Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Malory Clermont , a heat superpowered ex-felon, has just finished his time in jail and is now out on parole. Three years ago, Malory, his Dad and their cousin Brady (Riot Boy) planned and tried to pull off a bank robbery using their superpowers. But unknown to Mal and his criminal dad, Brady was working with the cops and betrayed them. It got nasty, people got hurt and Mal and his dad got jail time. Mal’s lawyer pleaded his case,citing extenuating circumstances, saying Mal’s dad and uncle had brought him up to be a criminal which was child abuse, . Which is why Mal is out after 2 and half years in the superpowered lockup and trying to re-enter society. His parole officer has three immediate goals for Mal. Find a place to live, find a place to work and attend his fellow parolees group therapy session. High goals when no one wants a ex con as a renter or employee.
Theo McCracken, a cold-superpowered ex-offender, is out on parole too. His crime? He murdered his abusive stepfather and would gladly do it again. Now free after 5 years in jail, he is trying to adjust to freedom outside and not doing particularly well at it. Theo feels pressured by outside forces and his twisted maternal ties. Emotionally and mentally Theo is more fragile than he looks. Theo is just that bit of out of control that is dangerous for someone recently out of jail and emotionally wanting. Then he sees Mal.
Mal and Theo met in their weekly court mandated group therapy sessions and click. Or at least Theo does. Mal just hides in his chair, keeping the lowest profile possible, a mass of confused hurt and passivity. Theo notices Mal immediately and starts his pursuit which scares Mal just enough to come out of his shell. Theo’s cold high energy rushes up against Mal’s hot docility in a clash of opposites that reenergizes them both. And despite abandonment issues, paranoia, traumatic family ties and events, somehow Mal and Theo start to hope that a future for them both is possible if they can just get past the re-entry burn.
Re-Entry Burn is the fifth story in the Superpowered Love series and a clear equal to Riot Boy (Superpowered Love #2), the story that made me fall deeply in love with these superpowered characters and twisted family histories. The story is told from the haunted, pain-filled voice of Malory Claremont, who we first met in Riot Boy (Superpowered Love #2). In that story he was a seething vessel of angst, rage and love and it was aimed directly at his cousin Brady who wanted to escape the criminal life that Brady’s family had forced on him. It is because of Katey Hawthorne’s marvelous gift of characterization that readers saw something more in Malory, something so sad and compelling that it just cried out for his story to be told. And now we get it and what an emotionally fraught journey it turns out to be with mental quicksand and societal traps everywhere. And in this author’s hands, its a outstanding piece of addictive storytelling
A raw, hip, and often dryly humorous dialog one of the hallmark elements of Katey Hawthorne’s stories. And it’s an element I can’t get enough of. When the word “fuck” flows out of one of her character’s mouth (in this case Mal Claremont) it might be as an adjective, a noun, a verb, an adverb and most certainly an interjection. Basically Hawthorne has made it work as every part of sentence and the end result is a unique, sometimes plaintive, sometimes angry introspective voice that propels you magnetically along the narrative. Don’t fight it, just go with the flow, following the raw musical tones of a damaged man trying to find his way out of his past and into the present. This is how the story starts:
You Are Here
I’m not saying I’m getting this all down perfect, but it’s pretty goddamn close. It’s hard not to go back and pretend I felt and did things different than I did, but if keeping that fucking journal taught me one thing, it was that changing the words after the fact changes the point. I didn’t want to do it, but I can’t remember the last time I wanted to do anything like I was told.
I’ll try and not get ahead of myself, but this shit is new to me. Not like anyone’s reading it anyhow. Whatever, fuck it.
The story unfolds as a journal that Mal (and all the other ex offenders) must keep as a part of their group therapy and parole. Mal writes down his thoughts and the events as they happen, using the journal to work through his mixed up feelings of anger and abandonment towards Brady and his life. The author lets the readers into Mal’s thought processes and the emotional and mental work that it takes for Mal to see through to the reality of the reasons behind his words and actions. It’s tough going for Mal and we aren’t always sure that he will reach the designation we hope for him. Mal and life has placed a lot of obstacles in his way, and he must understand and remove them before he can arrive at his personal truth. What an amazing character and story! And his slow, pain racked path is as fascinating and authentic as Mal is.
