Review: Clouded Hell by J.R. Gray

I survive on avoidance. Physical pain to avoid the mental. Disposable flesh to avoid relationships. Work to avoid attachment.

My club became my empire of avoidance. Inside the ring millions are won and lost. The fight is confined to breaths, actions and reactions, fists and pain. Rules don’t exist. Only my opponent exists.

I’d been avoiding my needs for far too long when Remi stumbles into the Inferno and I’m hungry. The promise of a submissive with no attachment is far too tempting. I can’t resist him.

He was only supposed to be a distraction, but I know I'll never get over him. There isn't a chance in this clouded hell.

The saying goes “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. Well I didn’t. I judged it purely on it’s name. I had no other information to go on when I took a chance and requested to read this story. The blurb wasn’t even available on Goodreads. I thought maybe it would be a paranormal book, and those can go either way. They are either really interesting or they suck and I get sad.

But this book is not paranormal. It is contemporary. And when I opened it up just to read the first page so I could log it on my spreadsheet under whatever genre it was, well, I ended up reading the whole freaking book. Every single word.

I had such a great time with this story. Dante is the owner of a bar that hosts underground fights, and he has some pretty heavy emotional baggage that he carries around with him, which makes him introverted and broody. He seeks fights to soothe his masochistic tendencies instead of sex, because sex could lead to emotional connections he just doesn’t want.

Remi has his eyes on Dante for a particular purpose. A no strings attached arrangement that will be beneficial to both of them. After watching Dante for a few weeks, he decides to approach the unapproachable man, based on the assurance that he will not get attached, and neither will Dante. In theory anyway.

There was a lot going on with this story. It would be considered dark to a lot of readers. Given my tendency for taboo and erotic-horror, I found it edgy myself. I really enjoyed the mysteriousness in the beginning. It gave the discovery a little more of a kick. Working out what was going on was part of the fun in the first part of the book. Some may disagree, but I really enjoyed the slow reveal.

The relationship structure may trip some people up. It was a really interesting concept, and I thought it was mostly believable. There were some scratch my head moments, but I could see how the tangled web would have started.

The BDSM element worked well. The limits were pretty basic (as in, not many), and the scenes were enjoyable and hot. I was completely focused on everything that Remi and Dante were feeling during their point of view. It wasn’t overly complicated, and it flowed really well. Knife-play is definitely my thing, and the way that scene was done got me going.

The fight scenes were fun, described well, and made the story exciting. I’ve read a few books where the Dom is also a masochist, and I really enjoyed that in this story too. It creates a really interesting contrast that not many authors touch. The fact that Dante chose fighting instead of SSC BDSM was an understandable choice. For him, it would become too complicated, and he wasn’t interested in finding someone to Top him in any way. It was risky, but that is the tone of the story anyway, so it worked. I thought it was well done, and added another layer to the characters.

Remi started to unravel a lot once he had a taste of Dante’s domination, and I really enjoyed watching that self-actualisation. It was frustrating at times, but it was consistent. Even though I was screaming at them to just stop the nonsense and change their lives to fit each other, they consistently stuck to their commitments, because the storyline demanded that they do. All the angles leaned towards what they were doing was all that could happen. There was just no way around any of it, and still have a good outcome.

I enjoyed the writing style and the easy flow. I was never lost or confused, and I didn’t notice any glaring grammar problems or style issues. I haven’t read anything by J.R. Gray before, but I am aware of prior work. I enjoyed discovering this author’s style and delivery. The story was set out well, with that rough, dark element that comes from the type of characters written, but the writing was good for me. Each character’s voice was clearly defined and I had no trouble picking out their personality.

Remi in business mode - I enjoyed his mask. The contrast between who he is in the business world and who he is in private was like night and day. I really enjoyed the way his walls were taken down by Dante and then built back up when the session ended. I liked that he was honest enough with himself and with Dante to ask for what he needed. Both characters had enough depth to carry the story.

Dante wasn’t over the top with his baggage. His hurt didn’t become annoying. It was understandable, and perfectly stated. There was no time where I thought to dismiss his hesitation. His wounds weren’t his excuse, and he didn’t try to escape the pull of Remi. He was cautious, but not angsty, and didn’t flip-flop internally, just tried to understand himself and put things into perspective.

I would love if this was part of a series. I really enjoyed these characters, and I would love to see a follow up from the ending.

I don’t want to give too much away because part of the fun for me was going in blind and being shown. If you enjoy edgy stories about anti-heroes, and lean more toward RACK than SSC in your BDSM content, then this is definitely the story for you.

There is a fair amount of violence in this story (you know, with the underground fighting ring), so fair warning if that isn’t your thing. It also doesn’t have a traditional happy-for-now ending, but then I don’t need that.

Trigger warning: discussions of assisted suicide, alcoholism, homophobia, organised crime, and violence.

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Find out more on Goodreads.

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