Until You

Grade : A

I’ve read and enjoyed several of Briar Prescott’s books, but this one, I outright loved. Until You is the first in a new series, and it’s a emotional, touching and heartfelt slow-burn love story about a young man whose life takes an most unexpected turn after a single, momentous decision brought the life he’d known to an abrupt end and set him on a different path. It’s a compelling read – funny, insightful, heartbreaking and sexy – and I couldn’t bear to put it down.

If seventeen-year-old Jude could change just one thing about his life, it would be his parents’ wanderlust. They adore him and he loves them to bits, but he’d like to stop moving around so often and have the chance to put down some roots and make some friends he can keep. As there’s only a year or so to go until he leaves for college, they’ve promised him no more moves before then, so when he overhears them talking about moving on again, he’s confused, hurt and upset. Then a few of the other things they’d said filter through and he starts to wonder what they could have meant. Could he have been adopted? When he tells his best friends, Blair and Steph, about it, Blair suggests he get one of those mail order DNA tests and decide on the next step once he’s got the results.

Fast forward several years, and we catch up with Jude, who is living in NYC and making a living doing lots of different temporary jobs – bartending, waiting tables, delivering food. It can be a bit chaotic at times, but it suits him and he’s… content. No ties, no strings – which is the way he likes his personal life, too; casual hook-ups are fun, they scratch an itch, and best of all, they’re safe. After all, “Nobody can hurt you if you won’t let them close enough.”

Jude meets Blake McAdams at a party where they end up getting locked out on the rooftop where Jude had been planning a private party with the bottle of gin he swiped from the bar. He’s immediately attracted to Blake, who is absolutlely gorgeous and more than up to Jude’s weight in the verbal sparring stakes. They banter back and forth, and even talk about themselves a bit – not something Jude normally does – and he’s is most definitely up for more, but Blake says outright that he’s not going to sleep with him – which is… disappointing. Before Jude can become too mortified at barking up the wrong tree, the door to the roof smashes open and they’re told to get back downstairs. It’s probably just as well – Jude was starting to like Blake and to like who he was around a genuinely nice guy – and he doesn’t do that. After a quick farewell, he gets the fuck out of there.

When Jude gets home, he’s dismayed to find that he’s lost his watch. He panics – it was a gift from his father and he can’t lose it, he just can’t. He looks everywhere he can think of, even goes back to the club where the party was, but it’s not there. Miserably, he resigns himself to the fact that the watch is gone for good – but the next day, he gets a phone call from an unknown number – it’s Blake. He found a watch with a phone number on the strap and wants to meet up to return it.

The watch hand-over proves to be the beginning of something special. Jude still tries to keep Blake at a distance, but Blake is endearingly persistent and they settle into an easy friendship. Jude flirts outrageously, Blake affectionately shoots him down; Blake texts Jude regularly about nothing in particular, they share meals, they hang out and watch Jude’s favourite bad sci-fi movies. Blake is still adamant that he’s not going to sleep with Jude, and Jude makes no secret of his desire to get Blake into bed, but as the weeks pass, Jude starts to realise that whatever it is he has with Blake, he likes it a lot, even though sex is off the table. The way their relationship progresses is superbly done – their chemistry is sizzling, their mutual affection is palpable, the banter is spectacularly good and all the conflicing emotions Jude is experiencing – his loneliness, his confusion, his happiness at being around Blake, his fear and anxiety at the prospect of opening himself up to pain and loss – are so well executed that they leap off the page. For the first time in years, Jude is forced to admit how much he wants to love and be loved, to feel happy and secure and as though he belongs. He falls hard for Blake, even though it’s not easy to break out of his self-imposed isolation, and he has many doubts and insecurities to overcome. I was really impressed with the way Ms. Prescott shows us that Jude knows, deep down, that the way he’s been living – temporary jobs, temporary lovers, no plans, no ambitions – is merely an existence and it’s not what he wants his life to be. It takes a lot of guts to do what Jude does, to see that he’s wrong and to make the conscious decision to make a major change, even though it means lowering the thick protective walls he’s built around himself. But Blake matters to him enough for Jude to want to let him in – somehow he just fits into his life in a way nobody else ever has – and while it’s most definitely scary, it’s wonderful and exhilarating, too.

The author doesn’t immediately reveal the events that helped shape Jude into the cynical, guarded man he has become by the time we meet him; rather she hints at it and drops a few clues here and there, slowly revealing the truth in the same way as she slowly draws the reader into Jude’s life and lets us get to know him bit by bit, which feels very realistic. We know he’s been badly hurt and let down, something which has affected him so deeply that it’s made it hard for him to trust anyone, and wary of anything beyond the superficial. The exceptions are Blair (and now, her wife, Nora) and Steph, who are still his best friends, but that’s only because Blair refused to let Jude disappear from their lives.

The story is told only in Jude’s PoV, but although we never get into Blake’s head (apart from in the epilogue), the author does a great job of fleshing him out, showing the growth of his feelings for Jude and that there’s more to his happy, easy-going persona than meets the eye. Single PoV can be tricky to pull off successfully, but it works really well here and Jude’s narrative voice is so captivating – snarky, honest and deadpan funny – that I honestly didn’t feel the lack of a second perspective.

Until You is not your average grumpy/sunshine romance, though. It’s easily head and shoulders above most of the others out there in terms of writing, humour and characterisation – and then the author throws in a clever plot twist I absolutely did not see coming. Looking back, I could see that she has left a very subtle trail of breadcrumbs, so that what happens makes perfect sense and doesn’t read as a clichéd third-act crisis/break-up, but it will punch you in the feels and your heart will break alongside Jude’s and Blake’s as you root for them to find a way back to each other. It’s not an easy road, but Is all the sweeter for being so hard-won – and I dare anyone to have a dry eye after reading what is one of the most gorgeous fictional love letters I’ve ever seen.

Until You is Briar Prescott’s best book yet. The prose is thoughtful, insightful and romantic in the best of ways – emotional without being sappy; she writes banter that is genuinely witty, and Jude and Blake are beautifully drawn, complex, three-dimensional characters who will make you laugh, make you cry and (sometimes) make you want to bang their heads together. I loved every moment I spent with Jude and Blake and I’m eagerly awaiting the next in the series. In the meantime, it’s the DIK shelf for this one (and almost certainly an appearance on my Best of 2023 list) and the highest of recommendations.

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :) I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres. And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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