A little bit of background. Mal, Theo, Brady and even his parole officer are all superpowered beings called Awakened. They are elementals with powers linked accordingly whether it is heat, cold, water, or electrical. So already this is a group of beings on the outside of a society (Sleepers, that’s us) that is ignorant of their presence. Imagine having such power than not being able to use it. I think we could all imagine the frustration and the rage that would build up, so a respectable portion of the Awakened are criminals. Others have chosen to be the group that polices their own (with special prisons to hold them), and some have turned vigilante using their powers to help others. Hawthorne takes us into the middle of their rage, their divisive gatherings and makes us understand exactly what these beings are feelings and how conflicted their lives are.
Mal is not only having to readjust to freedom, he is also having to readjust to hiding once more who and what he is. Inside the special prison, Mal could be the heat elemental he was. No more hiding his powers and that was freeing in itself, a dichotomy. Now physically free, Mal looks to the outside as being imprisoned once more inside a persona not truly him. It’s a powerful image and not one conducive to staying outside the penal system. Theo’s background and personality also raises impediments to a successful future outside the prison system. His journey forward and emotional healing has as many potholes in it as Mal’s does.
There are so many heartbreaking elements to Re-entry Burn. Not just the realistic treatment Mal receives from his new co workers and neighbors which runs the gamut from wary friendliness to outright hostility and fear. No Mal is also adjusting to being in an environment where he can safely be a sexual being again as prison was not the place to explain his bisexuality. Mal’s interest in sex is dead in the water until Theo comes and sparks it back to life. And that has consequences too for them both. Nothing here is simple, everything has a reactive aspect that potentially could land either man back in prison in an instant. The author maintains a beautiful balance of tension between the readers and their concern for the characters and the needs of her narrative. If the men often goes to their knees, pounded down by their needs and the pressure, well, the reader is right there with them on the cement floor, feeling their pain and intoxication with each other and their powers.
How I love these people and their stories. I find them downright irresistible in voice and personality. Listen to Mal working through “shit” in his journal:
I pulled out my journal on one of my fifteen-minute breaks and wrote:
I am a thief. I am a liar. I am a man. I am crooked. I am uneven. I am angry. I am lost. I am alone. I am alive. I am a queer. I am a supervillain. I am a risk. I am a joke. I am funny, funny Malory, oh so fucking funny.
People throw words at me, and I wait to see how they stick, which parts of me meld into them, which parts of me curl up in a ball and wither. Some of the words are partly right.
Some of them are right sometimes. Most of them mean nothing at all, just weird sounds and shapes when I roll them around in my head. Some of them kill parts of me or put them to sleep so I forget they ever existed until something kicks them awake again.
But the one thing I’ve always been and will always be, the only thing I’m sure of: I am fire. Pyrolysis, a thermochemical reaction, a separating of elements. As long as I have that, I think I can hold them all off. Maybe not indefinitely, but for a while.
But why do I even want to? So I can find more words to apply, this time words I like, I want, I wish? How the fuck would that be any better?
What’s the fucking point?
So puzzled, still so full of pain. But he’s doing the work, he’s getting there and you are straining to help him every step of the way. You will feel that way about Theo too.
If this is your first Superpowered Love story, then go back to the beginning or at least start with Riot Boy. That will give you enough back history and insight into the characters to go forward with Re-entry Burn. It won’t take much before you will find yourself just as addicted as I am to this universe and these characters. Katey Hawthorne is a go to author for me and this is a perfect example why. Go, pick it up and start on the path to a love affair with the Awakened! You are going to love them. And just because I can, here is one more hook to reel you in. Malory is speaking with his parole officer:
Maybe society would start pretending I was human again. I admit, part of me was thinking, fuck that noise, and always will. But it’s as good as it gets. Less trouble too.
“Do you feel like it’s helpful with your reentry, I mean?”
I pictured myself racing through the atmosphere like the Apollo 13 capsule, trailing pieces of myself and fire.
P.L. Nunn’s cover is gorgeous as always.
Books in the Superpowered Love series in the order they were written and should be read:
Equilibrium (Superpowered Love, #1)
Jealousy: A Love Story (Superpowered Love, #1.1)
Best Gift Ever (Superpowered Love, #1.2)
Riot Boy (Superpowered Love, #2)
Willoughby Spit (Superpowered Love, #2.1)
Nobody’s Hero (Superpowered Love, #3)
Losing Better (Superpowered Love, #4)
Re-Entry Burn (Superpowered Love, #5)