You’ll Have To Pry It From My Hands: Earthflown by Frances Wren

Posted 11th April 2024 by Sia in Queer Lit, Reviews, Sci-Fi Reviews / 0 Comments

Earthflown by Frances Wren
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Ace-spec MLM MC, gay MC with depression, M/M, minor sapphic characters
PoV: Third-person, past tense; multiple PoVs
Published on: 16th April 2024

Earthflown is a love story that tries – and fails – to leave the water crisis behind. Set in near-future, post-flood London, it takes a grounded approach to fantasy archetypes where futuristic medicine meets a bit of magic.

When Ethan saves the life of a firestarter, it's nothing unusual. He's the only healer on call at the hospital – and that gunshot wound isn't going to regenerate itself. But his patient turns out to be Corinna Arden, heiress to a pharmaceutical empire controlling Britain's water supply. Her twin, Javier, is a man who (a) starts sending Ethan flowers at work, (b) seems terrified of a secret, and (c) has the cheekbones and earnestness to make up for both.

Ethan indulges in (what he thinks will be) a brief, harmless romance – but is swept up in a deadly collusion over Project Earthflown: the largest reconstruction tender since London clawed its way out of the rising sea.

Determined to follow the money, Ollie is a journalist who finds a corpse at the end of a too-convenient tip. The fate of water – and who profits – might depend on the perennial question: has Ethan lost his mind, or is he just an idiot?

I received this book for free from the author via BookSirens in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~finally, flying cars!
~fire powers are more socially acceptable than empathy
~sending flowers is a rich asshole move
~watches that keep secrets as well as time
~never underestimate a paranoid journalist

There are some books that need to be self-published, because traditional publishing just wouldn’t know what to do with them; Nora Sakavic’s All For the Game series, pretty much everything by Andrea K Höst, The Creature Court trilogy by Tansy Rayner Roberts – I could go on. (And on, and on.) Books that are boundary-pushing, that can’t be neatly pigeon-holed, that are so wildly original or subversive or strange – or all three! – that they terrify publicity and marketing teams.

Earthflown is the newest addition to that illustrious company.

That being said, it’s not exactly what it claims to be on the tin. A Potable Study of Love and Collusion implies a lot more focus on economic inequality and a (the?) water crisis than we actually got. Although Earthflown is ostensibly about the behind-doors-backstabbing of the Arden family working to keep their exclusive control of Britain’s potable water, that part of the story is very much in the backseat. I found it very hard to keep track of the politics involved and wasn’t always clear on who was voting for what – I think there were several parliamentary votes about the water issue? but maybe also some other stuff? – or really, what the stakes were for the Ardens: they currently produce and control CM15, which makes water potable, but there’s a push to move the country to a new water-cleansing technology, and sometimes they seemed to be trying to block that, while at others hinting that they wanted the contract for building and installing the new tech? All of which is tied up with the polite feud they have with another branch of the family tree? But most of that was all in the background, which made it difficult to be emotionally invested in (or keep track of).

But that doesn’t matter in the slightest, because where Earthflown shines is in its beautifully flawed, grey-shaded characters and their interactions with each other, the way their lives intersected and overlapped. The story circles around Javier – an Arden – and Ethan, who, in a world where superpowers exist, is a priceless healer; around them are Rina, Javier’s firebending twin who is toxic at best and abusive at worst; Vegas, Ethan’s best friend and roommate; Oliver, Vegas’ on-again, off-again boyfriend and intrepid gumshoe journalist; and far off to the sidelines, poor Nick, a detective constantly dragging Oliver out of trouble by the scruff of his neck and currently under the impression he and Ethan are in a relationship. This misapprehension is entirely Ethan’s fault, and one of several ways in which we’re made very clear on the fact that Ethan is not exactly a perfect person. He can, in fact, be a bit of a dick. Though he cares very much about Vegas – their dynamic is almost sibling-like – he’s not great at remembering to care about other people as people.

So it’s kind of ironic, and definitely hilarious, that he falls very hard for an empath, aka Javier, who has spent his life keeping his superpower a secret. His immediate family know, and one or two family friends, but in a world with a lot of paranoia over and prejudice towards empaths, you can’t really blame him for keeping it on the down-low.

The surprise is that he’s also a sweetheart, which feels a bit like a miracle given a) his family as a whole and b) the awful, and awfully normalised, way his twin treats him. Seriously, it’s enough to make your skin crawl.

Corinna had been looking forward to this murder for weeks – she wasn’t there for the last one.


Wren’s storytelling is a perfect balance of emotion and action, the prose smooth and incredibly moreish; before you can blink, you’re sucked in, and it’s an absolutely delicious ride. I couldn’t put Earthflown down for the two days it took me to devour it whole; I’m stunned and delighted by how well Wren keeps things moving while simultaneously doling out a whole heap of Feels and giggles. This isn’t a light-hearted book, but prepare yourself for giggle-snorts nonetheless, because there’s a bright thread of comedic moments woven through the cli fi-thriller-noir thing Wren has going on.

His sleeves were buttoned-up to the wrists like a sociopath.

