Kamai was warned never to open the black door, but she didn’t listen …
Everyone has a soul. Some are beautiful gardens, others are frightening dungeons. Soulwalkers―like Kamai and her mother―can journey into other people’s souls while they sleep.
But no matter where Kamai visits, she sees the black door. It follows her into every soul, and her mother has told her to never, ever open it.
When Kamai touches the door, it is warm and beating, like it has a pulse. When she puts her ear to it, she hears her own name whispered from the other side. And when tragedy strikes, Kamai does the unthinkable: she opens the door.
DISCLAIMER: I received an ARC from Fierce Reads in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED OCTOBER 29, 2019
CW: nudity, violence, loss of a loved one, suicide, gore, self-harm, animal death, internalized acephobia
This book has utterly destroyed me, and I want to tell it only one thing: thank you.
Since I started book blogging, I’ve been watching ALWAYS for books with asexual representation. Sometimes I’ve found them, too, but often with the same sort of character: the cold, logical type who always has a lid on their emotions. With Sawkill Girls, I first saw a character who was ace and had nuance and wasn’t all cool logic and sensibility. Zoey meant the world to me because she broke away from the limited, stereotypically cold representation I’d seen before.
But now I also have Kamai, who is asexual and demi-biromantic, and I have cried over this book because this is it. Save for a dash of being in the murky realms of figuring out being nonbinary, ace and demi-biromantic is ME.
Every inch of Kamai’s aceness is approached with nuance, from the fear of being broken and the internalized acephobia that comes with that, to the moment of reveling in the fact that this is normal, this is you. And while apparently someone complained about Kamai thinking about sex a lot for someone who’s ace (which, if that review is out there reading this, JUST DON’T), it is entirely normal! Not only is Kamai’s mother a sex worker (which Beyond the Black Door handles with respect and refreshing frankness), but Kamai’s future is initially intended to mirror her mother’s. Who wouldn’t be thinking about sex in that position, especially when you know that sex is at the absolute bottom of your list of interests? Not to mention that it’s incredibly ace to think about sex, even to worry about sex, especially in the early stages of understanding your own aceness. It’s scary and takes up a lot of thinking, and while there can absolutely be a happy ending whether or not sex is on your radar, it can also take time to get to the point of not worrying about it.
Another thing I loved is that there are multiple queer characters. Kamai’s best friend is an ace trans man, and one of her mentor figures is a gay man. Plus, there’s plenty of super minor characters who are established as queer even when they’re only in short scenes, AND there’s even a thing called a soul chart that’s used as a sort of visual aid for mapping gender and sexuality beyond the confines of a binary.
I will mention, though, that Kamai’s friend has a trans experience that some readers may find was handled poorly. Kihan chooses until the end of the book to be referred to with she/her instead of he/him, and by his old name. It was a little jarring for him to come out and then to immediately revert to the pronouns and name he’d been using, and seemed maybe a little antithetical to establishing that yes! This character is trans! However, it struck me as a very real way of coming out, especially when you have your own uncertainties about gender. Rather than leaping straight into a new name and pronouns and the repeated coming out required of doing so, Kihan chose to wait until he was comfortable and felt safe before coming out to anyone besides Kamai and two other supporting characters. Perhaps it could have been handled a little differently, but all things consider, I found Kihan’s transition to be relatively well-handled and realistic, especially since it goes at the pace he dictates.
Now, I suppose I should get to the part of Beyond the Black Door I was actually afraid I wouldn’t like. See, this book is not only asexual in the very best of ways, but it’s also an enemies to lovers story. Just as much as Kamai’s aceness is integral to the plot (which is something of a murder mystery with magic and higher powers and a political depth all wound up in one), so is the enemies to lovers relationship she has with Vehyn.
Of course, if you’ve read pretty much any of my reviews before, you know how picky I can be about romance in a book, ESPECIALLY enemies to lovers. And you probably know that I prefer rivals to lovers because enemies to lovers often progresses to lovers while the power balance between the characters in question is still incredibly skewed. My feelings about enemies to lovers made me SCARED of how this thing between Kamai and Vehyn would play out.
And then A.M. Strickland KNOCKED IT OUT OF THE PARK.
There’s acknowledgment that being demiromantic is weird, especially when it only comes with that pre-established emotional connection to another person, especially since there’s really not a way to predict who those feelings will crop up for until they do. There’s also acknowledgment that what Vehyn and Kamai have is pretty messed up and unequal, and it’s certainly unhealthy. They know they won’t be able to make being lovers work until they find a way to heal the toxic parts of their relationship, and I was so THRILLED with the amount of nuance at hand. If you’re going to do enemies to lovers where one of the parties involved is still very much an antagonist, then this kind of nuance adds SO MUCH to the story. Also, it’s just really nice to see the antagonist be both the love interest and the subject of criticism rather end up romanticized despite his actions.
Really, my only gripe with Beyond the Black Door is that it does slow in some places. This isn’t unusual for a story that does have a layer of political intrigue to it, plus a slowdown as the main characters need to snoop and sneak closer to their goal but can’t rush it, but I do wish it were a hair faster. That said, it’s ultimately a small complaint for a story I found to be absolutely stunning in every other facet. I’m also reviewing an ARC, so there’s every possibility that the finished copy tightens things up just a little bit more.
Really, at the end of the day, it’s pretty difficult to complain. For a book that centers around a romance trope I hate, with an element of political intrigue I typically don’t go out of my way to read, Beyond the Black Door has blown all expectations out of the water. The trope subversion is masterful, the representation so very near and dear to my own heart, and the story brilliant in its contained nature (stand-alones, hell yeah!). I can’t recommend it enough, to be completely honest with you.
If Beyond the Black Door sounds like it’s going to be a good book for you, then you still have a couple days left to place a pre-order and get goodies from the pre-order campaign! It releases October 29th, and if I loved the ARC this much, I can’t wait to see how wonderful the finished copy turns out to be. And while I don’t normally put on any pressure to pre-order a book, this time, I really do urge you to buy it or request it through your library. It means the world to me that this story is so unapologetically ace, and I so badly want the publishing world to see that ace stories are wanted, ace stories need to be heard. 💜