The Story’s Not Over, It’s Ablaze: Ember Boys by Gregory Ashe

Posted 30th October 2021 by Siavahda in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

Ember Boys (Flint and Tinder, #1) by Gregory Ashe
Representation: Bisexual MC, Gay MC, sapphic secondary character, M/M
Published on: 15th August 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Emmett Bradley thinks his adventures are over. Together with his friends, he stopped an ancient evil and lived to tell about it. But life as a survivor, even as a survivor of a victory, isn’t easy, and when Emmett runs away from Vehpese, Wyoming, he takes a few things with him: a battered ego, a broken heart, and his addictions. He’s lucky that Jim Spencer, his former English teacher, happens to have ended up in the same small, coastal town. He’s even luckier that Jim is doing everything he can to help Emmett hold himself together.

When Emmett’s parents commit him to the psychiatric ward of an infamous hospital, though, Emmett finds himself struggling day to day to remember that the life he’s lived—a life with monsters and psychics—is real. Every day, he finds himself a little less certain that he can trust any of his memories.

A chance encounter with a strange girl, though, forces Emmett to confront the possibility that things around him aren’t quite what they seem. The hospital may not actually be a hospital. His adventures may not be over. And the ancient evil he stopped in Wyoming might have been only one strand in a larger web.

Then Emmett is attacked by a dead man, and he realizes that he’s caught up in a war he doesn’t understand. He must hurry to learn the truth about what’s going on, and he’ll need Jim’s help to do it. He just has to convince his old teacher that things between them aren’t too complicated already—but first, Emmett will have to convince himself.

Note: Emmett has previously appeared in the Hollow Folk series.

Highlights

~not-very-super superpowers
~so many Feels
~JUST KISS ALREADY
~Vehpese was only the beginning
~shit just got real

First thing’s first: if you haven’t read the Hollow Folk series, go away and read them, and then come back. There’s no way you can appreciate Ember Boys properly if you haven’t read the first series.

*Spoilers for Hollow Folk from this point on!*

If you’re like me, you cried at the end of Mortal Sleep – even though it was absolutely the ending the story needed, it was still heartbreaking in a lot of ways. And a big, big part of that was in the way Emmett’s story ended.

Well, fear not, because Gregory Ashe has gone and given Emmett his own series! Along with Jim, the fire-wielding English teacher who fought alongside Emmett and Vie to stop the Lady. They’re both in California now.

It’s not going great.

Ember Boys opens with Emmett in a psychiatric facility, because at some point during his treatment for heroin addiction, the idiot started telling people about what went down in Vehpese – you know, the superpowers stuff. I’m still unclear on why Emmett did that, although it’s implied that it might have been due to the heavy medication he was on; regardless, he’s now locked up in a mind-numbing, surprisingly un-cushy facility, and the only thing making any of it worth it is Jim, who visits and sometimes even gets to take Emmett out for an afternoon.

It’s immediately obvious that Emmett and Jim, regardless of their age difference, have developed pretty deep feelings for each other, and that while romance is a part of those feelings, there’s more to it than that – for example, they have their shared experiences (*cough*PTSD*cough*) from Vehpese to bond them, and the fact that they are, here and now, the only people either of them know with supernatural powers. I didn’t find it at all difficult to believe they’d started falling for each other. Yes, there’s an age difference – Jim angsts about it to the point that I really did want to shake him more than once – but a) Emmett’s 18, which should really be the end of the discussion, and b) maturity is complicated. After everything Emmett’s been through, I doubt many teenagers could understand or keep up with him in the way a partner should. And it is immediately, blindingly obvious that Jim is not a creepy creep being creepy.

At the start of Ember Boys, Emmett and Jim are both keeping the full truth of their feelings to themselves – even if Emmett is a flirty brat. Neither of them are really okay, and most alarmingly, Emmett’s power seems completely gone. Is it all the meds he’s taking??? Maybe, but Jim’s powers are weaker than they used to be too, and he’s not on any medication. The hubby and I were buddy-reading Ember Boys together, and you can bet we spent a lot of hours coming up with possible theories.

None of which were correct.

