Trasmundo: Escape

Trasmundo: Escape - Varian Krylov 4.5 stars

Review originally posted at Sinfully...Addicted to All Male Romance

Luka has not had a happy life. He carries a secret about why his family sent him away from his home in the southern region to work halfway across the country when he was thirteen. He feels overwhelming shame at his lack of education and his homosexuality. The one thing that brings him comfort is losing himself in his art. Now at nineteen he has been accepted into art school and is just beginning to find some joy when it all comes crashing down. The country has been descending towards an ethnic war between the northern and southern regions and Luka’s Bokan ancestry suddenly marks him as different and a threat to the northern Ersbans. As the tensions and violence against Bokans escalate and people begin disappearing, Luka begins to plan his escape, but he is already too late. Forced from his home into a refugee camp, Luka’s troubles only escalate and he finds himself bruised, battered and cast out on his own only to be captured by an Ersban soldier.

Tarik initially believes Luka to be a Bokan soldier he has captured, but soon realizes things aren’t as they seem. He immediately sees something in Luka and has an urge to protect him. He gives Luka food and water and then begins marching him further north for hours at a time. Tarik is on a mission, headed toward a safe house and then his final destination out of the country. Although Tarik says he won’t hurt him, Luka is certain that if he stays Tarik’s prisoner he will eventually end up dead once his secret is uncovered or Tarik no longer needs him, but he is just as certain that the outcome of any escape attempt will have the same result.

As much as the two come to know and rely on each other, Luka carries his shame and hopelessness so deeply, he can’t let it go, fully expecting to be cast aside once they cross the border. Even as he falls in love, he doesn’t fully trust any kindness Tarik shows, but Tarik is determined to convince Luka that he is a beautiful and strong person who is just as worthy of love and happiness as anyone else.

“I feel like I found a treasure in that cave, a treasure that was out there in the light of day for nineteen years, and I don’t know how it’s possible no one before me realized its value.”

From the blub, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book; whether it would be a war story, a POW story or something else altogether. The war is the backdrop and the catalyst for the story, and it is gritty and dark in places, but the focus is on Tarik getting to know Luka and finding a kindred spirit as Luka fights his fears and shame and just maybe opens himself enough to experience true happiness.

This was my first book by Varian Krylov and I was immediately drawn in. I liked Luka from the start. He is so broken and beat down, my heart broke every time more of his past was revealed. He has been abused, shamed and abandoned so many times that it is what he has come to expect. Even the joy and escape he finds in his art comes with painful memories. Despite all he’s been through, Luka remains somewhat of an innocent and deep down still yearns for the love and affection he doesn’t think he is worthy of.

The story is told in dual points of view so the reader quickly becomes aware that Tarik is not a monster, but a well-educated man who is just as much a victim of this war as Luka is. The characters have very distinct voices that serve to highlight the differences in their backgrounds. I found the quotes at the start of each chapter really set the tone for what was to come. Before starting this book I would suggest looking at the painting Trasmundo by Remedios Varo that lends the book it’s title and is a favorite of Luka’s.

The book had a good amount of suspense and drama, but it’s the love story that really shines. Alternating between treks through the country’s dangerous terrain and holing up in safe houses, both while avoiding the Ersban troops and the dangers of the war around them, the two men have plenty of time to learn about each other and explore feelings that are new to both of them. Convinced that what he feels is dirty and wrong, I loved seeing Luka slowly open himself to the possibility that he can be accepted and loved for who he is, and maybe he can accept himself that way as well.

There are many layers to each of the characters and as much as we learn about them and as close as the two men get, Luka is still a work-in-progress, loving Tarik but not trusting that what they have can last. Escaping the country is just the first part of their story, and with a planned continuation in Trasmundo Book Two: Exile, I would say the ending is HFN. While it’s not a cliffhanger there are some parts of the storyline that remain unfinished. I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment.