Alexis Hall has enormous potential. He is not afraid of difficult MCs, with serious issues. Ash, the narrator of this 1st person POV story has type 1 bipolar disorder. He has panic attacks and periods of depression that he shares with the reader. In his past he has been hospitalized during manic episodes and there has been at least one suicide attempt. He is sometimes genuinely debilitated by his mental issues and sometimes he uses them as an excuse or as a means to manipulate his friends. Ash is honest to god a bit of an ass. He's funny, so that helps, but it is kind of hard to see why he has any friends at all, because he is mean to them most of the time. It's obvious everyone sees something in him, but what that is exactly is not so clear to the reader. The upside is that at least Ash comes to realize he is an ass. I can point out some m/m books in which neither the MC nor the author seems to realize the MC is very unpleasant, so I prefer tales of redemption like this one.
Hall also doesn't make the mental issues magically disappear when they become inconvenient for the love story, although they do seem to get a bit better. I suppose that comes with Ash's growth as a character. It is interesting to see how his mental illness affects his daily life and his relationships and it does give you a measure of sympathy for Ash, enough so that at least you root for him to become a better person and feel that he deserves his happiness in the end.
Hall's dialog shines. Especially the ones that aren't with Darian. As good as the latter are, the way the accent is written is jarring. Some of you won't care, but if you couldn't get through [b:Zero at the Bone|6382879|Zero at the Bone (Zero at the Bone, #1)|Jane Seville|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1239008011s/6382879.jpg|6570901] because of the accent you should not even start this. My personal preference would be to keep the word use ('well special', 'you donut') but to not write it phonetically. It doesn't work for many people and especially ESL readers are going to have a hell of a time figuring out what the characters are saying, which is not conducive to an enjoyable reading experience.
I especially loved the conversations with Amy, Niall and Max. They were witty, sharp and insightful. Kudos to Hall for not even featuring one single loathsome female character, by the way. Thank you, sir! The humor in this book is excellent and there lots of funny scenes in which the writing is great. There was a good balance between the darker, emotional parts of the book and the lighter bits, which made things neither unbearably angsty nor disappointingly fluffy.
This is Hall's first book and he must
keep writing, because he has the potential to be very good. But there are a few issues, besides the phonetically written accent, that I hope he will avoid in the future.
First of all he uses some of the tiredest old tropes in the romance genre. As if the mental issues would not provide enough material for a good story, the main trope he uses is the class difference / opposites attract one. The Oxbridge Intellectual and the Ibiza Party Boy, in this case. Class difference has been done to death in het romance and in m/m I can think of a few right off the top of my head, like[b:Brainy and the Beast|13562518|Brainy and the Beast|J.M. Cartwright|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1364960119s/13562518.jpg|19138129],[b:Muscling Through|11045338|Muscling Through|J.L. Merrow|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327900692s/11045338.jpg|15966033] etc. In the end, I am not sure I've completely bought into Ash and Darien as a couple, but that is a bit of a minor niggle. Also, the Big Misunderstanding in this book may not come from the The-Attractive-Redhead-You-Thought-You-Saw-Me-Flirting-With-Is-Actually-My-Cousin-Trope, but the one Hall uses is almost equally tired and worn out. He'd better not be planning to use an OMG-You-Almost-Died-I-Love-You in his next book, is all I'm saying.
The first third of the book, that we spend with Ash only, is written in a style that some might call lyrical prose, but that for me often crossed the line into purple. I am not asking Hall to turn into Voinov or Manna Francis, that isn't who he is or who he should want to be, but a little more self restraint on the metaphors would help immensely. Sometimes they were opaque to the point of having to read them two or three times to figure out what they meant and that killed the flow of the story. Praise Amazon for the built in dictionary in the kindle, it was heavily used for this book. Although I have to express my disappointment in the New Oxford American Dictionary's inability to deal with Essex colloquialisms. After Darian becomes more prominent in the story and we're not so caught up in Ash's observations and lamentations all the time, the writing gets a lot less purple, and the whole book lightens up.
The author also has an odd habit of interrupting the immersion in Ash's sometimes intense emotions with intellectual reflections that have an oddly distancing effect just when that is uncalled for. For instance in the middle of an anxiety attack we get this (italics are mine):
“My eyes burned as I bargained desperately and silently with a God I didn't believe in. Ah, the pitiful prayers of a rational man. If the mad can be so called. I twisted under Essex's arm and his deep even breathing gusted over my skin.”
And later, in the middle of being fucked over his desk we get:
“But he was there to hold me pinned between the twin pleasures of his hand and his cock....I writhed in pursuit of both, letting his body and all its lean strength drive away everything but desire and the frantic, undignified scramble after physical release. Whatever the internal mechanism that moderated the human capacity for joy, mine had long been broken beyond repair. And I knew this was a poor substitute, a base shadow cast on the cave wall, a reflection in a tarnished mirror of ordinary things like happiness, love and hope. But there were moments fleeting moments, lost in the responses of my body to his when it was almost enough. And God, I wanted, I wanted . These crumbs of bliss. My nails scratched at the desk, my breath a broken torrent."
I prefer my sex without references to Plato, personally.
To end on a positive note I am going to leave you with the game of Nabble, a version of Scrabble in which you can not use words that actually exist.
“He was uncertain at first but soon he was nabbling like an old hand. First came glink ('that like look what happens when two people are fancying each other from across the dance floor'), then gloffle ('like when you put too much toffee in your mouf at once"), then mooshes (“ankle boots made out of crocodile levva wif pompoms hanging on 'em, big in New Zealand”), rapazzled (“off your head, obvs”), and quimpet (“like when hair extensions get all weird up at the top like what 'appened to Britney”). And then, somehow, I got silly and offered up svlenky to describe the motion of his hips while dancing, to which he responded with flinkling, which was apparently what my brow did when I was coming up with something sarcastic to say. From there we moved through a few variations too ridiculous to be recorded. I foolishly formulated glimstruck as a representation of how it felt to be around him, and then we graduated to kissing, still fully clothed like a pair of teenagers on the wreckage of the Scrabble board.”