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REVIEW: A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R.W. Day

Dear Ms. Day,

9781590210635 Last May, when I reviewed Wicked Gentlemen, Ann Somerville recommended some m/m romances to me. I checked out excerpts from the books she mentioned, and of them all, A Strong and Sudden Thaw stood out the most.

I purchased a copy of the book intending to read and probably review it, but not long after that, you posted that the publisher which originally put out your book in October 2006, Iris Print, was sending you royalty checks that bounced. Since you officially requested that readers not purchase new copies of A Strong and Sudden Thaw, I was torn over whether to review the book. I didn’t so much make a decision not to do it, as was enticed by the many other books clamoring for my attention, and as time passed, I forgot about my good intentions to review your book.

But this story has a happy ending. In July, Iris Print went out of business, and two and a half months ago, a new edition of A Strong and Sudden Thaw was published by Lethe Press. Readers can now purchase the book without worrying about stolen royalties.

In January, I signed up for Keishon’s TBR Challenge, and when Keishon posted that April’s theme would be “Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, SFR or Fantasy” I looked through my bookshelves and found A Strong and Sudden Thaw. Since the book is not only a m/m romance but also a fantasy/science fiction hybrid set in a post-apocalyptic Virginia, the April challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to read and review the book.

As best as I can tell, A Strong and Sudden Thaw is set about a hundred years in the future. The land has become frozen and much technology has been lost, at least in the town of Moline, where David Anderson, the narrator of the book, lives. Because of the Ice, as it is known, society has reverted to pioneer ways, and David and his family live off the land. The family is close knit; David is the oldest of five children ranging in ages from sixteen (David) to five (his little sister, Almond). David’s maternal grandmother, whom he calls “Grandmam” (his parents are “Pa” and “Mam”) also lives with the family.

Recently dragons have appeared in the skies of Moline, to snatch a sheep here or there, but once they even snatched a baby. The people of Moline organized a posse to go after them, but the mission failed – the dragons’ scales protect them from bullets.

But that is not David’s most immediate concern. His mother, May-Marie, wants David to marry one of the girls in town, but David has no interest in this girl or in any other girl. He knows other boys his age are interested in girls, and he realizes that something about himself is different.

When a young healer named Callan comes to Moline from Florida, David strikes up a friendship with Callan, who lends him his precious and rare books, and treats Almond and David’s grandmother’s ailments with gentle thoughtfulness.

David and Callan become close, and David begins to realize he is attracted to Callan, and to dream about his friend at night. But David doesn’t believe his feelings are reciprocated, and doesn’t even realize that it is possible for two men to become lovers.

It’s not until Callan and another man in town are arrested for engaging in sexual acts (something to which David was a witness) that David realizes it might be possible for him to have the kind of relationship he has dreamed of with Callan.

There are many obstacles to face first, though: the intolerance of the townspeople, including David’s own mother, Callan’s punishement for his “crime,” the dragons, and the government, which beings to seem more and more corrupt.

A Strong and Sudden Thaw is narrated in a David’s distinctive voice. Here is the opening paragraph:

There’s an old scenic view about halfway up the mountain, alongside where the old highway runs. The signs are fading, of course, and the pavement’s cracked and ruined, invaded years ago by roots of the scrub pines reclaiming what men stole from them back in the Before. There used to be a fence, a low barrier of iron-grey metal put up by the old people, but it’s gone now too. My mam always told me not to lean on that fence, and she was right, because one day late last summer, after a torrential rain that left us all knee-deep in cold black muck, that twisted fence went right over the edge. Just following after our world, I guess, plummeting over the edge into the abyss. Or at least that’s what Grandmam says, and she ought to know, as she remembers the Before times. She tells stories that make the old world sound like spun sugar candy you get at the Harvest Fair. Rich and sweet, but destined to crumble away at the first hard rain.

The narrative voice of A Strong and Sudden Thaw is one of my favorite things about it. Another is the way the characters, both major and minor, come alive.

David is wonderful, and I loved the way that despite his relative ignorance of things like history and politics, you showed that he possessed a lively intelligence. He is also courageous and honest, so much so that I sometimes feared for him. Callan is less distinctive, but very sympathetic, a gentle, educated, bright and caring man who clearly loves David.

David’s family members are also very memorable, from the fairy tale telling Grandmam, who remembers the days before the Ice and shows more tolerance and understanding of David’s love for Callan than most of the other characters do, to David’s father, Brock, a deeply honest and honorable yet pragmatic man, to David’s siblings and his mother, May-Marie, a religious woman who believes that physical love between men is wrong but loves her son very much nonetheless.

