The author calls this book “hopepunk” and that’s definitely a good description. Despite the fact that it’s set in a world reeling from climate changes and the after effects of war, it’s really quite sweet, full of chosen family and people doing their best to heal and help others heal.
Van’s partner died three years ago in a battle with raiders. Irene had run defense for the circuit towns, a group of settlements who’ve banded together loosely for protection against raiders. After her passing, Van took up the job. It’s been mostly quiet since, but a new rash of smaller thefts suggests the pattern is starting again, and the last thing he needs is someone new moving unannounced into his town. Clark’s come to stay with his estranged mom after running from his latest relationship disaster. Van immediately catches his eye, but he’s not interested in anything serious – that’s how he got in trouble in his last place. Van notices Clark, as well, but he’s not sure he can get what he wants – what he needs – from him. With the raids worsening, Van’s life is only getting more dangerous. Is there room for both men to heal enough to figure out what they both need?
Van and Clark are great characters. Clark has a lot of issues he’s mostly trying to ignore. There’s always something that needs fixing in any community, and Clark immerses himself in trying to make himself useful, even if that means picking up his gun and taking lookout tower shifts, something that’s rough for him between his injured leg and his PTSD from being a sniper during the war. In Clark’s mind, if he keeps his head down and just keeps working, no one’ll expect much more of him – or kick him out of town. Van knows he’s a valued member of the community, which has its own pitfalls. Being the head of the defense team isn’t exactly what he wants to be doing, but it’s necessary and someone has to do it. Plus, it means he gets to spend more time with Hadas, who he’s in an open relationship with. Van had a dom/sub relationship with Irene, and while he loves Hadas, they don’t have that sort of relationship. He feels that pull with Clark, though, but Clark is pretty clueless about how that lifestyle works.
I thought the romance between all the characters was well done. I don’t know much about polycule relationships, and I’m more used to triads where all the members are sexually involved with each other, but I thought how each relationship worked for each character was well explained. The main focus is on Van and Clark, of course, but there’s also Van’s relationship with Hadas, Van’s relationship (or not) with Jaime, and Clark’s relationship with his ex Thao. Both men have issues they’re trying to work through, usually on their own, so you can guess how that goes initially, and it takes time for their relationship to form. There is a big focus on communication, not just with their partners but also with other members of the community. While Van and Hadas have been sleeping together for quite a while by the time the story starts, Van is still so traumatized from Irene’s death that he’s holding back from realizing how much she means to him, and it takes more relationship upheaval before he even admits it to himself, let alone Hadas. The consent is well thought out, and when boundaries are crossed (unintentionally for the most part), the characters apologize, communicate, and don’t do it again.
Overall, while there’s a lot of possibly heavy content, this is overall a very lovely read.
I received an advance review copy of this book from the author. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.