REVIEW: Black Kitten by Melissa Sweeney

Vincenzo, a prominent man in New York’s mafia scene, has become the proprietor of sever well-known speakeasies throughout the state, including Black Kitten, a popular gay bar in Harlem. Here, he meets his girlfriend, Sylvia Belmonte, a girl who he’d drop everything for, even his own Family name. But can he fully open up to her? Can he tell her that he, too, is transgender?

Sylvia, when she isn’t panicking about the infinite possibilities of what might happen in her melancholic life, plays piano at the Black Kitten. Her biggest dream is to find a man who love her for her, but with her track record, she thought it’d be impossible. Then Vincenzo DiFiore walked into her bar, and now she has two things she thought she’d never have: a man, and optimism for a better future. The two are now trying to stay together while their prejudicial worlds refuse to accept their love.

Warnings: depictions of racism homophobia and transphobia, usage of racial homophobic and transphobic slurs, suicide and self harm mention, gang violence

Category: M/F

Black Kitten is a webnovel that has recently been put in print thanks to a successful Kickstarter funding campaign. Set in the 1920’s New York mafia and LGBT scenes, it is an action packed drama that reads like a classic mob movie. It’s an edge of your seat whirlwind of a ride, interspersed with more tender moments of vulnerability, a cast of incredibly endearing and personable characters, and demonstrates an astounding amount of heart.

The writing is very well done, the story moving at a clipped pace and alternating between it’s casts POVs. The story is a big city mafia drama, the likes of which would make a stellar film and has a certain early cinema aesthetic quality to it. And, being set in the queer scene, it is very much a story about social misfits and the struggles inherent to queer people in the 20s; both the struggles of those who are loud and proud about their identities, as well as the struggle of those who choose to stay closeted. As such, this is very likely going to be a fairly difficult story to read for many people. It could easily hit a little close to home between it’s depictions of bigotry, abuse, and self loathing. That said, it’s also ultimately a story of hope in the midst of strife, and of acceptance and the bonds of friendship and found family. The characters learn and grow, they wrestle with their identities and the identities of each other, and the focal point of the story is acceptance even in the face of adversity. It’s also action packed and full of both suspenseful drama, as well as hanging in quieter moments as the characters simply exist and get to know each other. It nails the balance of action to character development incredibly well.

I adored the cast of Black Kitten immensely. They all have their baggage, their struggles, their loves and their own hopes and dreams and watching each of them blossom into their relationships and their growth was a joy. I found not only the development of each of them as individuals, but the growth in their connections to each other to be beautifully woven, and I was so happy to go on this journey with them. It can certainly be a roller coaster ride, as the characters navigate their ups and downs, but the love, support and acceptance they all share made the trek worth it. Sylvia in particular has to be one of the sweetest, most tender characters I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over the course of a novel like this, and her personality warmly contrasted with the more brash, chip on his shoulder Vincenzo. The villains were all very well written as well, in terms of truly being characters that you want to hate, and I cheered with each moment that they were taken down a peg.

In Black Kitten, we are treated to the world of New York mafia and queer scenes in the 20s. It seems pretty well researched, from the speakeasies of the scene to the era specific lingo and slang terminology. That said I haven’t researched those things myself so while I can say they felt organic, I can’t actually comment on how historically accurate they are. I really liked the way the story fleshes out it’s various locales, the different mini cultures that exist side by side to one another, and the ways in which those cultures clash up against each other. The liberated queer scene, the conservative older folks, and the violence of mafia life all managed to feel real and believable. The characters also have an awful lot of very open and frank conversations about queer identities and concepts, many at times expressing confusion and learning as the story unfolds. This means they often make blunders, stepping directly into insensitive remarks so while I would again caution readers who are sensitive to hearing or reading about such things being said, I can also say that it felt real in the sense that these are real questions that many people do ask and struggle to learn.

Despite having the main pairing as an already established committed couple at the beginning of the book, this is a slow burn, sexually speaking. Due to keeping his trans identity hidden, even from his girlfriend, Vincenzo is not comfortable getting overly sexual with Sylvia until very very far into the book. Watching their relationship slowly deepen over time, with patience and loving affirmations was beautiful, and I really loved the way that they connect sexually before they ever consummate their relationship. Sylvia has a high sex drive, but Vincenzo is not just reluctant to let her see his body, but also has a rather low sex drive himself. The way the two bridge this gap, the way Sylvia accepts him both before and after discovering why he is so reluctant to engage in sex, just made their relational aspect, and therefore the sex scenes, all the sweeter. If you were a Kickstarter backer, there is also a collection of very sweet explicit scenes that comes separately, exploring the other couples in the book as well! I really loved how this novel handled it’s intimate moments, and it made the characters feel all the more real and endearing.

While this is more of a drama than a smut novel, I really thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I will say (without spoiling too much) that I thought the ending was a tad bittersweet for me. I would have been happier with a more conclusive “and they all lived happily ever after” fairy tale ending for these wonderful sweethearts, as I loved the time I spent with them. This author really has a way with connections and intimacy that was absolutely stunning, and I hope to see more in the future!

Have you read Black Kitten? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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