Brandon Witt delivers a stunning tale of scarred lives plagued by guilt and desperately wounded souls seeking love. Under a Sky of Ash guides us into a world where one’s past not only shapes who we become, but can change our future if we allow it to hold us prisoner. Two men, both traumatized in their own way by events that happened to their younger selves, meet and form an immediate bond that will be challenged beyond the breaking point when their past lives collide.
Isaiah Greene works as a special education teacher in Denver where each day is heralded by students who struggle with various educational needs. One student in particular gives the school staff a real run for their money and when his mentor, Ben Woods, arrives at school to intervene on his behalf, a strange spark arises between the two men. As time progresses, so do the feelings of attraction between Isaiah and Ben. For the first time in his life, Ben wants more than an easy one-night stand. Meanwhile, even though Isaiah can swear he hears alarm bells ringing every time Ben divulges more about his past and his ongoing recovery from addiction, he, too, wants to stay and get to know this man better.
However, fate is a cruel mistress and when secrets from both their pasts begin to emerge, a connection so horrific is revealed and threatens everything Isaiah and Ben have built between them. Now both men must come to terms with lies that have been buried so deep their discovery may be the final straw to break both Ben and Isaiah for good.
What the previous plot synopsis failed to address is the fantastic secondary characters that made this novel most extraordinary. From young Aaron who has been shuffled through a broken child welfare system, to Ben’s dearest friends, the gorgeous drag queen ManDonna and his husband Hershel and Isaiah’s sweetly naïve roommate, Charity, author Brandon Witt builds a cast that keeps us laughing even when the world is falling apart. Providing much needed moments of humor, these people are also the ones who will keep both Isaiah and Ben, in particular, from losing their hold on sanity. Ben takes one blow after another and each time digs deep to find the strength to turn away from past alcohol and drug abuse and the hold it has on his life even in recovery. On the same token, each time Isaiah feels the need to run, it is his belief that Ben is a kindred spirit who finally sees him, damage and all, that saves him from breaking apart.
The relationship between these two men is fraught with pitfalls and so many times we watch as they teeter at the edge. With our hearts in our throats, we almost breathe a sigh of relief when the axe does fall—even though it may signal the end of the love we wanted to see develop between Isaiah and Ben from the start. Slowly and painfully we watch the world fall apart around these two and nearly cry in relief as redemption and forgiveness covers the dark past that threatened to shatter them both. The honesty of their love, the pain of their separation, and the endurance of their love produced a story that was riveting and beautiful.
I am not sure that I have enough superlatives to heap on this story in order to do it justice. Witt writes with such compassionate honesty. There is no easy road for these two men—instead the author puts every dark corner of their lives on display and gently leads us past them, holding our hands in a novel that is filled with stunning characters and a riveting storyline.
I cannot say enough about this novel. Witt is a consummate storyteller who creates beautiful stories and inhabits them with unforgettable characters. I highly recommend Under a Sky of Ash by Brandon Witt to you.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.