Six years ago, Jacob Hartman came out to his family. They didn’t all handle it well, including his big brother, Wyatt. While Jacob was crushing on Wyatt’s best friend, Lincoln Reid, Wyatt was extracting a promise from Linc to stay away from his little brother. Now, Jacob has returned home to join an elite firefighting team, the smoke jumpers who parachute into the forests to fight dangerous blazes. Jacob has been preparing for this job for years, and he is ready, but Lincoln is definitely not happy to see Jacob show up as a new recruit on his team.
Lincoln takes his word seriously and he promised Wyatt he would stay away from Jacob. Wyatt’s family helped raise Linc when his father fell down on the job, and he feels he owes both the Hartmans and Wyatt to not get involved with Jacob. While Lincoln is out to a few people, most don’t know, and he isn’t sure how the Hartmans would react. Not to mention that after the Hartman family suffered the devastating loss of Wyatt being killed in the line of duty, they are not happy about having Jacob join the team as well. But Lincoln can’t help the attraction he has felt for Jacob for years, and having him on the same crew is bound to cause problems. Linc would be much happier if Jacob quit, but if he won’t, at a minimum Linc is determined to protect him.
Jacob knows that Lincoln feels the same connection that he does, but getting Linc to admit it is difficult. No matter what Jacob does, Linc keeps putting up walls and making excuses. When the sexual tension gets too high, Linc agrees to a hook up to get things out of their systems, but that plan fails when things just grow hotter between them. Jacob is dreaming about a life with Lincoln, but Linc is still more worried about his obligations than his own happiness. Now Lincoln has to decide what he really wants out of life and take a leap to find happiness with Jacob.
Burn Zone is the first book in Annabeth Albert’s new series about smoke jumpers. One of the hallmarks of Albert’s writing for me is the way she really immerses the reader in her world. Whether it is Navy SEALS or the Alaskan wilderness, or in this case, elite firefighters, I always feel like the details shine in her books. The parts of this story I enjoyed the most were the glimpses into the life of the smoke jumpers. The idea of parachuting into a fire is terrifying to me (and most people), yet these heroes risk their lives to help protect others. I love the details worked in, like the training these guys do, or what a jump is like, or the very real dangers that they face. There is a nice sense of camaraderie we see here among the firefighters that also works nicely (and makes great fodder for a series). I really felt like I could picture all of the elements of Jacob and Linc’s job and it added so much to this story.
Where I struggled here is on the relationship end. I just found I had trouble warming to Lincoln, as it felt like he was putting up needless roadblocks and it made the story drag in places as we retread the same territory over and over. I also was frustrated by Lincoln’s sense that he knows what is best for Jacob, both personally and professionally, despite the fact that Jacob is an adult who is old enough to know his own mind. He comes to the smoke jumper job having trained and gained work experience, as well as passed rigorous interviews. It is not like he just walked into this job; he is good at what he does and dedicated to working hard. Yet Lincoln’s first response is that he knows better than Jacob that Jacob shouldn’t be taking this job. Linc feels like it is too hard for Jacob’s family after losing Wyatt and he decides for him that Jacob shouldn’t be doing it, to the point where he tries to find a paperwork loophole that will get Jacob fired. I’ll admit, one thing that makes me nuts is when people make decision for others about what is best for them, so this didn’t sit well with me. While Jacob’s family may be pressuring Lincoln to “take care of” Jacob, his insistence that Jacob is wrong for this job felt unfair.
Outside of the job, things are even more frustrating. Jacob is clear he wants Lincoln, and has wanted him for years. He is 25 years old, and while there is a 10-year age gap, Jacob is not an inexperienced child. Wyatt was a homophobe who didn’t accept Jacob coming out, nor did he accept Lincoln. He made homophobic comments and had Linc swear to stay away from Jacob. Yet even after Wyatt’s death, Lincoln feels honor bound to keep this promise. It isn’t even just Wyatt being an overprotective big brother; he wants Lincoln to stay away because of his homophobia. Yet Lincoln time and again prioritizes Wyatt’s desires over his own or Jacob’s feelings. And that feels like just the first of the excuses: he doesn’t want to upset the Hartmans, the guys work together, Lincoln may be leaving town soon…. So this whole story feels like a push and pull where Jacob is trying to convince Lincoln to act on his feelings and Lincoln coming up with a million reasons why he can’t. Even if some of them are legitimate, this whole idea of prioritizing his homophobic friend and his quasi-homophobic family’s desires over Jacob’s feelings didn’t sit well with me. I just got tired of the repetition and watching Jacob basically begging for some scraps of affection. Meanwhile, Jacob acts like the sun rises and sets on Lincoln and feels he is not worthy of the man. So by the time they get together, I just didn’t have much excitement over their connection as I was kind of fed up with Lincoln.
Things picked back up for me toward the end when there is some excitement surrounding their job and things get nicely intense. While I saw the conflict coming, Albert gives it a spin I wasn’t expecting and it gave the book some momentum I felt like it really needed. I liked the way things all came together and enjoyed the intense scenes and more glimpses into the world of the smoke jumpers.
So for me, this one was good, but had some issues that made it hard for me to fully get excited about the story. The next book features a side character we meet here that has me intrigued, so I’ll be giving that one some consideration.