Charlie and Jessie are best friends and fellow wildfire firefighters. They are often teased by their colleagues about the closeness of their friendship, but as Charlie is gay and Jessie is asexual and aromantic, any progression of their relationship is not going to happen. When Jessie’s mother dies, after years of no communication, Charlie takes the trip to the funeral with her for moral support. Jessie also chooses this time to reconnect with her nephew, Bastian, who lives on an island off the coast of Washington.
Bastian is a loner and an artist whose chosen medium is dolls. Though painting dolls provides him with an income so that is able to live comfortably, he has a real passion for his work, just like Jessie and Charlie have for theirs. When Charlie and Jessie arrive to stay in Friday Harbor, with its Alpaca farms and lavender fields, Bastian takes time to adjust to their presence. However, Charlie soon inserts himself into Bastian’s life and is a constant despite the difficult family issues that Bastian and Jessie have to confront. Charlie and Jessie’s firefighting will always be their priority though and they could be called away at any time, and Bastian has his own healing to do, so can a relationship really survive between them?
Painting with Fire is a touching and charming story in which the romance is predictable but the journey Lissa Kasey takes her reader on is beautifully and sensitively told.
Though this is the story of how Bastian and Charlie fall in love, Kasey does not let us forget Jessie and the family dynamics that forced the best friends to take their trip in the first place. Jessie is strong and independent and exactly the type of female character I love to read about, but her sexuality means that there is no chance of a love triangle or a romance for her, which would detract the reader’s focus from Bastian and Charlie. Jessie’s role is pivotal and I could not help but admire her.
Conversely, Jessie’s sister, Kim, and her actions that led to Bastian’s abuse – along with her denial – are sickening. One of the most heart-breaking scenes is at Jessie’s mother’s funeral, which I read with my mouth open in shock and tears of total disbelief in my eyes. Yet, however hard this is for the reader, it is also the way in which Kasey ensures we understand Bastian’s introverted nature completely, as well as appreciating Charlie’s gentle approach.
Initially, it appears that Charlie and Bastian have little in common. Charlie is comfortable enough to be openly gay and works as part of a team in a traditionally male-dominated profession. Bastian lives alone in a large house in Friday Harbor, painting his dolls and filming ‘how to’ videos for Youtube. Until Bastian and Charlie become friends, Bastian has never admitted he is homosexual to anyone but his therapist. Bastian has disassociated himself from his family because of the abuse he suffered, whereas Charlie is half Native American and part of a large family. As the two men become closer, and the trust between them grows, Charlie develops a fascination, not only with Bastian himself, but for his art and Charlie’s feelings are based on a deep admiration and respect.
Kasey does not rush her story-telling, which means that Painting with Fire is slow-paced. However, Kasey also gives her reader time to become acquainted with her characters. Considering Bastian’s troubled past, which threatens to return, this is an extremely important process. It is vital that we understand Bastian’s hesitation and the time that Charlie takes with the physical and emotional aspects of their relationship.
Understandably, Painting with Fire does not feature wild sex between the pair, but the fact that Kasey maintains this tenderness and moderation only adds to the beauty and sincerity of Bastian and Charlie’s romance. I found it easy to become absorbed in Painting with Fire and loved the originality of Bastian’s occupation. This is definitely a novel that will warm any reader’s heart on a cold winter’s day.