The United States is now three separate countries, with the middle making up the Conservative United States (CUS). In the CUS, it’s illegal to be gay, and that’s how Austin ended up in prison at a “reintegration camp.” He has been there six months and befriended Tan, a young man who has spent the last three years at the camp. When a strange meteor shower hits, knocking out power to the camp and causing mass disruption, Austin and Tan see their chance to escape. On their way out, they meet Mack, a new prisoner who seems to have a lot of survival skills, so they take him along as well.
The guys are about a thousand miles from either border, but they know they can’t stay in the CUS if they have any hope of surviving, so they begin the long trek to what they hope will be safety. But as it turns out, that was no ordinary meteor shower. Instead, the men learn that aliens have landed on Earth, knocking out the power and most certainly looking to cause harm. Just what their end goal might be is not clear, but the guys quickly learn they must avoid the aliens at all costs.
Between the alien threat, the constant danger from other survivors, and the difficulties of merely making it another day in the near impossible journey west, Tan, Austin, and Mack do not have an easy path. Fortunately, the men are committed to one another and all three will do whatever it takes to protect each other from danger.
I am a big fan of dystopian stories, so I was excited to check out this series from Nora Phoenix. I’ll admit, it wasn’t really on my radar until I read Phoenix’s guest post here talking about the second book in the series, Smolder, but that totally grabbed my attention and I am so glad I picked this one up. It is a really engaging story with a lot of excitement and the beginnings of a lovely romance.
One thing Phoenix does really well here is manage the pace of information over the course of the story. We learn along with Mack, Tan, and Austin just what is happening in the world and what dangers lie ahead. It gives a nice sense of discovery as the truth about what is going on is revealed. There is also great pacing in learning more about each of the three men. The guys are distinctive and each has their own engaging backstory that does well to help shape their character. The story has moments of high intensity and thrills, as well as quieter times where we get a chance to really get to know the characters. There is a nice sense of low level danger that permeates even the calmer moments and keeps the story exciting throughout. Ignite is the first book of the series, so while there is a temporary respite at the end of this story, we are by no means through their journey and the story will continue over the next two books.
From a romantic relationship end, things are really just getting started for Mack, Tan, and Austin. The story ends with a strong bond among the men and a clear affection, but it is just the very beginning of more between them. By the end of the book, their relationship is tender and caring, with just the very start of something physical, but even that feels more like affection than lust. I think this pace is actually really perfect for the story. This first book is setting up the situation with the attack, the world building overall, and the backgrounds of the men, so that is a lot already without getting into the romance as well. They are also on the run for their lives, so not a lot of time for sex. But even more, Phoenix really builds these three relationships and these characters and lets them breathe. Austin and Tan are incredibly close, but it is clear Tan has been used and abused in prison. While it does appear there is some attraction there, Austin is very careful to not be yet one more person who wants Tan for sex; it is important for him to be a real friend. So while these two will ultimately make that transition from friends to lovers, right now Austin is still drawing that line. For his part, Mack has been unbelievably sheltered and has barely had any non-familiar human interaction, let alone romantic or sexual connections with other people. He is in no way ready for anything physical and is just starting to become comfortable even asking questions about sex and relationships. So like I said, I think the pacing works just right here. But never fear — Phoenix has indicated that things do heat up in the second book.
So I really enjoyed this story and it is a great start to the trilogy. I think we get just where we need to be after this first installment and I was left eager for more. In fact, I grabbed the second story, Smolder, before I even finished this book. I am really looking forward to continuing the journey with Mack, Tan, and Austin, and seeing what else is in store for them.