Riven by Roan Parrish. Loveswept. 2018. Read by Chris Chambers and Iggy Toma.
Content Warnings for review: brief discussions of addiction, trauma and sex scenes, with no specific details.
One of the most striking things about Riven is how much it’s about music, and how composing, performing, and collaborating on music is deeply central and gorgeously, compellingly portrayed. It feels like it captures so much about the intimacy that you can build with other musicians as a musician, the ways the creativity can drive so much about your life, the intensity of relationships that center music. And yes, Theo’s arc is about him reclaiming music for himself and grappling with band dynamics and fame but for me, the reason music is at the center of this story is because Theo and Caleb have such intense musical intimacy together. It made this book feel unique to me, as a rock star romance; the only comparable romance I can think of is Syncopation by Anna Zabo.
I loved Riven so much, found it such an intense and compelling and gorgeous ride of a book that it kind of overwhelmed me, made it hard for me to find words to talk about how much I loved it, to capture what about it felt so unique and precious. It has all the hallmarks of a Parrish romance, from the beautiful language to the intense and deeply drawn angst to the striking chemistry and extremely hot sex scenes to the complex characterization to the way the characters are exactly right together while still being so flawed and human, to the way it honors other relationships beyond the central romantic one. I will basically read everything she writes, even while it tears my heart out and makes me feel so intensely I need to stop and breathe for a bit before continuing. This has all of that in it, and it has this gorgeous specificity and intimacy about music, and an arc around addiction that felt so delicately and specifically drawn that it took my breath away.
I read this first as an ARC, in May 2018, and could not find the words to review, was so overwhelmed by the way it affected me that making words was impossible. This is one of the things that happens to me as an autistic reader; books that hit me in the feels or resonate deeply are really hard to review after one read because I’m mostly just managing how much they impact. I bought it on audio, because I loved it so much, because I adore the narrators (Chris Chambers and Iggy Toma), and because sometimes rereading on audio lets me take a story in more slowly, and I can make words about it. I was right, after listening to the audio, I was able to write this review.
One of the aspects of the story that resonated so deeply was Theo, who felt neuroatypical to me in some ways that really resonated, as an autistic trauma survivor. The way he is so lost in reading people around him, the way he clearly sinks into hyperfocus, how tender and thin-skinned he is and how intensely he feels, how stuck he gets in seeing things in a particular way, how other-focused he is, how thrown he gets when things don’t go the way he expects they will. It might be because I connected to Theo that I especially appreciated his arc, and really enjoyed watching Caleb fall for him. But it was also really lovely to see a character with so much emotional armor who was generally pretty grumpy go all sweet. There is definitely a bit of grump/sunshine dynamic going on in this story.
I also want to mention that Caleb’s arc around recovery and relationships really worked for me, as a reader who has been in relationship with addicts. It felt realistic without going to really dark places, which I appreciated. I love how hopeful this book feels, even when the characters are stuck or are in the muck of their problems and insecurities.
Riven is hands down one of my favorite romances I read in 2018 (and 2019), and an m/m romance I will return to again and again. I loved it on audio in particular, and would highly recommend trying it that way if you like audiobooks. It is also really wonderful in print formats. I’m excited to be reading Rend right now, which has a lovely strong narrative voice and center’s Caleb’s best friend. This series is shaping up to be a fave all the way through.
- Gay MC with addiction
- Gay MC who I read as neuroatypical
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
In-depth portrayal of grappling with addiction, and addiction recovery. Parental emotional neglect. Parental addiction. Alcohol use. On the page sex.
- Source of the book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley. Purchased on audiobook for second read.
- I have had some contact with the author on Twitter.
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