Note: Flash Fire follows upon the events of The Extraordinaries, a superhero story with major plot revelations. As such, this review will have spoilers for that first book.
Nick Bell barely survived the events of McManus Bridge with his life, but he did end up with a superhero boyfriend after learning that his best friend, Seth, is actually Pyro Storm. The two are now happily together and enjoying spending time with their friends, Jazz and Gibby. It isn’t a normal life, as Seth is still running around the city trying to save lives, while the rest of the gang work to support him. And Nick is still coming to terms with his own disappointing lack of super powers. But he gets to kiss Seth whenever he wants, and he has friends who have his back and people who care about him.
Unfortunately, things don’t stay calm in Nova City for long. Soon, more Extraordinaries appear on the scene. There are siblings with the powers of smoke and ice, a telekinetic, and a drag queen who can conduct electricity. On one hand, Nick and the gang need all the help they can get, but on the other, it is difficult to know who is really on their side. On top of that, Nick and his friends are dealing with a host of secrets that can’t stay hidden for long. Some of the secrets Nick knows, like Jazz and Gibby’s role in working with Team Pyro Storm that they have been keeping hidden from their parents. But others, like some deep secrets his father is holding, crush Nick in some serious ways. Not to mention, Simon Burke is escalating his anti-Extraordinary rhetoric. While no one knows his end game, it is clear that Burke is dangerous. Things are in chaos all over the city and figuring out who to trust is not easy. It will take all of the combined strength and determination of Nick, Seth, and their friends to protect each other and the city before it is too late.
Flash Fire picks up following The Extraordinaries in the wake of some big revelations. First, that Shadow Star is not the good guy Nick always believed. Owen is now being held for his crimes and his father is disavowing all knowledge about Owen’s powers or his deeds. While Nick and the gang know full well that Simon Burke is behind it all, no one can prove it. Nick also now knows that Pyro Storm is actually a hero and that his true identity is none other than his long-time best friend, Seth. And we readers know the big reveal from the very end of the first story, and that is that Nick actually does have super powers, powers that Nick’s father is hiding, with the help of Simon Burke. So it all sets the stage nicely for this next installment.
I love a superhero story and I think Klune is doing well with this series really playing with this trope. There are evil villains and the sweetest cinnamon roll of a hero in Seth. We also get some exciting battles with a variety of Extraordinaries using a range of powers to fight it out. There are questions about true motivations and who can be trusted. We have side kicks and masterminds, and lots of people hiding secrets. As with the first book, this story also gives us some bombshells, including a big one at the end. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of Nick coming into his abilities, and I think there will be a lot more to develop in the next book. So I think fans of the superhero trope will find a lot to like here. I found this one a little slow to start, however, as there is a lot of set up and groundwork laid before we really get into the action. But I think the superhero side of the series is developing really well.
The heart of this story is really the relationships. Nick and Seth are happily settled into being boyfriends and are exploring things together. I love their dynamic and the way they encourage and support each other. They both get a little awestruck around each other, and they are super sweet and adorable. There is definitely more talk about sex in this story than the first, but things are still kept very PG and the guys are just at the early stages of a physical relationship. As much as I like Seth and Nick as a couple, I think I most enjoy the dynamic between the boys and their best girlfriends, Jazz and Gibby. The girls are fierce and strong and totally in love. I also love the way the two couples interact and how the girls are often the balance and perspective that the guys need. The friendship among these four is great and I appreciate that they have all found each other and provide a source of support.
A big element here is Nick’s relationship with his dad, and there is a lot of tension between them in this story for several reasons. One is the big secret about Nick’s abilities. It is interesting the way this plays out, as we readers know more than Nick about his powers when the book starts. When things all come out, Nick is understandably upset to learn how much Aaron has been keeping from him, and we get a lot of reveals here about their past and what is really going on. We know that Nick has had a sense of hero worship about his father, and learning Aaron has hidden some big things from him really shakes Nick up, particularly in light of Nick’s new understanding about his father’s role as a cop and some major mistakes he has made. So these two have a lot to work through and we see Nick come to recognize his father’s mistakes, as well as realize his own blindness to what is going on around him. Nick is angry at his dad and disappointed in many things Aaron has done. But at the same time, he loves his father and Aaron loves him. So things are complicated here as the two work through a lot of issues.
Which brings me to an important topic I want to address. Klune received some criticism after the release of The Extraordinaries about the portrayal of the police. Some key issues include the fact that Aaron beat up a suspect during an interrogation (prior to the start of the book), and Nick defends him. Nick also makes a poor joke about police brutality from a position of privilege, knowing he is not in any danger. Others who are much more knowledgeable about this issue than me have discussed this at length, and Klune himself responded to the criticism after the release of the first book. Here in this story, it seems clear that Klune has attempted to address many of these concerns by putting focus on these issues. We see Nick come to a new understanding of his father’s behavior and realize he can’t unconditionally defend his dad any more. We also see Aaron discussing the issue of police brutality and abuses with Gibby’s parents, who are Black. The issues of the police behavior, and Nick’s father in particular, come up often and in a variety of ways throughout the book.
On a personal level, I want to apologize for the fact that I missed many of these red flags upon reading The Extraordinaries. The issues were brought to my attention after I published my review and I addressed them in the comments there. However, I wanted to respond again, particularly now as some time has passed since I read the first story. I was lucky and privileged enough to grow up seeing the police primarily as a symbol of safety and protection, and I missed problems in the first story that I should have caught. I appreciate that readers have raised this issue, both with me and on a larger level, as this is a topic that is critically important and deserves conversation. I apologize for missing things and I will work to do better.
So wrapping it all up, I will say that I really enjoyed this book. The superhero elements are nicely done, and while the story takes a bit to really get going, once it does, things are very exciting. We get some new revelations here that lead into the next book and I am eager to see how it plays out. I continue to love the teen heroes at the center of the story and can’t wait to see how they tackle the dangers facing the Extraordinaries and Nova City.