Out of the Ashes
Out of the Ashes is the third and final book in Jenn Burke’s Ashes & Dust series of paranormal romances set in and around Toronto, featuring vampire investigator Evan Fournier, his lover Colin Zhang – a phoenix – and their extended family of werewolves, vampires, witches – and a god. The author does include information about the previous instalments for readers new to the series, but I’d advise reading the books in order so as to fully understand the character backstories and the emotional impact of past events.
Please note that there are spoilers in this review.
At the end of House on Fire, Colin made the decision to break the bond that had accidentally formed between himself and Evan (in All Fired Up). It was risky, but he’s come through it okay – mostly; while he’s retained his memories and knows who Evan is, he has no emotional attachment to those memories, and Evan can tell that every time Colin looks at him, he sees a virtual stranger. Understanding why Colin did what he did makes it no less devastating, and Evan is trying desperately to cling to the hope given him by Colin’s confession of love and exhortation to fight for them in the letter he left before he underwent the spell. But weeks later, and with no indication that anything is changing, a heartbroken Evan is struggling to keep his depression at bay, wondering how long he’ll be able to keep alive the hope that Colin will come back to him.
At the same time as Evan is trying to come to terms with the fact that the man he loves may never again love him back, the Westerson-Rojas household is reeling from the murder of Hudson’s brother by a demon, and the disappearance of Hudson’s niece Priya, who fears she will be accused of the crime. And they’re still no nearer to discovering who is responsible for the spate of attacks on members of the paranormal community over the past few months.
Out of the Ashes opens a few weeks after House on Fire ends, and finds Evan and Colin on a maybe-date, joining their friends for the evening at Alleys, their favourite hang-out. The night has barely begun when the place is rocked by an explosion that kills several of the bar’s paranormal patrons and injures many more – including Colin, who discovered the hard way that using his phoenix powers to control fire isn’t as easy now he’s unbonded.
Amid the chaos, Evan is sure he recognises someone from a recent investigation, a shifter who works as bodyguard to Elijah Michelakis, the man believed to be behind the recent campaign to expose and discredit paranormals in the community. It seems as though the anti-paranormal campaign has been stepped up, but when Michelakis is found dead – apparently by his own hand – it’s clear to Evan and the gang that there’s something – or someone – else pulling the strings.
In my review of the previous book, I said that it posed more questions than it afforded answers and that it moved swiftly without offering more than a cursory exploration of events. As well as the main plotline about the threat to Toronto’s paranormal community, there was a subplot about Hudson’s brother and one about Colin’s former fiancée and his son, and there was so much going on that the romance between Evan and Colin just wasn’t gelling. Even so, the breaking of their bond at the end was a real gut-punch, so I was looking forward to seeing them fall in love ‘properly’ in this book, but while the author does a good job of tying up all the loose ends, I still found the romance a bit lacking, and can’t help wishing Colin’s PoV had been included. Without it, he feels distanced and little more than two-dimensional.
Evan, on the other hand, is superbly characterised, likeable and sympathetic. As has been the case throughout this and the previous series (Not Dead Yet) his “asshole brain” – aka, depression – is written realistically and sensitively, and I’ve really enjoyed watching his growing confidence as he comes into his own, still very much part of the family Wes and Hudson have built, but capable of standing on his own two feet and living on his own terms.
The book feels more cohesive than the previous one and the plot is well-paced and developed, but the identity of the Big Bad comes a bit out of left-field, and in the end, their motivations are not particularly compelling. I can’t deny I was a bit disappointed with how certain aspects of the final showdown were handled, but ultimately, Out of the Ashes reaches a satisfying conclusion and is an enjoyable finale to Evan and Colin’s journey, with a firm HEA for them and the hint of a possible spin off/sequel series that will open out the paranormal world Jenn Burke has so strongly established.
If you’ve been following the Ashes & Dust series, then you’ll want to pick up Out of the Ashes to find out how everything turns out, and if not, there’s a lot to enjoy here. If you’re in the market for a series of paranormal romances featuring strong world-building, likeable characters and intriguing plots, with a found-family vibe and plenty of warmth and humour, this one should definitely be on your radar.
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