by Eskay Kabba
2021 (4 Horsemen Publications)
According to most. of the other queer dudes in Rhode Island, Connor is a major bo-hunk. In his late twenties, the former Marine works hard at his day-job at Comcast to support his real passion: volunteering for a hotline that supports fellow veterans. He´s the kind of guy who thinks nothing of giving love and support to others around him, while at the same time feels unworthy of receiving that same sort of affection from others. Maybe it´s because he hasn´t been able to move on since Vinnie, his great love, died two years ago or perhaps it´s due to living under the same roof with his family, who are homophobic. Since returning from serving in Iraq, Connor´s plan has been to stay in the closet, at least in front of his family; his best friend Afia masquerades as his beard but, as an African-American woman, she has to endure numerous racist epithets from Connor´s family during their weekly Sunday dinners. When not working or at home, Connor is on the apps, sleeping with guys for hot but brief hook-ups.
But this delicate house of cards begins to collapse when Connor meets Jamel, brother to Afia´s new boyfriend. African-American, ex-Army, and out to everyone (including his family), the intense heat of the chemistry between the two men is almost instantaneous. However, Jamel wants more than just a hot and heavy hook-up; he wants intimacy and a genuine connection first, and withholds jumping into a sexual relationship until that is established first. Such restraint is throwing Connor for a loop: will he (finally) let his guard down, and let someone in emotionally? Will he have the courage to be as open about his sexual identity with his father as Jamel is with his?
Hidden Love is the first in five-part steamy romance series of novels, together spanning a decade of time exploring the relationship between these two characters (this book begins in 2009). Readers seeking hardcore gay male erotica will be more than satisfied with this first book, as author Eskay Kabba provides moments of affection and tenderness as well as down and dirty sex. This alone would make this book an exceptional addition to anyone´s bookshelf.
But what makes Hidden Love even more impressive is its frank and realistic depictions of racism and homophobia--subjects that, while all too familiar (and painful) in real life, tend to be absent from the majority of contemporary erotic fiction. The scenes of the Connor family dinners are painful for being so recognizable in their portrayal of prejudice and discrimination, as is a scene where he and Jamel are pulled over by a sheriff during a road-trip to the South. Instead of neatly resolving any of these tense-filled moments, these scenes counterbalance the hope and the joy of the novel´s primary romance. If anything, Kabba´s masterful inclusion of these themes do not detract from enjoying the charged eroticism of the men´s unfolding relationship. If anything, the scenes of connection become all that much sweeter and more vital, as Kabba shows us the stakes.
A very good novel by a talented writer with a powerful voice. I look forward to reading more and hearing what Eskay Kabba has to say.