Reviewed by Valerie on Goodreads and for Love Bytes Reviews
When We Were Fire on Fire is an exquisite, multi-layered story about the complexities of Francesco and Eric as individuals, how the men were shaped by their parents, and how that made them incompatible as a couple when they first met in their early twenties.
They are both still haunted by their breakup when fate reunites them five years later. Whether or not they can have another go at happily-ever-after relies on them escaping the internal dialogues wreaking havoc in their heads: the one that tells Francesco he’s worthless and unlovable, and the one that convinces Eric he ruins everything and belongs nowhere. He needs to realize he does have somewhere – someone – to call home.
I could probably write a dissertation on what I love about this novel. It wasn’t until I was about two-thirds into the book, though, that I realized what a truly special story this is. It’s gut wrenching; my heart broke over and over again for these men who have been shattered by emotional abuse. Francisco and Eric yearn to – need to – escape the deeply ingrained self-hatred and shame that keep them imprisoned, but they have to learn how. It is a complex story with rich characterization.
There are a number of aspects similar to those I loved in When We Were Sea and Stars, including the secondary cast that’s so integral to the storyline. It was heartwarming to watch Rob, James, Betta, and Kim interact with each other and the main characters through their banter and teasing, and to see their undying love and support of Fra and Eric as they faced such tumultuous times. The gorgeous imagery Elen Chase constructs for her readers is another commonality. Knowing what a superb job she did in creating the vivid world in her previous book, I anxiously awaited her tour of Milan so I could once again vicariously experience a beautiful part of Italy. I found myself along for the ride as Fra and Eric bicycled through the streets of the city on a cold December night, visiting a medieval pizza and a 14th century castle juxtaposed with colorful Christmas lights.
This book won’t appeal to everyone because the heat is almost non-existent. The sex is off-page, which disappointed me, but I can accept that’s not what this book is about. The passion here is expressed through how hard these men repeatedly fight for each other, longing so much to be together, but coming up against their fierce inner turmoil.
When We Were Fire on Fire was one of my most anticipated novels of the year because it is the follow-up to the spectacular When We Were Sea and Stars, one of my Best of 2000 books. My expectations were exceeded in this beautiful character-driven novel wrought with sadness but ultimately blessing us with the happy ending they fought so hard for. I fell in love with Francisco and Eric and hope you will, too.
Reviewed for Love Bytes Reviews