In a world of people with rare and powerful gifts — from something as subtle as being able to make plants grow, to seeing the future; from compelling the wind to obey, to causing earthquakes — Damien is one of the rarest. He’s a Locator. Not of lost or stolen things … but of people. A wanted criminal, a serial killer, a kidnapped child, he can find them all. Which is good, because 40 children have gone missing and both The Guild (which oversees variant affairs) and the federal government need Damien’s help. Rather than send him alone, this time, Dr. Parma, in charge of the Guild, is forcing Damien to take a bodyguard, the sparker Blaze. Blaze, whose reputation is as bold and bright as his personality. Blaze, who Damien should hate on sight, but who, instead, makes Damien feel safe. Protected. Understood in a way he never thought was possible.
What they find is a school reluctant to answer questions, children afraid to speak to them, and two shallow graves in the desert. Damien can only find a handful of trails, but every clue they find leads to more questions, and hints at more danger and a greater threat … and not just to the children.
Damien lives alone, away from people. Away from anything that might call upon his gift, exhausting his mental energy. Instead, he watches the sun set and rise, watches elk and birds and plants growing, finding a hard-won peace and balance within himself. Too often people, with their own emotions, wants, needs, and questions, wear him down. A small thought, a small moment to wonder where someone is leads to his gift flaring up and suddenly he knows not only where, but how they’re feeling. If they’re alive or dead, in danger or safe. Even without that — Damien has, somewhat, learned to control his gift — just people being close, behind him where he can’t see them, or pressing into his personal space makes him anxious, and Damien has lived all his life with a deep seated anxiety.
Damien has made order out of the chaos of his life. Even if he’s in a new room, a new city, or a new state, his routine can still be done: mapping out how many steps there are, having his shoes positioned just so, folding his blankets, doing the small rituals calm him and allow him to move forward. And, for a wonder, Blaze understands. More than understands, he seems to feel it, too, knowing instinctively when to stand still and let Damien count, or when to leave the room to allow Damien the mental and emotional room he needs to calm himself. Blaze doesn’t make Damien’s nerves itch, doesn’t cause the edges of his world to narrow. Instead, something in Blaze calls to him in a way he hasn’t felt in a very long time.
Blaze didn’t have a traumatic life. His mother died at his birth — something he knows, and feels a small guilt for, but it’s nothing he did. His father loves him, and wanted the best for him, even if they didn’t agree on what was best. He did well in school, made friends, had loves, for all that lost them. And now, working on his own, Blaze’s fooled himself into thinking he’s content. His gift is flashy, his reputation makes him something of a hero, and his position as someone neither Guild nor Fed allows him to pick and choose the missions and jobs that will please his hero’s heart. But it isn’t until he meets Damien that Blaze realizes just how lonely he’s been.
Damien puts the “dead in deadpan” (one of my favorite lines in the book), and Blaze puts on a smile and a show to protect himself from being seen. Damien thinks where Blaze feels, and Damien — at times — thinks too much. His gift requires thought and control, and he’s used that same control on his life, and in his romantic relationship with Blaze. When he thinks, guesses, suspects, or deludes himself into thinking Blaze might be interested in someone else, Damien feels like he should let him go. Damien is used to working alone, used to making the decisions that will best serve him and protect him; he never once thinks to ask Blaze what he thinks, or what he wants.
The man Damien thinks Blaze is in love with is Blaze’s ex, a variant called Shudder, an activist and domestic terrorist who fights for variant rights with tooth and nail, but a good heart. He’s all flash and glamour, but with no desire to cause pain or death — in part because he doesn’t want to make some two-bit monster of a politician into a martyr, but also because he doesn’t want to kill anyone. He and Blaze ended it poorly, and that unresolved tension and honest love between them is the monster Damien fears. Because Shudder is still in love with Blaze. For all that Damien is the eloquent one, he’s the one most unwilling to talk when it matters. Blaze still cares for Shudder, yes, but it’s Damien’s bed he crawls into every night. It’s Damien he reaches out to, Damien he holds at night.
There’s a very good balance between the action of the missing children, the government conspiracy, variant politics, and the romance. The writing is strong, the characters (for the most part) intelligent — though, personally, I’m not a giant fan of the “if only they’d talk!” trope. It’s done well enough here that I didn’t want to strangle Damien, much, and the ending of the book hints not only at a sequel ,but at a continuation of the relationship, which will hopefully involve Damien doing more listening than assuming.
This is a fun adventure, a pleasant romance, and a quick and easy read. If you’re into superheroes, mutant powers, and metahumans of any flavor, this book is well worth the read.