And so much tension. Between Javier and Ethan, sure, even once they’re together (come on, that’s really not a spoiler, is it?), less because of relationship drama (thank the gods) than because their relationship is…threatened from the outside. Rina, for one, is not a fan, and it’s never a good idea to get on the wrong side of someone who can set you on fire. But there’s also Oliver, slowly and steadily piecing Things People In Power Don’t Want Him Looking At together, sniffing around Rina’s shooting and the ‘suicide’ Nick’s investigating. Everyone, except maybe Ethan, has secrets that they’re Very Determined to keep secret – and even Ethan ends up working to keep the secrets of others. Every page has you wondering if this is when it happens – is someone going to discover what Rina’s up to? Is Javier going to get outed? Is Oliver going to get fired (or arrested)? Will this be the chapter where someone strikes payback, where someone is Found Out, where the simmering hate behind the vapid smiles detonates into an inter-family war? There’s never a good moment to take a break and put Earthflown away, because something is always happening, always at stake.

Blood is thicker than water, and twice as cheap.

Even if, a lot of the time, that something is ‘only’ Javier and Ethan, who start out polite, progress to sweet, and transmute into something very intense indeed. In a good way. I challenge anyone not to become extremely invested in their relationship – not because they’re hot together, but because they complement each other unexpectedly perfectly. Because the scenes where they make each other smile left me glowing; and the moments where they communicated clearly like Actual Adults were such a relief; and each time they had each other’s back made me want to applaud. They’re not perfect, because they as people are imperfect; Wren has done an amazing job at making the entire cast multifaceted and painted them all in shades of grey. But Javier and Ethan are pretty damn wonderful together.

Jav had spent most of his life trying to stand in the undertow. It was a relief to be swept off his feet.

(Although I will say that I hope the conversation between Ethan and Javier, wherein Javier explains that he’s on the ace-spectrum, happens on-page in the final version of the book – in my arc, it’s only referenced to, which seems an odd choice.)

The worldbuilding is kept relatively simple – flying cars aside, it doesn’t look too different from our world, except that sea levels have risen and something’s happened to the water supply. Still, it’s a world that feels both convincing and cohesive, with its own politics, corporations, and cultural mores – though I do regret that we really didn’t see what life is like for normal folx. The Ardens are 1%-ers, and although Ethan works at a public hospital, he has enormous privilege as a healer. I would have liked to see how the CM15 subsidies and government contracts and whatnot affected us commoners on the street. We know sending a bouquet of live flowers is a Very Big Deal, in a world where potable water is expensive; what other changes has that made on everyday life? Even the fact that London is now divided into zones by height-above-sea level doesn’t impact the story much, because we saw very little of the lower, poorer zones. The same is true of Glass, a very addictive illegal drug made out of CM15; we’re told there’s something of an epidemic, but we don’t see it.

Then again, that’s probably one reason the next book in this series (it’s not a standalone, whatever it calls itself) is likely to focus on Nick, one of our only working-class characters – presumably we’ll get to see more of the ‘real world’ with him as a guide.

Speaking of the sequel leads us fairly neatly into discussing the ending, so…let’s discuss it.

Despite being objectively magnificent in every other way, Earthflown does have one flaw: an ambiguous ending. An implied ending. By which I mean, we get a lot of educated guesses and assumptions and inferences about how various plotlines will resolve themselves off-page, but we don’t see those resolutions for ourselves. The author’s note implies we can trust those guesses and assumptions etc, but as someone who is both nitpicky and obsessive about details, it was a pretty big blow not to have everything concretely wrapped up or answered by the final page. Worse is the fact that the events of the climax are game-changing – and there’s a huge bomb dropped on the very last page – and I was immensely frustrated and upset not to see how all of that played out. A sequel is in the works, but it will almost certainly focus on Nick, when what I really want is to continue following Javier and Ethan.

I have to admit to being really confused about the choices made by the author with regards the ending. I don’t think I’ve ever read something that took a similar approach to closing the story; pretty literally telling us how things will go and be resolved, rather than showing us. It really strikes me as bizarre. And besides just being strange to me, it’s now clear that I also don’t like ‘implied endings’. I don’t want to infer what happens, I want to read it. That…does not seem like a lot to ask for.

The author has said that we’ll see Ethan and Javier in the background/on the sidelines of book two, so we will see how things fall out for them eventually, albeit probably from a distance. I guess I can’t say whether or not that’ll satisfy me until I have the book in my hands.

But if you’re good with that – basically, if you can accept this as the first book of a series instead of a standalone – then you’re pretty golden. I had so much FUN with this one, folx, and I pretty much immediately wanted to read it again! My e-arc is full of highlighted lines and passages. There is no getting around or ignoring the fact that I stayed up till 3am reading Earthflown, and had to have it pried from my fingers in order to go to bed.

Yes, the ending bothers me. It doesn’t change the fact that Earthflown had me hooked from the first page to the last and made me enjoy every moment of it. This is a big, major win. I kind of can’t believe it’s a debut!

Wren is clearly an author to watch, and I strongly suggest you keep an eye on them – starting with preordering yourself a copy of their book!

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