My first read of this book was just reading the Qhuinn and Blay parts. My second read including reading the book in full with all the side stories. I think if I had not read the Qhuay parts first I would have been chomping at the bit for the scenes with the guys. Was able to enjoy more the second time around confident in what was going to happen with the guys and enjoy then the pace of their interactions. Without the side stories, the Qhuay parts were probably close in size to the first two books which didn't have all the side stories. I think our guys got their due and will obviously be a part of the future story with Layla due to the baby.
What I liked:
Up front, I am incredibly pleased to see m/m go mainstream. It's about time and it was needed. This book did a great job being a trendsetter in that respect.
I was worried I had built this book up too much because I so wanted Qhuinn and Blay's love story. We have been with these guys over several books and their lost love. I'm happy to find out that although there were some things I wanted and weren't there, overall, I'm pretty pleased. We got our love story. Qhuinn came a long way in finally confessing to Blay his feelings. He apologized several times, it was clear that he was torn up that he had missed his chance with Blay due to his stupidity. Blay got to be upset, got to express his doubt, frustration and disbelief at Qhuinn's change of heart. We had seen the internal changes rattling around in Qhuinn in previous books and his feelings for Blay being admitted but Blay hadn't. It was going to take some time and Qhuinn kept trying even though he doubted he would succeed. I felt his desperation at having Blay any way Blay was willing. He craved Blay, his touch, his friendship and his love. He admitted to himself that it was Blay who was his world. He said the things he needed to say, kept saying them to get Blay to believe.
Blay didn't change in this one, he was that same solid, caring guy we have all grown to love. Even when mad at Qhuinn, he cared and wouldn't do something to hurt him. He got to express his anger and doubt. He got to yell and scream. He also took the chance when presented with Qhuinn. He was there when Qhuinn needed him, and above all we knew Blay's love. I don't believe he is threatened anymore by Layla. The bar scene confession was well done. I liked that Q knew he needed to reassure Blay about Layla. I liked that Blay was the one to help Layla. Love Blay, absolutely love him. He deserves his HEA. Him giving up his signet ring was so sigh worthy.
Love Z calling the guys "son." Oh, Z, you will always have my heart and how far you have come. His "little female" comment was adorable.
Blay's parents reacted even better than I had hoped. They had been written previously to be very accepting and down to earth and I was glad that was reinforced in this one. Blay's coming out to his mom was absolutely perfect. Her reaction was simply wonderful.
Love that Q is a cuddler :). Loved that Q bottomed as well. Loved that both guys marked and gave off bonding scents. Loved that neither guy was forced to play a lesser role in the relationship. These guys were equals with equal feelings. Loved that the BDB were all in support although we didn't see much of them in this one. I also liked that at the end, it was clear both guys would touch each other in public and that we will hopefully get a mating ceremony!!!!
Please give Saxton a HEA. He might not be a lead story but let him have a side story or novella in the future. I enjoyed that he wasn't made a bad guy in this. He was the good guy he's always been. I appreciated that Saxton didn't crawl into a corner and mourn after breaking up with Blay. He went out, got laid and took a vacation. Good for him. I also liked that it appears that him and Blay will remain friends.
Before this book, I never would have believed I would be interested in Assail. I really liked him and Sola together. I could get behind their book.
As far as Layla, I have been somewhat ambivalent to her. I haven't hated her but I have had concerns as to what she would do when Qhuinn went after Blay. Fortunately, she didn't get in the way of Qhuinn and Blay and in some ways helped things along. If I had gotten a single hint that she was lusting after Qhuinn I would have been upset but it was pretty clear that she was written as Qhuinn being a friend and the father of her child - not a romantic interest. I also liked that Layla continued to grow a backbone. Good for her. I just might enjoy her and Xcor's story when it happens. The scene with her meeting up with Xcor was pretty powerful. They clearly have a connection. I liked that she finds him handsome while he only sees his deformity.
Was also good to see Qhuinn get inducted into the BDB. He deserved it and we all know John will be getting in soon as well. Blay should as well. He's clearly a good enough fighter but more steady in his growth.
And I loved, loved, loved the ending line - they lived happily ever after :) Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, JR Ward. No John-Xhex break ups, please, for these two.
What I didn't like:
I didn't like that Qhuinn and Blay's encounters through all but the end were done under the guise that Qhuinn felt Blay was cheating on Saxton with him. Seemed there could have been a known break up and Blay simply not believing Qhuinn's change of feelings, especially with his hooking up history. It also seemed out of character for Blay to keep the lie going. That dropped this rating a full star.
I also really, really hoped we would get a love scene after the big bar confessions between the guys that was more than the one we got 2 weeks later. I wanted a loving scene of them coming together after the confessions in the bar. The ending was a bit rushed.
I also wanted a Qhuinn and Saxton interaction/apology after the confessions. These guys were good friends at one time and favorite cousins.
No scene with John being told of Qhuinn and Blay reconnecting? These guys are best friends and it seems like John didn't have a clue what was going on.
I still have a hard time with the lesser stories. I realize there needs to be set up so we know the evil coming, but the lesser viewpoints have never moved me.
I really like the shadows in previous books but Trez was driving me a bit nuts with all his banging. He's going to have to develop a bit more for me to get on board with him truly caring for Selena and it not just being lust. I do like the story possibility of him being engaged since birth. I want to learn more about shadow society and maybe the princess will end up being a love interest for someone else down the road (assuming she's good). Maybe Luchas?
It would be ok for this reader to have some lube references :). The first scene it was clear that cum was used but after that, it's ok to reference lube, a spit swipe, etc. We don't need to hide that from m/f.
Continuity note - Wrath made the comment that it had just been over two years since Beth's transition. Wow. That seems like a quick amount of change - I would have thought we were further along in time at this point 11 books later. Bella's pregnancy was 18 months over the course of the books up to ending of Unleashed and then we had a few books and finally Tohr's was a year with no other book overlap.