Tan, Austin, and Mack have found a place of relative safety in an abandoned farmhouse. The men have supplies and a place mostly off the grid, but they are unsure whether to try to stay there through the winter or continue on with their plans to go west. With so much uncertainty about what is happening with the alien invasion, it is difficult to know the right move. If they stay, the guys are vulnerable to the aliens, spider bots, and other travelers. Not to mention their own government who is conscripting men into military service or who would see them imprisoned or worse if they learned the men had escaped the camp. But with winter coming and no idea what conditions are out in the world, venturing out seems risky as well.
The bonds between Mack, Austin, and Tan are continuing to grow. Mack is becoming more comfortable with asking for what he wants and speaking up with the other two men, and they have slowly started to build their physical relationship. Tan is still dealing with some emotional fall out from the abuse he suffered at the camp. Part of Tan would like to just ignore everything that happened, but those emotions are not going to stay buried forever. Mack and Austin struggle between their desire to protect and care for Tan, and Tan’s need to be an equal partner.
As much as the men hope to escape notice from the world outside their sheltered farmhouse, that is not to be. As others discover their hiding spot, the danger increases and the men must figure out what lengths they are willing to go to to defend themselves and the little family the three of them have built.
Smolder is the second book in Nora Phoenix’s Ignite trilogy and picks up shortly after the end of Ignite. Given these books are presented as one long story, you will want to have read the first book before picking this one up. Where the first story was more about the world building and setting up the disaster, this one is more focused on the relationships among the three men. Phoenix does a nice job showing the bond that has developed among Mack, Tan, and Austin, and how each of them plays a different role in their partnership. I always appreciate when we get three distinct characters in a menage story, and that is definitely the case here. The story is mostly balanced among the men, but the first book felt a bit more of Mack’s journey, as he was encountering the real world for the first time out of his sheltered upbringing. Now, Mack is really coming into his own and is taking on more of a leadership role, as well as learning to be more confident in his sexual encounters with the other two men. For Tan’s part, he is starting to work through the emotions of the abuse he suffered in the camps and even before that. Part of Tan wants to push all that aside and not think about it, but keeping those memories and feelings totally at bay is impossible, and things are starting to come to the surface.
I like the way that these guys are so supportive of one another and are building a real connection. I could believe in the strength of their relationship and that they are bonded by more than just proximity. At times, Mack and Austin seem to struggle finding that balance between taking care of Tan and respecting his desire for strength and independence, and I don’t feel like this issue is really resolved here. Tan says he wants to be treated like an equal partner and the guys say they agree, but then as soon as trouble happens, they are hiding him away or act surprised if he is able to hold his own. I wish this issue had a little more development in this story because it seems to be the major relationship issue these guys are facing here, but perhaps it will be addressed more in the final book.
I also think this story suffers a bit from being the middle story of a trilogy. It doesn’t have quite the same excitement or energy as the first book, and while there are definitely some scary and intense encounters, the book felt slower than the first. The guys are mostly hunkered down, doing day-to-day living. I would have liked to maybe see more exploration of world building or more of how they managed to survive in such desperate circumstances, or even just a little more plot happening here.
While I had a few issues with this book, I am still continuing to enjoy this series. Phoenix has developed a really interesting world and the crisis is clearly building. I am looking forward to the resolution to see how the men manage to survive and (hopefully) thrive as the danger escalates. They are a really enjoyable trio and I am eager for more.