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This review is also available on my blog, Bows & Bullets Reviews
Nick Merrick has always been the dependable one. He seems to do everything, keeping his grades up, helping Gabriel with his school work so he can get into fire-fighting training, help Michael with the landscaping business so they don't have to live off ramen noodles, and keep his brothers from tearing each others heads off with things get too heated. But Nick is about ready to break because he doesn't know how much longer he can hide his secret, especially when he can't seem to stay away from Adam, his "girlfriend's" dance partner. He's terrified to break the news of his homosexuality to his brothers because he wouldn't be able to handle they rejection, especially Gabriel's. Add that stress to the ever-present stay alive scenario with the Guides constantly out to get them and our Nicky has quite a been to handle. Can he keep it all locked in or will he allow someone else to help him?
It seems like every time I read one of the Elemental series, the book that particular brother is mainly about becomes my favorite Merrick and this is no exception. Nick problems felt so real. Unlike the rest of the books, this almost reads like a contemporary romance because you don't go into a lot of the Elemental stuff. Sure, it's there and the threat of the Guides is present, but this is much more about Nick's journey to come out of the closet than anything else. He's such an easy character to sympathize with. I think he was a bit stupid to worry so much about his brother's reactions because it's obvious to anyone that they would support him through anything, but I can also see why anyone would worry, because there are a lot of close-minded people out there. Watching his relationship with everyone here was completely enthralling, but it's the interaction with his brothers that gets me. This entire series has captivated me in the way we see them, which shocks me as much as anyone else because I'm usually all about the romance, but there is something mesmerizing about this close-knit group of brothers that keeps me coming back.
Another interesting thing about this is it's told via Nick's perspective (obviously) and his fake "girlfriend," Quinn's perspective. The obvious choice would have been to alternate between Nick and Adam, but Kemmerer is having none of that. While I would have enjoyed being in Adam's head for a while, seeing deeper into Quinn really balanced her character out for me. I have never hated Quinn, but she was never been my favorite character. I always found her drama a bit much and though it still gets under my skin a bit here, I can finally understand her situation. Her living situation is far from ideal. Her family is downright abusive and she's trying to get away from them, but has no where to run to since her best friend is too wrapped up in her boyfriend to make and effort and Nick's so stressed from everything else that she doesn't want to burden him. It was pretty obvious early on that she was going to end up with Tyler, but watching him jump from psychotic jackass to caring sweet guy was interesting. I don't know if I can ever really support the couple because Tyler has done a lot of fucked up things, but we start to see him redeem himself and I'm interested to see if he can really turn everything around.
Everything here is just as good, if not better, than the previous novels. I adored everything about it. It makes me want to create a 6 star rating just because it was that good. This is the first novel I've read where the main character is gay and if they are all this good, sign me up! It's not that I have a problem with the subject, just that none of them ever really caught me attention. But Nicky here has had my attention since the first book, so I'm all for whatever kind of story she wants to tell and I get this epic thing and, damn, is the term rabid fan-girling strong enough? I have no personal experience to backup my opinions here, but Nick's journey felt very realistic to me. I hated seeing him struggle, but that made it more believable and I love that he continues to struggle even after he decides he wants to be with Adam, that everything wasn't instantly rainbows and sunshine just because he found a boyfriend. And, if I wasn't already in love with each of his brothers, their reactions to the news would have pushed me over that edge. Chris with his sweet caring nature and quiet understand and Michael with his pride in his brothers success. Gabriel's inital reaction left a lot to be desired, but I truly believe that had less to do with the fact that Nick is gay and more to do with the way it was sprung on him. Trust me, he makes it up to Nick in the end.
So I made no secret of the fact that Spirit pissed me off in many ways, but this completely makes up for that. Well, okay maybe that's the wrong word choice, but I would gladly suffer through Hunter's trials and tribulations (and heartbreak) to get to the epicness that was this book. It was so good that I really want to stop what I'm currently reading, ignoring the massive stack of E-ARCs that will be keeping me busy until June and just read it again. That, in and of itself, is the highest recommendation I can give because I don't re-read many novels. Seriously people, I know I ranted to no end about Spirit and how it ruined to series for me, making me regret ever recommending the series because I knew whoever I recommended it to would get to Spirit and be monumentally disappointed. While I stand by the fact that it was a terrible novel with terrible things occurring within those pages, I find that now I would recommend the series because the rest of the books make up for that fuckup. This particular book makes up for it and I highly recommend it to everyone, whether you've read the rest of the series or not, this book (& Nick) will win your heart!
****Thank you to KTeen, an imprint of Kensington Publishing, for providing me with an eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review****