[REVIEW] Out of the Ashes by Olivia Duncan Craig

olivia duncan craigOut of the Ashes by Olivia Duncan Craig

Format/Publisher/Year: Ebook (162 pages), ODC Press, 2012

From the Blurb

Young Noah hadn’t any idea how quickly his world could turn upside down. One minute, he was living, happy and secure, with a doting father and grandmother to look after him. The next, his father is dead, his grandmother is confined to her sickbed, and the only other family he has left is his new stepmother and her two children.

Taken far from his home, worked hard and hidden away from the world, Noah hasn’t much to look forward to, growing up. Until one day, Matthew, a handsome neighbor, comes riding up to him like a knight on his charger. [more]

Commentary

It’s never a good sign when the first sentence of a story has you staring at it in disbelief. Out of the Ashes, like the fairy tale tradition it’s aping, begins with “Once upon a time…” — un-ironically. Despite the fact that this story is marketed as an m/m novel and (almost necessarily for the genre) contains sexual content, Ms Craig starts the story in a style more suited to a child’s storybook. It’s well-written for what it is, but as a reader I felt both condescended to and frustrated by the highly simplistic language and heavy-handed turns of phrase.

Thankfully this faux fairy tale style eventually peters out, and despite the odd typo (and the less forgivable mispelling/re-naming of characters, which happens three times), Out of the Ashes does have some snappy lines hiding within the generic prose. And I admit the story sucked me in once the characters’ lives were all but laid out on the page and the story actually, you know, started. But even though I have a Cinderella kink a mile wide, there were too many fundamental aspects of this story that left me unsatisfied.

The primary one: Noah as a character. The thing is, he’s a nice boy. He is entirely unobjectionable, which is exactly the problem. Who wants to trace the life of someone who does no wrong and wouldn’t squash a spider even if it landed on his arm and sunk its fangs in? I think I could forgive a Mary Sue of a protagonist if the love interest’s characterisation was compelling enough, but while Matthew has more depth than Noah, he’s still petty bland. He’s also young enough that he must rely on his parents for all of his resources, which is believable, but not exactly a turn on.

Thankfully, Noah’s evil (I won’t bother equivocating when it comes to choosing adjectives for her when the story itself doesn’t) stepmother Elaine has some nice, dark moments early on before she all but disappears from the story as a physical presence. I also appreciated the fact that Matthew’s “good” father, while doing his best to support his son’s sexuality, never entirely accepts it.

And then there’s the story’s conclusion. While Out of the Ashes has some weird jumps in time throughout it, I was amazed at how rapidly the story was wrapped up. Ms Craig skips over what is generally considered a pretty important scene: the injured protagonist waking up with his/her saviour at their bedside. In total, Matthew and Noah have only about four onscreen scenes together in the entirety of the story, and while I know I’m supposed to accept the “love at first sight no questions asked” rule of fairy tales, modern or not, their relationship wasn’t written well enough for me to believe it (or want to believe it). I also baulked at the implication that Noah’s sudden financial largesse at the end was enough to counteract his life of abuse, neglect and isolation. Sure, it gives him financial equality with Matthew (or should I say, Matthew’s parents), but money and a fledgling relationship, hastily pulled together, doesn’t make a happy ending. Nor does breaking the fourth wall with all the sudden Prince Charming and fairy tale references made by the characters — sorry, but the jokes fell flat. (For a masterclass in referencing your source material without being dictated by it, go read The Student Prince).

Recommended?

Out of the Ashes isn’t a bad story. It’s competently written and sweeps you along for its short length, but so many facets of it left me groaning in exasperation that I can’t honestly recommend it.

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