Review: Linhart's Beautiful Beast by Mel Bossa

The Great North, Quebec, 1934. Joe Vega, the Beast, has been locked up in Linhart Prison for three years. The brutish guards harass him because of his size, but Joe remains cool.

Until Christophe Dubois, the disowned son of an affluent politician, is led into Joe's cell. From the moment Joe sees him, he suspects the ginger-head is trouble. Christophe is bold, curious, and feisty, and Joe can't resist the temptation of climbing into the man's bunk for long. However, the beautiful spoiled Christophe is a furnace to which both guards and convicts want to warm their hands, and Joe must fight to keep Christophe safe.

Linhart Prison may be a cruel place, but when the two men are released from its walls, they find an even tougher world out there.

Is the flame burning between Joe and Chris enough to keep them together?

Passionate. Idealistic. Ugly. Crazy. Beautiful.
"Every morning, he woke up hoping this was Dubois's last day in here, but then, when the night came, he'd lie there, praying Dubois stayed another day.He wanted him. Wanted him until he thought he'd lose his mind. "
Prison romances. I love them something fierce. Why? Having to be caged and mentally (sometimes physically) broken down to a bare bones level can make a great read. You thought I was going to say the sex? It can be great too, but I'm looking for the emotion from the inmates. If there is going to be romance, I want broken souls coming together. I want to read and experience their journey.

Mel Bossa accomplishes this with the protagonists in "Linhart's Beautiful Beast".

Set in 1930's Quebec, 21 year old Joe Vega is over 6'6", considered nothing more than an ignorant, immigrant criminal beast. He was sent to Linhart prison aka the "Icebox" where the inmates are really being used for free manual labor. The social injustices outside the prison continues inside the prison: English vs. French in his homeland, civil unrest overseas and this mustachioed man who seems to be garnering attention.

But in Linhart prison, their world is contained by a lot of ice and trees. Joe is not stupid. In fact, he's very well read and full of ideals. He's read all but three books in the entire building, writes love letters for other inmates and though feared for his size and intimidating look, he is respected because he is a gentleman. Already three years in his seven year sentence for a trumped up charge, he gets a new cellmate. The rich, effeminate, ginger haired, twink French teen Christophe Dubois whose father is hated for his political machinations. Dubois happens to have ties to the mafia and all eyes are on him for his alluring presence.
"And do you know why I feel immune to the ugliness in here?" "'Cause you're leaving, and that gives you one thing we don't have...hope." "No, it's because I feel your presence with me at all times. You're that ship, Joseph. I've forsaken my spirit to you. It doesn't matter where you go, or I go. I'm bound to you now."
Captivated yet fighting his attraction, Joe tries to ignore the obviously gay younger man. No one can be trusted, the only person who seems to be honorable is Joe. The author tells the story through the gentle giant. It's sort of a beauty and the beast type of feel. The main characters have a lot of things going against them. It seems there are a lot of factions against them, more in the beginning once everyone notices Dubois is gay. He doesn't hide who he is. And I loved it.
"You could cut...all that out.""You mean the men. Perhaps I could. I'm quite sure I could. But you see, Joe, I don't want to. What you call unnatural is the very essence of my nature."
Trigger warnings: violence, a near non-con scene. The story was like a roller coaster once it started to get air under its sails, around 10-15%. Once it started getting into its pace, the story got more interesting. There were a lot of ideas thrown into this story, most of them worked.

But...there were times the story dragged or ended in an odd spot. Some of the characters acted a little erratic. And the beginning of the main character's relationship...something was too soon but after awhile, I got caught up in their grand declarations.

Things I loved:

The main characters - Joe the uneducated immigrant who thinks like a poet laureate, the "beautiful beast" covered in burn scars. I came to care for. Sometimes he could be a little too goody goody but overall I enjoyed him. I loved reading his internal struggle for loving another man, it read very believable. And Dubois, the passionate young rent boy who loves so crazily, so easily (I questioned the speed of his love in the beginning) he cut his finger off to prove a point to a past lover kind of passion. Dubois knew what he was, didn't hide who he was and that letter he wrote to the warden was everything. Though the boys are fairly young and could be technically be classified as new adult, the life experience they've had and the time period reads more adult. But their actions and trust me some of their choices especially when they are free of Linhart can be frustrating, but it could be blamed on their age. Still, they made quite a pair.

Historical Quebec - The Depression era and WWII aren't my favorite historical time periods to read in romance. There is something about the 1920's-40's that usually takes longer to get my attention. But the Canadian perspective was different and I really enjoyed this. The historical events were intertwined fluidly. You could feel the prison guards' frustration from having to work in the Icebox. The inmates we do meet through Joe are mostly his two friends, Levin and Novak, so their anger about their state of life was written very nicely. And the setting was rich. I really felt like I was in the cold, icy snow, chopping trees with inmates.

Things that were okay/ gave me pause:

Joe's mother - I tried to understand her. Her reactions read weird especially within the last 10%. Now I got to understand she tried to say things without overtly saying them to her son like, 'don't be a homosexual', 'what about your life', etc. But her reactions ping ponged from anger, happiness, lust(?), shame...I lost her character. She didn't like Christophe but she did, there was a birder in her house aka she didn't want the gay business in her house, I think. I don't know. I wish she came across more clearer or at least pick one side of the emotion spectrum when it came to her son so I could understand her more.

Transitioning - It could be a little rough. I think the point was for the reader to read between the lines during some of the pivotal scenes. But sometimes it was difficult to decipher.

Plot points - A lot of ideas, maybe just a little too many? I think some of the plot points could have been pushed further such as the reasoning behind Joe being arrested. It's a plot twist, explanations are given but I think it could have been explored. Maybe seeing the big bad guys in the flesh instead of being talked about secondhand? Maybe a flashback of Joe before being arrested to get a clearer picture on the set up? Some points were underdeveloped.

Though there were some issues, the romance was strong. If your reading for mostly for hot erotica, this had sex but it's secondary to the romance. Some of the scenes are implied/fade to black. There is a HEA. There are some heartbreaking and touching moments.

A passionate tale between two characters who I'd like to think would survive to love for a lifetime no matter what odds.

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