Review: (Un)masked by Anyta Sunday

Jay Walker has two wishes: to perform the play of his dreams alongside his best friend at Wellington’s Tory Street Theatre, and to meet that special someone. Someone he’d go to the ends of the earth for. Someone who might only exist in fairy tales.

When Jay meets accordion busker Lethe Cross, it’s like living a dream come true. Lethe’s music captivates Jay, and he resolves to meet the man who plays so beautifully. But then he discovers Lethe’s life is more like a nightmare. The phrase “down on his luck” can’t begin to cover it. Determined to help, Jay does some snooping for answers—and winds up on the wrong end of a centuries-old curse. The good news is there’s a way to break it. The bad news is it might cost Jay his life.

This is one of the most romantic and heartbreaking stories I've read. I'm going to try very hard to review this without spoilers though because I really don't want to ruin this story.

The characters: Jay, Lethe and, my favourite, Gristle. Jay is the MC and Gristle is his best friend. I've never seen two characters who love each other more (maybe Jean & Locke from The Lies of Locke Lamora), and yet aren't in a romantic relationship. While Jay is gay, Gristle is straight, but he still truly, deeply, madly loves his best friend. This friendship, relationship, was so achingly beautiful. Gristle wanted nothing more than to protect his best friend, to keep him safe. Jay just had endless love for Gristle. Honestly, this friendship it grabbed my heart and didn't let go.

Lethe is the busker Jay sees, the one who catches his eye and make him think about wanting more than what he already has. Lethe is evasive and enigmatic and all is not as it seems. For Lethe's part, Jay is the end to years of people not seeing him as he really is. Jay is the one person who knows him properly and, for a boy then man who has kept himself away from society unless his face was hidden, being with Jay is like being able to breathe again.

The story: This is a contemporary story with a magical twist. A curse passed down through the centuries blights Lethe's life. I loved this element of the story, it was so well written - and the sub-story of it, of being hidden in plain sight; of people seeing what they want to see. It's both terrifying and real and I couldn't get enough. Although Jay loves both Gristle and Lethe, this isn't a love triangle, at least not in the traditional way. Lethe is his boyfriend, Gristle his best friend - but they can't meet, not properly and at times Jay is torn between the two.

Anyta's way of addressing the issues at hand is so natural, nothing feels forced or convenient in her stories and the same is very much true of this one. The New Zealand setting is beautiful, beyond beautiful really. The lives of these characters so real, even with the magic mixed in. I want to tell everyone to go and read this...but a word of caution, your heart will not be intact by the end of it. I'm not sure mine is yet but it is so worth reading. If for no other reason than to meet Jay, Lethe and of course my wonderful, beautiful, Gristle.

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