Reviewed by Helyce
Jesse is devastated when he returns home one day to find that his apartment has not survived a fire and he’s lost everything. New to the city, he’s made a few friends but no one he’s comfortable calling and he absolutely refuses to contact his parents. In shock, with nothing but the clothes on his back and a battered bag of groceries, Jesse has few options. That is until sexy firefighter Tomas offers him a place to stay.
Tomas is one of the firefighters who respond to the fire at Jesse’s apartment. When Jesse arrives and realizes what has happened Tomas has to physically restrain him from trying to enter the building. It’s not long before it becomes clear to Tomas that Jesse has no one to call and he can’t bring himself to leave him knowing that he’s basically homeless and alone—even though it’s against all the rules.
With no other choice, Jesse accepts Tomas’s offer of a place to stay, thinking it’ll just be for a night. For Tomas, however, playing the Good Samaritan is only part of the reason he can’t let Jesse go. He’s immediately drawn to Jesse, his protective instincts going crazy; this need to take care of him beyond reason.
If it’s wrong, why does it feel so right?
Daisy Harris has fast become one of my favorite m/m authors. In From the Ashes, she pens a sweet love story between two men who meet by chance; thrown together after a tragedy. The catch, though, is that Tomas has not dealt with his sexuality and while he’s definitely attracted to Jesse he’s a long way from admitting he’s gay. Jesse on the other hand is out and proud and while he is attracted to Tomas, he’s not content to keep his feelings a secret.
Jesse is a young college student who set out to be independent of his unsupportive parents. He sacrificed a lot to make sure he didn’t have to hide who he is anymore and meeting Tomas, no matter his attraction, will not put him back in the closet. Tomas on the other hand is still in denial. A conversation with his older brother at age 14 made him feel as if he had to hide his true feelings. And that is exactly what Tomas has done for years with indiscriminate and unfeeling blow-jobs in the back room of the clubs. Meeting Jesse changes all that for Tomas, but he’s got a long way to go before he takes that step.
Ms. Harris deals with the ‘gay for you’ trope a bit in here. Though Tomas has sought out male company in the past, it’s all been for quick gratification in the form of a hand job or blow job. No feelings involved and Tomas is always on the receiving end. He’s so “in his head” about what it all means that when he and Jesse start to get physical with each other he won’t let Jesse blow him. This confuses Jesse to no end, but he’s so attracted to Tomas and their closeness is so comforting and feels so right that he just kind of goes along with it. Jesse knows that Tomas’s family is old fashioned and he understands what it might mean for Tomas to admit that he’s gay, but Jesse has fought too hard to get away from his own parents prejudices to keep his feelings for Tomas a secret.
Ms. Harris makes a point of letting us into Tomas’s head as he tries to deal with his feelings and getting close to Jesse. While we are privy to his internal dialogue about why it felt wrong to him to let Jesse blow him and why he was uncomfortable with anything past them rubbing off together, I really would have liked for Tomas to open up with Jesse about his feelings. It wasn’t enough for me to just be in Tomas’s head; I really needed him to talk to Jesse instead of keeping him in the dark. The lack of any sort of conversation with respect to what Tomas was feeling made it a bit hard to believe it when Tomas all of a sudden was okay with doing something like rimming when he’d previously been uncomfortable with receiving a blow job from Jesse. Doing something in “the heat of the moment” didn’t work for me in this instance.
If trying to understand his feelings weren’t enough, things come to a head a few times for Tomas both at home with his ass of an older brother and at work with a few of his fellow firefighters who throw the word fag out in everyday conversation like it doesn’t have a negative connotation. Before Jesse, Tomas would just ignore it, and play along-but he can’t do that anymore and it becomes the catalyst for him taking that big step to coming out.
In both instances I felt that Tomas was forced to make the declaration, that maybe he wasn’t exactly ready to do so. It was all a bit anticlimactic as well. There is a scene where Tomas and his co-worker Rick have a conversation and basically get back to where they were friendship wise…but the discomfort with it all was still very much there for them. With Tomas’s family, we are very clear on how his brother Diego feels about it all, but we get no clear insight to his parent’s reaction. Though there is a sense of acceptance, I would really have liked to see some dialogue between Tomas and his mom and dad.
There is a lot of focus on Tomas as he deals with his sexuality and what falling in love with Jesse means to him. In the midst of it all, though, we do get to see some interaction with Jesse and his parents and that goes a long way to understanding Jesse as well. Secondary characters, Henri and Michael, are friends of Jesse from work and go a long way to bringing in a bit of humor to balance out the emotional rollercoaster of what Jesse and Tomas are going through. And then there is Saul, a firefighter that Tomas works with. I really don’t have a clear picture of him at all, but I am intrigued and can’t wait to see if my instincts about him are correct.
I actually read this story twice; the first time when I first received it and then again this week in preparation of writing this review. I liked it much more the second time around and though I question a few things here; they were not huge enough issues to ruin the story for me. Tomas is a strong character and I truly felt his discomfort and confusion as he takes this journey. I also really felt his connection to Jesse and their love for each other. Their early scenes together seem easy and meant to be and when it’s just the two of them it all works. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t keep a relationship in a secret bubble. Family and friends-they are and will always be a part of your life and it’s often difficult to find a delicate balance. As this is the start of a series, I trust that this is not the last we’ll see of Tomas and Jesse and I look forward to seeing their relationship continue to evolve.