Hale has put a fantasy twist on a classical historical setting, The Inquisition. During that time in actual history, Roman Catholic zealots persecuted, tortured and killed many people in an effort to "find the truth" (forcefully convert those who didn't believe) and root out "heresy." It was a shocking time in history, and as such, it is a dark but appropriate setting for this story.
Generations ago, the priests of the Inquisition convinced the Lords of Hell to embrace salvation. The descendants of those demon lords are called Prodigals, and they are a heavily persecuted minority easily identified by their black fingernails and unusual eye color. Forbidden to leave the Capital city, or use their demon abilities, they are packed into the Prodigal ghetto called Hells Below. The Inquisition priests are now the only law enforcement and use brutal methods to keep the Prodigals in line. One such Prodigal is Belimai Sykes. He was taken by the priests and forced to "confess." During these interrogations, they addicted him to ophorium, and broke his spirit in the process. William Harper is an Inquisition Captain, who comes to Belimai for help in finding his sister - known for her Prodigal sympathies. She disappeared after many Prodigals turned up mutilated and murdered. This unlikely pair will face dangerous obstacles, and uncover horrifying truths in their investigation. And though they know society will never allow it, they are drawn to each other....
Hale's debut is astonishing and extremely well written. The book flowed smoothly, with a lot of action and great dialog. Belimai's sly comments and secretive nature capture a reader, while Harper's deep desire for justice and happiness are all too real. These two men are so well developed, they come completely to life. They are deeply flawed people, who you can't help but feel for. Their relationship isn't instantaneous - it builds with each chapter as the two become more entwined in the case, and each other. There is sex, but it isn't gratuitous, or graphic. In fact, those moments are revealing and touching as the two men try to find a moment of bliss in their dark world. The mystery of the missing sister and the murdered Prodigals is intricate, with surprising twists that keep a reader guessing what will happen next. Though the ending felt a little rushed, with everything coming to a climax in the last chapter, it was very satisfying. Hale has left room for a sequel, which I can only hope comes to be. I want to spend more time with Prodigals.
This is one of those rare books that will stay with you long after you've finished the last page. Wicked Gentlemen is a delight!