Many of the townspeople are also distinctive, so I was very impressed with the thought that went into creating each and every character.

The fantastical element is introduced at the beginning of A Strong and Sudden Thaw but it soon takes a backseat to the relationships and the story of the town’s intolerance toward Callan’s sexual orientation. Eventually though, the dragons make their presence in the story felt in spades, and the focus of the story shifts somewhat, though not entirely.

The book is quite suspenseful, so much so that I peeked ahead to see how things would turn out for the two heroes, something I almost never do. It was also, to me, reminiscent of both the later Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books, because of its focus on a pioneer-like community’s survival, and of the movie version of “Brokeback Mountain,” because of the censure David and Callan face from their community, and the way they have to hide their feelings for much of the story.

David and Callan’s initial falling in love happens very quickly, and I would have liked for it to be drawn out more. The conflict is mainly an external one, the fact that their relationship is forbidden. I liked that the book didn’t take the simple way out most of the time, so I was a bit disappointed in the resolution to David and Callan’s difficulties, which seemed a bit too easy.

A bigger problem for me, though, was the age difference between the two heroes and the way it was never addressed in the book. When things first get physical between them, David is sixteen and Callan twenty-three, and that seven year age gap bothered me. I have mixed feelings about it because in many ways David’s youth is necessary to the book’s coming-of-age story aspect.

I realize that David was a mature sixteen year old, and Callan a young twenty-three, but I was still uncomfortable. I think that if David had been even a year or two older, or if Callan had been younger, or else if the age difference had been discussed by the main characters, I might have not been so uncomfortable with it. But the only time the age difference came up was in the context of the narrow-minded side characters who felt that Callan had corrupted David and turned him gay. While I have no doubt that David was gay before he ever met Callan, I would have liked to see the age difference debated or at least acknowledged without being attached to homophobia.

For that reason, I can’t endorse A Strong and Sudden Thaw as strongly as I might otherwise. I’m not sorry that I read this original and well-written tale, I just wish that my enjoyment had been wholehearted. B for this one.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from independent bookstore near you or ebook format at AllRomanceEbooks and other etailers.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

16 Comments

  1. LesleyW
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 05:19:28

    This was one of my favourite books from last year. And I hope that R W Day will perhaps write a sequel, as it’s kind of hinted at that the story is being told by a much older David.

    I think David’s maturity is somewhat addressed by the fact that it is clear that due to the harsh circumstances in which the characters live – following the apocalypse -children become adult much sooner. And that if David hadn’t ended up with Callan, he was expected to marry the girl from town.

    This is one of the books I’d recommend for anyone thinking of trying out a m/m book. The love scenes whilst erotic and beautifully written aren’t graphic.

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  2. Rachel
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 06:05:46

    Oh, how exciting that Thaw has been picked up by a new publisher! I love this book so much – one of my absolute favourite m/m romances. And I know that Day has written a sequel, so hopefully this means that it will finally be published (oh happy day!)

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  3. Cathy
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 07:28:05

    I read this book about 2 years ago, and my immediate reaction after finishing was “wow, that was really good.” Unfortunately, the more I thought about it, though, the more dissatisfied I was with parts of the book. I think the world-building was pretty sloppy; Day had a really neat idea, but I don’t think it was mapped out very well and the inconsistencies frustrated me. I was also confused that the romance (which I did really enjoy, and thought was well done) seemed to wrap up neatly in the single novel, but there were quite a few loose ends hanging in the breeze that appeared to be sequel bait.

    I did like the romance, and in general the idea of a post-apocalyptic Virginia was neat (probably because I live in central Virginia), and I agree that the characters were all 3-dimensional, with clear voices and personalities, which was a nice change from many other books.

    I’m not sorry I read the book; it’s on my keeper shelf, and I’ll definitely read the sequel when its published, but I think for me it was a B+ for the romance and characters, and a C world-building and other issues.

    (BTW, I know Iris turned out to be shady and cheated Day out of her earnings, but I really did love the cover on their edition; it’s what drew me to the book in the first place.)

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  4. Janine
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 12:05:17

    Lesley W — R.W. Day mentions on her website that there is indeed a sequel in the offing:

    Out of the Ashes (SF) – this sequel to A Strong and Sudden Thaw continues David and Callan's story, taking them far from sleepy Moline into new challenges, and new dangers. Status – draft complete, in revision.

