“So much of what happens by chance forms what becomes your life.” ― Roger Ebert
Summary: Sitting in a Michigan airport bar and licking his wounds after a brutal cyber-dumping and clash with his alcoholic mother, Deacon Miller doesn’t think things could get any worse. He certainly didn’t imagine the night could get better, but that’s when the charming “Mr Smiley”, Steve Steel takes up a seat beside him at the bar. The sex is magnificent and a connection is formed, but Steve is a little shocked when he never receives a call from the younger man again. So when, three months later, he finds the out of town resident living back in Michigan and stacking the shelves of his local store, Steve has no choice but to confront Deacon and test where their connection might lead. Where it leads however is down a desperate road of childhood abuse at the hand of his vicious mother and the never ending stream of pseudo-step-dads. Steve’s patience is not infinite and Deacon seems to be hanging on by a thread, but both men have to decide if true love is enough to bring them both back from the edge, and if they can do that when the past won’t leave them alone.
Overview: Ok, so I’m shallow. I’d never even heard of Ethan Day, despite the incredibly prolific back catalogue. I chose the book because the cover reminded me of Hairspray and the title inferred it might be mushy-gushy and romantic, maybe make me cry a little. What I got was a somewhat different kind of story. Still to this day I know nothing of the author; still I have not read any other of their work, so this review is based solely on the standalone reading of this one addition. And I wasn’t unimpressed.
The story transpired to be incredibly deep, the past being traumatic at best for both our bewildered lovers, and I found a connection with them both almost instantly. Deacon was confused, conflicted, at odds with himself and flailing through his life with no clue. Steve, seventeen years Deacon’s senior was more grounded but still battling his own demons. Real characters with real issues; check! Then we have Deacon’s mother Patty, a vehemently homophobic waste of oxygen who lands in jail in the first few chapters. The complexity of this character, all her potential and her ultimate thoughts were left locked in the jail cell, which I found slightly wasteful. Her story was told through the jaded eyes of Deacon, who at best was biased to his abusive mother and her actions in the past. The overall view I took away from this character was that she was a write-off, she didn’t care and would never change. I feel an opportunity was missed with such a toxic antagonist, instead throwing the reigns of villainy to her former lover, Gale.
Gale was shady, it’s true, but his motives seemed a little unexplored and his appearance just a bit too convenient. He had been out of the picture for sixteen years and only just emerged when he caught the scent of money, which was believable. But his exchanges with Deacon were just wrong, and since the man left when Deacon was only 9, his threatening deliverances of suggesting that Deacon might have parted his “teenage ass” for the man were an oversight by the author. The fact that his re-emergence was out of sync with the traditional three act story also put me at odds with the flow of the tale, the terror-inspiring climax not coming until the final chapter, resolved quickly in the epilogue. So maybe Gale wasn’t the bad guy? It seemed Day’s intention all along was to make Deacon his own adversary, which was actually a really strong twist to the plot, but only recognisable in hindsight.
Then we have Steve. Steve was by far my favourite character and to read him was a particular treat. He was complex and kind and his motives were clear and true, thus I found myself accepting that he truly was Deacon’s “Northern Star”, a not-entirely-original allusion left until the final lines of the book to clarify. But Steve’s own demons may have fallen by the wayside in favour of the complex spider web of Deacon’s abusive upbringing. I felt an opportunity was missed to explore the ramifications of Steve’s first public relationship with someone of the same gender. Sure his friends were awkward and a little inappropriate, but this never seemed to weigh on the man. It seemed he didn’t care too much, which served to diminish the effect of his former-family with a straight woman back-story. But it all wrapped up nicely, and I figure it went the way the author had planned, complex but not to the point of convoluted. The sex scenes between the two men were extremely hot, but they were so frequent they were merely punctuating the story with arbitrary titillation, which I think is a trap a lot of m/m authors fall into. But that is not to say that Day wasted the story in the sex lives of these men. The story didn’t suffer because of the intimacy, it just wasn’t furthered by it. But that’s just my humble opinion.
Though I can be a harsh bitch when it comes to book reviews, what I actually thought was that it was a pretty good page turner. The characters were endearing, the story complex enough to engage but not baffle. There are a few things in it that I questioned, but overall I felt it was good entertainment, and besides the plethora of useless sex scenes, this story was the kind I like to read. It gave excitement, emotion and resolution (but not to the point of a clichéd HEA) and on the whole I think it was a winner. So what do I award this book? Well weighing up the good with the bad, I’d have to fall just over the centre the line, and favour it slightly more than just saying it was ok. It was good but not great, so thus, in closing, 3.5 stars for Ethan Day’s Northern Star.