with Eddie keeping him leashed but cared for at the same time, he couldn’t find a label that fit where he needed it to go. Maybe instead, just a hard stop: he was yours.

And honestly, I think that’s where the horror is; not in the ghosts and curses and magic dark and tangled as ancient roots – although we have all of that and more – but in the toxic, intoxicating relationship Andrew had with Eddie, continues to have with his own sexuality. It’s as sensual as it is fucked-up, desperate and starving, terribly beautiful and beautifully terrible and oh, so willfully, adoringly blind. Of course Andrew is haunted by Eddie’s spectre; how could the grave part them? Even the reaper couldn’t untangle all the thorns and knots binding them together, suffocating Andrew even as he leans into them. When the haunting progresses to full-on possession, the reader can’t be surprised; it’s a foregone conclusion, an almost embarrassingly obvious metaphor for all the ways in which Andrew was and is possessed by his best friend. Eddie didn’t possess Andrew’s body in life, so he takes it in death – and maybe what’s terrifying is that the snarled-up, toxic masculinity they both grew up with finds that, literal ghostly possession, less frightening than two guys fucking.

There is so much to unpack here.

Mandelo’s prose has you smelling the burning rubber during the drag-racing, hearing the cicadas, sweating in the thick humidity of the story in your hands. It has your heart pounding and your stomach clenching and your knuckles turning white from holding the book so hard, torn between turning the pages as fast as you can and savouring every molasses-sweet word. It digs in deep and uncoils at a perfect pace; almost casually gutting the marble facade of academia to spill out the stinking backstabbing and racism in its guts; tearing open the macho bullshit and unthinking homophobia of a particular kind of asshole and prying out the emotions underneath, raw and pulsing. Summer Sons revels in the danger of razor-blade boys while calling them on their shit, subverting stereotypes about everything from the South to drug dealers while dealing with the reality of them.

And that reality’s not pretty, but damn is it compelling.

Summer Sons is more than I hoped for and everything I didn’t know to want. It’s been weeks since I finished reading it, weeks since I started drafting this review, and the story’s haunted me ever since. I want to read it again, and again, and again; I want it to be released already so I can talk about it with others who have read it. It’s so hard to put everything I feel about this book into words; I’m finding it impossible to distill down everything Summer Sons is into a neat little review for you. I have drafted and redrafted and this is as close as I’ve managed to come, and I know it’s still not good enough, but I don’t think I can do better. You’re just going to have to read Summer Sons for yourself.

This book is as sensual as it is terrifying, a Molotov cocktail in a beautiful perfume bottle, equal parts hot breath and bone-chilling cold. The mystery is as thick in the air as the humidity. It is luscious and skeletal, ozone and diesel and sweat and blood. It is brutal and it is decadent, hedonistic. It is exactly what it should be. It is perfect.

Preorder it immediately if you haven’t already.

(And someone still needs to write me an essay on the homoeroticism of being possessed by your best friend’s ghost, ‘kay? ‘Kay.)

five-stars

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