    Re. David’s being old enough to marry in his society, I thought that he was old enough to be expected to begin courting at sixteen, not necessarily old enough to marry immediately. And yeah, on the one hand there were signals that he was close to adulthood as far as the residents of Moline were concerened, but there were also signals to the contrary, like David’s complaints that he wasn’t viewed as a grown man, and the insinuation that Callan might have corrupted a child.

    It was very much a coming-of-age story, and I suspect that was the reason Day didn’t make David older. Because if he really was an adult for all intents and purposes, why not just make the character eighteen or older? I felt the author wanted to have it both ways — have him adult enough for sex, but young enough for other things.

    Rachel - I don’t know the publication status of the sequel but I too was very glad to see that the book was picked up by another publisher.

    Cathy – The inconsistencies in the world building occurred to me, but I was caught up in the story enough not to care that much about them. I thought that wrapping up the romance but not everyhing else was a good way to set up a sequel, because if nothing had been wrapped up I would have been dissatisfied. I do agree though that it’s not a perfect book, though.

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  5. DS
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 14:32:38

    Thanks for reviewing this. I had been tempted after reading a sample but I had held off due to the publishing problem. Now I can go ahead and order it with a clear conscience.

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  6. Janine
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 20:57:20

    You’re welcome, DS.

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  7. Emmy
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 22:17:03

    I’ve got the Iris version on my keeper shelf, but I do like Anne Cain’s cover here *much* better. I’m glad other people got a second chance to read Becky’s wonderful book.

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  8. Steve Berman
    Apr 19, 2009 @ 09:09:40

    Thank you, Janine, for reviewing this book. I’m really glad Lethe could bring the book back into print — part of Lethe’s mission to readers and writers.

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  9. Tamara
    Apr 19, 2009 @ 11:29:14

    I love both covers for this book. I wish more covers were along this style. I also loved the story and thought it was an evocative and vivid piece of world-building (I could just about feel the cold myself), and the love story is just lovely and romantic. I’m still hoping we’ll have the sequel soon.

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  10. cs
    Apr 19, 2009 @ 19:07:54

    I hate that gay fiction books are so pricey. However, your review sold me and will buy myself a Lethe copy when I get paid.

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  11. Janine
    Apr 20, 2009 @ 00:29:52

    I hope you enjoy the book, CS.

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  12. Mary M.
    Apr 20, 2009 @ 14:36:57

    I’ve had this book on my WL for a while but haven’t bought it yet – I lean more towards contemporary and paranormal than futuristic fiction, as a rule, so there is always something else I’m more interested in reading than this book. But I’ll get there eventually. This cover is beautifully done but I liked the old one better, mostly because this one emphasizes how young the characters are when I prefer to read about characters that are 30-ish.

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  13. Janine
    Apr 20, 2009 @ 19:04:52

    Mary, I hope you enjoy it too. Both covers are nice IMO.

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  14. Matthew
    Aug 26, 2009 @ 18:01:45

    I just finished reading this book on my Kindle, and am VERY happy to know that the sequel is on it’s way from R W Day. I also reviewed this book on Shelfari, and I’m not sure I share your misgivings about either the world building or the age difference.

    About the age, I think you are looking at it from a modern perspective, where age of consent is a hard 18. In pioneer times, just like in Napoleonic Law, 12 was the age of consent. And I also point you to Europe and some states in the US, where adult hood IS 18, but the age of consent is 16. You can engage in relations with someone under 18 as long as they are over 16.

    This is how I viewed the world of ASASF. They still had hang overs from the society that came before, but like a true pioneer world, they were moving back to an understanding that in a harsh world, people grow up fast. David is only 17 at the end of the book, but his actions have made clear to the towns folk he is an adult, and no one gainsays him that right.

    Because he is young, they want to make sure he is truly ready, but once they understand, they accept his adulthood.

    I just understand that view point. Living as I do now in New Zealand where a bit of that pioneer spirit still lives, as long as the parent’s don’t feel thier child is being abused, we all accept relationships between 16 year olds and people in there 20s

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  15. Janine
    Aug 26, 2009 @ 18:57:18

    Thanks for posting your thoughts, Matthew. For me, seven years (the length of the age gap) seems like a signifcant timespan for a sixteen year old — almost half of his life. I understand what you are saying, but I can only rely on my own responses to a book when writing reviews. I’m glad you enjoyed the book.

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  16. Charles
    Aug 10, 2010 @ 14:28:42

    I LOVE this book so much and i’m desperate for the sequel! Out Of The Ashes is unavaiable at Amazon! has it been realeased already or it’s been only announced? please, someone answer!!! I must buy the sequel!!!!!!!

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