AFTER READING Our Sweet Revenge: Unbreakable Ties Book 1, I had to take a moment before writing my thoughts down; I needed to process what I’d experienced. The author, A.V. Shener, has stated that if he manages to make his readers “both captivated and uncomfortable,” he’s done his job. Well, I was definitely both, so congratulations, sir.
The story is a revenge thriller focused around four college friends whose current older lives have gone in different, often challenging and disappointing directions; this has strained some relationships within the quartet. Ethan, a FedEx driver, is our main narrator, and he’s floundering, having lost both his company and his mojo during the COVID-19 pandemic. Out gay man Jay, a home renovator and Anthony, an ex-con, newly released, remain in contact with Ethan and have stayed friendly. The novel’s main antagonist is Chris, the yuppie, married with a kid; consumed by money, success and appearances, he’s distanced himself from the group of friends. Ethan still considers him his best friend and continues to make excuses for him.
When the three friends eventually share their stories of how Chris has personally done them wrong over the years, Anthony spearheads a revenge scheme that involves a remote cabin where they used to spend time together during their college years. There, they will take their vengeance upon their “frenemy!’ What follows is a dark and disturbing miasma of secrets upon secrets, additional shocking revelations and sex and violence that rips open old wounds, irrevocably changing the landscape of the men’s friendships, if not the trajectory of their lives.
Shener skillfully exhibits each character’s distinct personality and role within the narrative. However, I did have an issue with the narration slipping a few times from one character’s voice to another without enough textual separation to distinguish the new perspective. It took me out of the flow of the narrative momentarily. Aside from that, Shener is a great storyteller.
Let’s be clear—this is a novel written for an adult audience, tackling intense scenes of sex, violence and psychological warfare. There is a lot to digest, especially for sensitive readers. I came into this novel thinking I knew what I was in for, but I must admit the occasional scenario and character statement shook me. The narrative has several “powder keg” themes beyond what I stated above, including views on monogamy, open relationships, child abuse, prison trauma, rape, and bi-awakening—or divergence from queer repression, depending on how you view it. Like I said at the beginning, there was a lot for me to unpack upon finishing the novel. Was I entertained? Absolutely. But not everything sat well with me—which I suppose is another triumph for the author and his goal to both delight and unnerve his readers.
Now, let’s talk about the steam. There are numerous graphic sex scenes in the book, consensual and non-consensual, involving the four main characters, and the author does not obfuscate the details of male anatomy or how men may pleasure or sexually torture one another. This is a thriller, not an MM romance. Gay/queer men’s sex is too often grossly sanitized or omitted entirely in conventional fiction. Whenever a genre writer includes depictions of sex between men, especially scenes of anal play, I applaud them for depicting it and, in the process, normalizing it. Not every writer can pull it off without seeming clunky or forced, raising questions like, “Do they even know what they’re talking about?!” That’s not the case here; Shener is masterful in characterizing gay pleasure and its varied techniques.
And yes, the men are all hot, but I appreciate that the author took great care to detail the physical differences of each man and how their unique masculine aesthetic was just as sexy as the next. Jay’s butch, rough exterior is written as titillating as Anthony’s gym-going muscle dude, etc…
The novel’s ending is shocking. Eroticism, taboo exploration, and the psychology of extortionist sex carry us over into the forthcoming sequel, The Gentlemen’s Club: Unbreakable Ties Book 2, which promises to be a further dive into the past and present of our characters’ complicated relationships with each other. Our Sweet Revenge: Unbreakable Ties Book 1 by A.V. Shener is a complex, provocative exploration of resentment and how sex, lies, and betrayal can infect a supposed tight-knit friendship, leading to violence. To Revenge. Bold story-telling from author A.V. Shener.