Santino Hassell’s Citywide is basically EVERYTHING to me.
From the second that he announced the title, I was prepared to go into full-squee mode. I love Hassell’s Five Buroughs series to the point where I wrote a grad seminar paper on Sunset Boulevard because I loved the way the narrative used “space” in the text.
I fan-Stitch over him on the regular.
And Citywide continues to validate my love of his writing thanks to three fantastic stories and the way that he fleshes out Queens crew (characters that are friends with the Rodriguez brothers from the first two books of the series) on their way to Happily Ever Afters.
Citywide is made up of three linked short stories that all revolve around the Queens crew and their personal lives.
The first story in Citywide is “Rerouted” and it focuses on Chris Mendez’s slow-burn relationship with Jace and Aiden Fairbairn basically catching fire in the middle of a hellacious. Personally, I don’t think you can start this story without reading “Third Rail” the short story that Hassell released only a few weeks before Citywide’s release, but I mean… you do you.
Like “Third Rail”, “Rerouted” is hilarious and hot. I was torn between laughing until I wheezed and fanning myself because I was blushing so much I felt like I was on fire. I think that while all three of the stories are basically THE BEST EVER, “Rerouted” shines for me because of that balance of unbelievable sexiness and the “laugh till you snort” comedy alongside the relationship development.
I really adore Chris and so I’m glad to see him get both character development and one hell of an amazing relationship with Jace and Aiden (who are, on their own, quite compelling characters… It’s just that I’ve got a weakness for cute Puerto Rican boys, mkay?).
Aside from the absolutely amazing work Hassell puts into Chris, Jace, and Aiden’s relationship, another thing that I liked about “Rerouted” is that the story is also quite timely. One aspect of the plot deals with finding out that one of the people that works for the queer dating app that Aiden works for is basically a stealth member of the alt-Right and that carries over to the next story in the next story in the book… “Gridlocked”.
In “Gridlocked”, former Marine Tonya Maldonando winds up sort of playing bodyguard to Meredith Stone following a homophobic attack that may have been linked to/sparked by the dudebro alt-Right asshole mentioned in the first story. It’s like… super intense.
I think, that what got me about “Gridlocked” was that I found myself ID-ing very hard with Tonya. I mean, it’s not just that she’s Black, but that she’s Black, genderfluid, and just… the way that she talks about herself and her identity that I’m just super into.
I have a note in my kindle copy where Tonya is talking about a cop’s reaction to her describing herself as Meredith’s boyfriend after the attack and it just says “mee!!!”. Because holy crap did I feel some serious kinship to Tonya.
“Gridlocked” is… less funny than “Rerouted”, but the change in tone works. We’re dealing with different POV characters and Tonya is nothing like Chris. You can see why they’re totally bros, but yeah, absolutely different styles of narration there.
And it works.
Aside from Tonya’s gender identity (and how ridiculously giddy I was to read about a queer Black non-binary babe) and the super freaking steaming sex scenes, another thing I liked about “Gridlocked” is the way the story deals with/talks about family.
Meredith’s dad has appeared/was mentioned in a few other Five Boroughs and he’s a major asshole. “Gridlocked” makes no excuses for his behavior or the harm it’s caused his family and in fact, it shows us how his behavior has hurt Meredith. The novella also has Tonya delving into her past (which is painful) and it introduces Victor Quinones, complicated and frustrating brother to the heroine in the last story in Citywide: “Derailed”.
One of my biggest weaknesses in romance is the “fake relationship” set-up. Sure, Stephanie Quinones and Angel Leon have been on and off from as far back as they can remember, but they’re mostly “off” and things are majorly complicated. In “Derailed”, the couple winds up working on their relationship while dealing with pressure from Stephanie’s coworkers and their respective pasts. It’s a lot, and it’s intense, but it’s so, so worth it.
“Derailed” is a good, solid story. It maybe doesn’t shine as brightly after the other two, but it’s still rife with delicious character development and potential seeds for future stories in this world. And, I’m gonna be real: you wind up rooting for Angel and Steph to have a “Happily Ever After” pretty early on because this story gets you attached. (And Angel is just such a good guy, y’all…)
If you’re a huge sucker for the fake relationship trope as used in fandom for eons, you’re going to love this story.
All of the relationships in Citywide were, in some ways, #lifegoals for me. I’ve loved the characters since day one of reading my first Hassell novel and I can’t get enough of seeing characters I love, who look like me and mine, find happiness in the series. I know that I’m a major sap when it comes to this sort of thing, but trust me, this is another super satisfying read from Hassell and I think a great introduction to the series if you don’t mind spoilers for the previous books.