It's taken me a while to actually write this review because I wanted to figure out my feelings for this book first and also because I had a hard time deciding what to write.
I want more than anything to give this book five stars because it's really an extraordinary story with an abundance of suspense, world-building and intriguing characters. Unfortunately, I can't because, while it was fascinating to read and kept me captivated, I was still left with a bunch of questions.
To say I didn't love these characters is like saying I hate reading. Aleron and Jasak each had their own qualities and faults that made them both entertaining and quite lovable. Aleron is, from the start, a stubborn, determined, ruthless man. He's a smartass who considers himself a genius in all things thievery and escape. He thinks he can get out of Tantoret and will do it by any means necessary even if that means getting close to Jasak and using that to his advantage. Unfortunately, he's never had any proper, or real, emotional ties to another being so when he starts to for Jasak, it takes him by surprise and changes all his plans. Jasak is the head of the guards. Like the prisoners, he's been put on Tantoret because of a crime he committed. He's intelligent and acts indifferent but he's honorable and caring, to a fault, but has a bunch of misplaced guilt that causes him to be harder on himself than anyone else. He does what he can to make the lives of the sick prisoners as comfortable as possible, which is about the best he can do without compromising the delicate loyalty the other guards hold for him. As soon as Aleron is dumped on Tantoret, Jasak's life is turned upside down and havoc starts to reign in the prison.
The sci-fi aspect of the story is intriguing. All of the different species introduced and the wars mentioned were fascinating. I enjoyed the overall conflict and violence that occurred in Tantoret prison and how it gave an entertaining plot while at the same time giving us a sweet romance.
Like I said earlier, though, while I loved the book, it left me with more questions than I was comfortable with. Mainly, they are about Jasak and his Athaki anatomy but also about the other cultures. I would have liked them to be a bit more explained whereas in the story, they were just vaguely mentioned. With Jasak, however, I felt like he wasn't written as well as Aleron seemed to be. For one, we know a lot about Aleron, past mistakes and such, and also his physical attributes but with Jasak we don't get much about him but a few stilted, sporadic descriptions that never gave me a clear picture of what he looks like. I also have questions about comments Jasak made about the difference between Aleron being human and Jasak being Athaki that were never explained later on like I was hoping they would be... Then there's Jasak's whole tattoo that was never explained even though when Aleron asked about it Jasak just changed the subject. I also had questions about Athaki mating. If Athaki's mate for life and never take another than how is Jasak able to bond with Aleron when, technically, he's still mated to Kayoly? I was just a bit confused on how it's possible for Jasak to take another mate when he already has one because I just don't see a permanent, life-long bond breaking just because Jasak is 'dead' in the eyes of his clan. So while I enjoyed the story and appreciated and respected the world that was built, because after all it was extremely fascinating, I would have liked to learn more about the other cultures presented in the book since we never get a clear picture on any of them besides the humans. Which is kind of self-explanatory.
Overall, this is a fascinating story. The suspense starts off right from the bat and rarely lets up. While it's not as detailed as some of us may like it to be, I think those who love sci-fis will take some enjoyment out of this one because it's really a good book once you emerge yourself in it. Definitely recommended.