In this sequel to A Strong & Sudden Thaw, the world after the Ice remains a dangerous place. Callum and David have survived the dragons but rebuilding lives is no easy task. The army comes to enforce an evacuation with claims of tainted groundwater and radiation. The Brethren, a crazed religious order, seeks to control the new world through preaching intolerance and forced conversion.
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
This is a tough review to write. On the one hand, the writing is as good as the first book and gets the reader to really connect with the characters. However, caring about the characters is a major downfall since there is a lot of death, pain, torture, suffering, and angst that fill the pages. In fact I didn’t enjoy reading this at all. I’m not sure I’d continue with the series (if there even is more to come) since I honestly don’t enjoy so much human suffering with so little pay off. Unfortunately the happy ending is at the very, very end and honestly it feels like a consolation prize at best. The romantic story between Callan and David feels lessened and unsatisfying.
-Warning this review will contain many spoilers-
The plot of Out of Ashes picks up where it left off in the previous book. The evil, scheming government is determined to empty the town of Moline and remove everyone. The townspeople decide they’re going to fight back and protect their homes. Unfortunately this ends with most of the town dead, including members of David’s family and close friends. Callan saves David from dying through seduction and trickery, acts that enrage David. He angrily hurts Callan and breaks up with him. Thus David is left behind when Callan and the remaining town people are sent off to refugee camps.
This first part of the book is not too bad as far as the dark themes. There is a bit of background so anyone picking up the book can understand what’s going on. David and Callan are reintroduced as happy lovers but with Callan as the more practical, scared one. He’s willing to be selfish to protect David and less invested in the fight over physical space. There is very little post-apocalyptic feel to the world building, which feels more of an old western than anything. This is the same world from book one but without the few additional details since this plot focuses on religion, government corruption, and well torture.
Once the army inevitably wins their battle, the book takes a turn into dark human suffering that continues for the next 200 pages. Once most everyone died in the fighting, Callan is marched north to a camp where he’s kept prisoner. Callan and other men accused of sodomy are treated like animals. They’re purposefully diseased, tortured, abused, ill-fed, and subjected to frequent torture. Callan makes the best of his situation, often turning to another man for physical comfort and assertion of his identity. He doesn’t love this other man and fully believes that David will come for him despite their argument. Callan shows some good strength here as he struggles to find comfort where he can but ultimately that is hollow as he waits for David.
Unfortunately while Callan is suffering in prison, David has his own brand of suffering to go through. Wandering alone as he set out to follow Callan and his family, David comes across a troupe of actors that take him in and decide to help him on his quest. Among the group is an older man named Sterling that David begins a relationship with. Through that relationship David falls deeply in love with Sterling, to a degree that he actually didn’t show with Callan. Though David is determined to find where Callan is and rescue him, he’s besieged with confusion and hope that he and Sterling will be together. In fact David shows more love and forgiveness for Sterling than he ever did for Callan. When David discovers Sterling betrayed him horribly – leading to terrible BDSM torture sessions for David – instead of the anger David offered Callan, David never once turns his back on Sterling. He instantly forgives the man and says that love doesn’t turn off with mistakes. Interesting how David wasn’t so wise with his supposed true love Callan. This scene is one that convinced me David loved Sterling considerably more than Callan, which throws doubt in the main relationship.
David is saved from making a choice between lovers with Sterling’s death but this storyline is bothersome. For starters David seems to prefer to be with Sterling and I think would have likely still been with Sterling even after ensuring Callan was alive and well. The fact that both Callan and David have other lovers is not so much problematic when considering their circumstances but ultimately their reunion feels forced. I didn’t feel that the lovers belonged together anymore, which takes the emotional payoff away after so much dark, depressing action. David offered more grief and angst over Sterling’s death than he ever did thinking Callan might be dead, which made their reunion feels false and like a consolation prize. Since David couldn’t be with Sterling, he may as well be with Callan. Not everyone may read the story that way, but that’s how it seemed to me and not very satisfying.
The other heavy aspect of the book is the religious and governmental corruption. The story doesn’t attempt any subtly at all as it screams over and over how evil religion is and how corrupt the government officials are. The plot is centered around the good, simple people like David and Callan struggling to barely survive in a world filled with evil at every turn. There are some nice complex characters such as the soldier Daniel, who’s filled with weakness and fear yet attempts to do good things in very small doses. The additional characters of the actors are largely misused since they’re not given enough depth to really do justice. They’re interesting people and could offer good counterpoints to the extreme good versus evil plot but other than advancing David’s search, they seem like placeholders.
The writing is incredibly engaging. I couldn’t put the book down even as I didn’t enjoy reading it. I don’t mind dark themes and usually really get into depressing stories if the payoff is big enough. Unfortunately 3 pages of happiness at the end after 200+ pages of death, destruction, pain, torture, suffering, and angst just wasn’t enough emotional satisfaction for me. Again, other readers may not feel that way at all. The style of writing holds very true to the first book with the alternating first person narrator. David doesn’t know proper English so of course he doesn’t speak, think, or write such. Therefore his narrative voice may not suit everyone but I found it immediately engrossing. I enjoyed seeing the actions from both Callan and David’s point of view, their flaws, their strengths, and ultimately a happy ending richly deserved.
That said, this is not a book I’d ever read again and I am bothered that I didn’t like it. However that much human suffering just isn’t my taste right now. Thankfully most of the torture took place off page but the constant mental anguish and affects were just as bad. Once again though each person is different and should decide for themselves.
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