house on fire coverRating: 4 stars
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Length: Novel

 

It’s been a few weeks since Colin Zhang and Evan Fournier inadvertently bonded while Evan was investigating a case. Colin still has no memory of what happened during those 34 years he was under a madman’s control, but the life he once knew is gone. There is a real connection between Colin and Evan, and a lot of hot times together, but the men also have no choice but to stay in close proximity or their bond goes crazy. So as much as the men have growing feelings for one another, it is still not easy never being able to separate. Colin has also had no real time to come to terms with his past and all he has missed, nor have the men really been able to explore their relationship in a traditional way since they went from strangers to bonded so quickly.

When a series of videos airs that out paranormals to the human world, their group needs to join together to try to deal with the crisis. With Hudson and Wes handling the political side and working with the various paranormal groups, it is left to Evan and Colin to try to figure out who is taking the videos and why. While at first it seems like humans are skeptical about what they are seeing on the videos, as more surface, people are starting to believe that what they are seeing is real. The paranormal community is divided between those who want to reveal their existence to the world and those who want to stay hidden.

The men are also dealing with craziness at home as they all try to balance the crisis with the videos with all their personal issues. Hudson has brought his brother, Lance, home to help him through his illness, but that means hiding an awful lot about the existence of the supernatural world since Lance has no idea Hudson is a vampire. Lance also doesn’t realize that his daughter, Priya, is alive, but she can’t tell him because she’d have to reveal that she has a demon riding along with her. And Colin is struggling with his past, needing some closure with his former fiance, but not sure if he should tell her what happened to him. He is also struggling with the fact that while Evan has a busy job as a PI, there is not much for Colin to do all day beyond follow him around, and Colin can’t get his own job since they must stay together. Colin wants to consider breaking their bond so that they can be free to move around more easily, but Evan can’t help but worry that once they are not forced together, Colin will not want him anymore.

The situation is stressful all around as Evan and Colin are dealing with both personal problems and the larger crisis with the videos. But while their relationship may be unusual, Evan and Colin have definitely forged something real between them. If they can rely on one another and the relationship they have built, they may just be able to get through all the chaos.

House on Fire is the second book in Jenn Burke’s Ashes & Dust series, a spin-off of her fabulous Not Dead Yet trilogy. Reading the original trilogy will definitely be a bonus here, as the assorted found family of friends/partners connect across the two series, but it is not essential. However, I do think that you will want to at least start with the first book in this series, All Fired Up, as the relationship and some of the big picture issues carry through the books.

The mystery portion of the conflict here focuses on the videos surfacing of the paranormals, outing them to the human world. The first video is of one of their band members who was mind controlled to walk into a crowd and reveal he is a vampire, which we saw in the first book. While that didn’t stir up too much trouble, as more videos appear, people are starting to ask questions and the story is being picked up in the news and online. The problem is not only do they have no idea who is shooting the videos, they have no idea why. I think the mystery here isn’t at quite the same level as in previous books in the two series. It is interesting enough, but not nearly as deep and twisty, nor did I feel the sense of urgency or crisis that I did from the other mysteries. But I do think Burke is really deftly handling giving Evan and Colin the limelight in this series and letting them take the lead in the investigations. Because really, Hudson is the vampire king and Wes is a god, and Evan works for them. So it would make sense for them to be handling this stuff, yet it is not their series. So I appreciate how Burke is making this work without things feeling forced. In the first book, Wes and Hudson are out of the country visiting Lance. Here they play a larger role, but given their positions in the community, they are mostly handling the public facing stuff, working with the various supernaturals, trying to calm down their people, handling the politics, etc, which puts Evan in the role of investigating. It all works well in a way that makes sense for the story and gives Evan and Colin a chance to be in the forefront.

This story really has more focus on the personal side, with the biggest issues being the aftermath of his mind control on Colin. There is a nice side plot where he has to figure out whether to reveal the truth to his fiance and there are some really engaging moments here that both bring some closure to Colin, but also nicely tie in to his relationship with Evan. The bigger issue is that these guys have spent their whole relationship essentially tied to one another. And while they are definitely building something real, this is not a particularly normal or natural courtship given they can’t separate. Colin is restless and frustrated with mostly being Evan’s plus one as he deals with the video crisis. There is little option for Colin other than to tag along, rather than being able to rebuild a life of his own. Colin cares about Evan and isn’t interested in breaking up, he just wants to have some independence, but Evan can’t help but be worried Colin wants to be away from him. So things are nicely complicated and it feels like a natural extension of the way their relationship started. It does leave the romantic side of the story a little slow to grow though. I couldn’t help but feel like the guys are more like sex buddies who spend all their time together than real romantic partners for a lot of the book. But it really comes together in the end and things get super romantic. Suddenly the pieces really seem to fall into place and lead nicely into the next book (though not without a soft cliffhanger). But as much as things are a little uncertain with Colin and Evan, I actually felt like these guys are in a better place than they were at the start of the book and I am enjoying them as a couple.

As I said, this one leaves open some issues to carry into the next book, the biggest being things with Colin and Evan’s relationship. But I feel like their journey progresses nicely here, while still setting the stage for more of the story on many fronts. I am enjoying this series and looking forward to more.

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