The Tied Man (The Tied Man, #1) - Tabitha McGowan I'm not totally sure what to say about this book. To say I loved it feels trite, inadequate, and too simplistic. Trying to put it into a category is almost like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. You can get it to fit but only if you shave off the sharp edges, but then you have a round peg. Not what you started with.

Lillith Bresson is a controversial reclusive artist who becomes ensnared in the utterly evil machinations of Lady Blaine Abermarle and a rescues a young man known as Finn Strachan, Lady Abermare's companion.

In many ways, The Tied Man is a twisted fairy tale. There is an element of an otherworldly quality to Albermarle Hall and all it's inhabitants/visitors. The Hall itself is isolated, dark, and scary. It is as much a part of this story as Lillith, Finn, Henry, or Blaine. It holds its dark secrets close, and there is not one minute it's threatening, menacing presence isn't just in your face from the lack of electricity, the stone floors, to winding stone staircases, the dungeon, and a 17th century prison cell.

A long time ago I read the story of the Snow Queen. A little boy and girl who are best friends are separated when a splinter of an enchanted mirror pierces the eye of the little boy, Kai. Because of the splinter he sees only ugliness in the world, his family, and his friend, Gerda. He becomes fascinated with snow flakes which allows the Snow Queen to lure him away one day. She abducts Kai, kisses him once to numb him from the cold and again to wipe his memories of his grandmother and Gerda. The Snow Queen takes Kai to her cold palace and imprisons him. The only way to win his freedom is to spell"eternity" with pieces of ice in her kingdom. Gerda goes on a circuitous quest to rescue Kai and encounters many obstacles. But she eventually gains access to the ice palace. She finds Kai and her tears melt his hardened heart. When he, too,begins to cry, the shard falls out of his eye. He and Gerda are freed and with the help of other characters leave the palace and return home.

The Tied Man reminds me of that story. Finn's (Kai) outlook is colored by all the morally repugnant things he has had done to him and that he has done. Perhaps his life didn't begin with that ugliness, but just like Kai, his eye was pierced by a piece of the enchanted mirror when his mother's "friend" assaulted him at 13. His fear of needles and all his subsequent choices are colored by that event. Afterward he could never look at his life as anything worthy. All was dark, horrific violence, drugs, and prostitution. The groundwork was laid for Lady Blaine Abermarle (the Snow Queen) to sweep in, offer protection for his younger sisters (the kiss that numbs from the cold), and the promise of a better life for him off the streets (the kiss that wipes his memories). Of course, when you bargain with the devil, you always lose. Finn lost and as he says in the beginning:

"The summer I met Lillith Bresson, I had begun to die. Not physically you understand. I had never been that lucky. But each day a little more of my soul disappeared, and Blaine sensed it.

And Blaine Abermarle never let anything escape without a fight."

Lillith is at her core as pure of heart as Gerda and just as determined to protect those she loves. She is as fierce as a Valkyrie when she fights for Daniel and later for Finn. Lillith's quest is as convoluted and complicated as Gerda's, but she is a "force of nature" that rolls over anything in her path. Her strength is her ability to notice "details most people don't see and then piece them together" in a way that strips people down to a bared soul with all its goodness and evil laid bare. She was rather off putting at first because she came off as harshly honest. She didn't filter what she said. The thought/ opinion formed, and she said it. What at first appeared as an unpalatable characteristic soon felt as welcome as a fresh, cleansing rain, especially after the horror and depravity and unmitigated evil embodied in Blaine, her minions, and the visitors to Albermarle Hall.

Lady Blaine Abermarle is, of course, the Snow Queen who goes around luring people into her traps and collecting information on them to enable her to have power over people. She relentlessly hunts for a weakness or a failing, and once it's exposed, she uses those chinks in your armor to manipulate and control you forever. Once she sinks her talons into you, she owns your soul. There is no escape from her icy, paralyzing prison. Blaine is a cross between Machiavelli and the Marquis de Sade. In fact the dear old Marquis could learn quite a few things about pain and pleasure from Blaine.

Is The Tied Man an erotic novel? Well, there are parts that may qualify - sexual acts that go beyond bondage, m/m/m and m/f/m scenarios, violence committed during those scenarios. Is it a romance? Well, at the core there is a very sweet romance between Finn and Lili that develops slowly and almost tenderly at times. What about a horror novel? Again, there were parts that truly horrified me, but there are no monsters like vampires, werewolves, deformed immortal campers like Jason, or hockey-mask wearing knife-wielding Michael Myers. The monsters are the ones who appear normal and sane, with attractive or even beautiful facades but are really rotten at the core as well as profoundly immorally depraved. Romantic suspense maybe? Yep, that's there too, except intense suspenseful. I kept thinking,"OK, that was really bad, but now it will get better, easier. Right? Right?" No. Events in the last third or so of The Tied Man were unrelenting, and the tension built to a point that I felt as taut as a bowstring. And it doesn't stop until the very end.

The Tied Man is brilliantly written, the pacing is spot on, the characters are different and complex. There are passages that painted such stunning visuals in my brain. This one in particular still lingers days later:

"His head was tilted back and turned towards the two-way mirror, and hs glazed eyes were open, the left one stained crimson from a burst blood vessel, staring straight at me in blank despair. His arms were outstretched as if in supplication and his fingers twitched against the sheets."

I felt the despair, the hopelessness, the defeat in Finn as he lay there like a broken doll. That was powerful to me. As Finn fatalistically proclaims: "But at the end of the day, everything I do costs me. The only question is how much", I wanted to comfort him, to free him from Blaine as much as Lillith did.

So, if The Tied Man is all of those things and none of those things, is there a category for that? The Tied Man is all of that and more. It's dark in ways that made me shudder, cringe, and catch my breath. It moved me to tears in parts. The Tied Man is stark in its realism. There were times I was 100% certain that the horrors that went on at Albermarle Hall are probably actually occurring somewhere. It is an intense, page turning, breathless, insane roller coaster ride. I did not want it to end. The Tied Man is an experience I will never forget.