Review: Inside Darkness by Hudson Lin

He’s come in from the field, but the darkness has followed him home.

After a decade as an aid worker, Cameron Donnelly returns home jaded, tired, and with more than just a minor case of PTSD. Plagued by recurring nightmares but refusing to admit he has a problem, Cam quickly spirals into an alcohol-infused depression, and everyone around him is at a loss for how to help.

Journalist Tyler Ang met Cam on a reporting assignment in Kenya, and their first encounters were rife with hostility and sexual tension. Back in New York, their paths continually cross, and each time, Cam’s brokenness reminds Ty more and more of his own difficult childhood. Letting Cam in goes against Ty’s instinct to live life autonomously, but the damaged aid worker manages to sneak past his guard.

Their relationship is all sharp corners and rough edges, and just as they’re figuring out how to fit together, a life-threatening accident puts it all in jeopardy. If they want a future together, both will have to set aside their egos and learn to carry each other’s burdens.

I honestly don't know what came over me here. Nothing about that blurb usually appeals to me. Hurt/Comfort is hit or miss. I'm averse to books that feature mental illness. Pain usually sends me into the blanket fort, but for whatever reason when I first saw this book a couple months ago I was drawn to it. Maybe it's the word 'darkness' in the title, maybe it's the cover or maybe it's some weird woowoo shit. Whatever it was I'm glad for it, because this book was seriously good.

Cam has spent 10 years as a UN aid worker. He's a lifer but that dedication has taken its toll. His PTSD is at the forefront of this story and well portrayed; there are no magic cures. It takes work and his trauma isn't something that disappears when he connects with Ty. He's plagued by nightmares, battles depression, anger outbursts and avoidance behaviors even after he's been in treatment a while. He's been through a lot but I enjoyed the authenticity of there being one standout incident that not only traumatized him but forced him to change. The struggle to downshift out of that mentality isn't an easy thing for him. The distraction of constantly being busy while on assignment kept it at bay to a certain extent, but once he returns home those distractions evaporate. He needs to fill that darkness with something to make it go away and suffice to say, he spins out.

He met Ty while he was on assignment in Kenya and there was a connection, though short-lived, but life seems to keep throwing them together-on the flight home, at a party, wandering in a random neighborhood, they keep running into each other. I'm kind of a sucker for fate and these two seem fated to me.

Ty, too, has his own demons. He is self-reliant to a fault and almost single-mindedly driven toward his goal of becoming a successful journalist. He likes to travel light and has acquired a bit of a reputation, but Cam's vulnerability burrows beneath his armor and Ty seems to be the only person Cam turns to when it gets to be too much.

It felt like too much sacrifice to be apart for anything more than a few seconds. They had navigated through a maze of wrong turns and false starts to find the real versions of each other, and they couldn't afford to lose even one moment.

Their palpable emotional connection is what impressed me most about this book and Lin's writing style. She brought these two flawed human beings together in such an incremental way that neither of them really noticed they were in love until they had already become part of each other, fitting into the other's blank spaces. I also liked that they decided they were going to be together, despite everything they were going to make it work because the alternative was unbearable.

Their romance is a quiet but compelling one. If you're looking for a romance-y romance this will likely fall flat for you. Their relationship felt honest to me in all its rockiness. They miscommunicate. They ghost each other. Other times they are staggeringly honest with each other. They argue and can be dicks to the other, but they seem to always be drawn back together. I found myself liking both of them and rooting for them. Their journey is fraught with obstacles, some internal and some external, but what resonated was how natural their relationship evolved, how organic their conversations were and how unpretentious their story was. There's something to be said for two thorny dudes finding love.

My only quibble is Cam's "darkness". There was something about the frequency of him referring to it coupled with him referring to it as almost a separate entity that was both heavy-handed at times and somewhat disconcerting. Nevertheless, I'll definitely be keeping my eye on this author in the future.

Recommend to hurt/comfort and quiet romance fans.

An ARC was provided by NetGalley.

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