The maddening thing is that I can’t really talk about what makes Ember Boys so freaking amazing, because it definitely counts as a major spoiler, and it’s so damn jaw-droppingly awesome that you deserve to discover it for yourself. But there is a THING, people, there is a BIG MAJOR THING, and I am so unbelievably happy because the Hollow Folk books left me with so many questions. I’m a worldbuilding nut, okay, I wanted to know more about how the breaking-the-chakras thing works, about who or what determines what power you get and how strong it is! I wanted to know if there were more people like the Lady and Vie’s mom, and where they were, and how the Lady got her territory – who did she make that agreement with??? And pretty much my first question when I finished Mortal Sleep (after I finished SOBBING) was: okay, they took out the Lady, but what about Vie’s mom???

Ember Boys does not answer all of those questions – in fact I think it only answered one and a half of them – but it’s… It’s the promise that those questions are going to be answered. That Ashe has not, in fact, left us hanging. That the story is not even nearly over – that Vehpese really was only the tiniest part of a very, very big picture.

AND THAT IS SO EXCITING ON SO MANY LEVELS.

Beyond that, everything I’ve come to expect from Ashe is here in spades: characters you can’t help but love, even when they’re idiots or messes or messy idiots. Dialogue that feels like real people talking, not script intended to move the plot along. Prose that is quick and deft and very, very addictive. Revelations that Ashe lay the groundwork for entire books ago.

So. many. FEELS.

If I hadn’t been buddy-reading it, and therefore had to read it at a reasonable, normal-person pace??? I would have devoured it in a single afternoon. The addictive readability of Ashe’s other books is here in full force, and the first-person narration (alternating between Emmett and Jim) is brutal and beautiful and incredibly immersive. It’s a can’t-put-down book.

(Unless your best-beloved is giving you puppy eyes to slow down don’t read so fast wait for meee!!! But like. Come on. It’s not reasonable to expect any book to be able to beat the puppy eyes. If the fire alarm had gone off while I was reading, though, I doubt I’d have even noticed.)

The hardest thing may be the emotional whiplash from how we left things in Mortal Sleep – the last we saw Emmett, he loved Vie enough to leave him – to now, when Emmett has developed feelings for someone else. If there’s any critique I have of this book, it might be that: that the time-skip was too much, that going straight from Emmett-in-love-with-Vie to Emmett-in-love-with-Jim is too sudden, makes it feel like it all happened much faster than it did (at least six months have passed since the events of Mortal Sleep, but if you reread the Hollow Folk books to prepare for this series, like I did, going right from Mortal to Ember, there’s no real sense of that time-gap). I wish we could have seen Emmett and Jim’s relationship grow from its beginnings, not cut right to the will-they-won’t-they.

That being said: I don’t know how Ashe could have written Ember Boys any differently. It would have been extremely difficult to write a book detailing the beginning and earlier stages of Emmett and Jim’s relationship, because that was clearly a long, slow process, without anything much happening. Nobody was getting kidnapped or murdered or throwing supernatural powers around during that time period – and Emmett was going through the first steps of treatment for his heroin addiction, which can’t ever be pretty. It would have been a very slow, painful book.

It does feel weird to ship Emmett with someone else, after so intensely hoping he and Vie and Austin could somehow all be happy together. But – I do ship it. For one thing, Mortal Sleep‘s ending was the only way that series could have ended; as much as I loved them, Vie and Emmett were not good for each other, and they and Austin could never have made a polyamorous arrangement work. (Although I will continue to daydream about the alternate reality in which they could and did and everything is Happily Ever After.) And for another thing – Ashe sold me on Emmett and Jim. I buy it. I get it. I believe in it.

I am very, very good with it.

You absolutely, categorically cannot read Ember Boys before you’ve read the Hollow Folk books. Nothing will make sense, and the revelations and emotional gut-punches won’t hit nearly as hard, because you won’t have the background knowledge and context for them.

But once you’ve read Hollow Folk? You absolutely, categorically cannot not read Ember Boys.

The story’s not over, folx. And I cannot wait to see where it’s going next!

four-half-stars

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