where there's smoke audioStory Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars

Narrator: Nick J. Russo
Length: 2 hours, 8 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links:  Amazon | iBooks

Eddie came to Panapolis looking for excitement. He is just an average guy, but Panapolis is an extraordinary city, filled with heroes and villains. Eddie works as a bank teller, and it is in the course of a robbery that he meets the villain, the Mad Bombardier. For some reason, Eddie finds himself helping the man to escape, and then later accepting his offer for a date. As Eddie gets to know Raul, the man behind the Bombardier, he finds himself falling for him. And before long, the two are in a serious relationship.

Eddie knows he should be turned off by Raul’s other life, but he knows his man is kind and thoughtful and Eddie finds he can separate out that part of Raul that is up to no good, especially given Raul’s difficult past. But when trouble comes, Eddie begins to wonder if he can really trust Raul, especially when a persistent hero comes around looking for Eddie’s attention. Now Eddie needs to figure out if being with Raul is what he really wants, and if he can believe in the goodness of the man behind the villain.

I love superhero stories so I have been eager to try this one out. I liked this take on the trope with our main character falling for a villain and see the other side of the criminal world. There is a nice “swept off his feet” feeling as the two meet, and I enjoyed the men together. I also liked the bits of the larger world building we get here. In particular, each chapter is introduced by snippets of a blog discussing Panopolis and the heroes/villains, which gives some nice insight into the world building and sets some context for the events. I do think the world building could have been fleshed out a lot here though. It is a shorter story, but even so, I would have appreciated a bit more sense of Panopolis and the superheroes who make it up. For example, there was a lot of talk about corporations up to no good, or concerning questions raised about the heroes that are never really addressed.

The other area I would have liked to see explored more is the relationship between Raul and Eddie. We see virtually no relationship development at all here. They meet, they have their first date, and suddenly we jump in time to months later. The book seems to take place over close to a year, but there is virtually no on page sense of these men getting to know one another or falling for each other, or even day to day building a connection. Again, this is a shorter story so this could have been less of an issue, however by the end of the book we are hearing so much about this strong love between the men that we never see. There is a point where Eddie is threatened and he is thinking about how much he loves and cares for Raul, but we have nothing to fall back on as readers to support this beyond being told. I also think the side plot where Eddie is pursued by a hero takes up a lot of page time for something that doesn’t really go anywhere and takes away from time that could have been spent on our MCs.

I listened to this in audio and enjoyed Nick J. Russo’s narration. He is one of my favorite audiobook performers and I think this story is done well. There is a nice earnestness to Eddie that befits his character. Raul’s deep drawl seemed a bit over the top to me at times, but overall the character voices are a nice match for the story. The pacing and tone is good, and the story is easy to listen to in audio.

Overall I found this an enjoyable story. The ending brings some nice excitement and I liked the author’s take on the superhero genre. Despite my concerns about the relationship building, I thought Eddie and Raul are likable characters and they are nice together. So I found this to be an appealing story and I am looking forward to continuing on with the Panopolis series.

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