Review: From Johann to Tannenbaum by Ashlyn Forge

OVERALL:

I loved this book, but this is NOT YOUR GRANDMOTHER’S HARLEQUIN. It isn’t even your typical gay romance novel. This is a story about the transformative power of love, and how someone who has lived his life taking the easy way out can overcome his limitations and be there for the person who needs him the most. Which makes it one of the most amazing romances that I’ve read in years.

THE CONFESSION:

Ashlyn Forge is another author I met through the NaNoWriMo Participants. One day I said something slightly funny or memorable or something, probably on a topic that she had already posted several hundred funny, memorable responses to, and we became friends. When I heard she had a book out – In Liam’s Wake – I bought it and read it. Have you experienced the pressure of having an author KNOWING you’re reading her book and constantly going “Do you like it, do you like it?” And do you know the HUGE relief of being able to respond back that you really do?!

I have now read many of her works – always the final version, although I have also been privileged to read many in-progress as well. Her drive for perfection, her dedication to her craft and to captivating her readers while staying true to the characters and story are an inspiration. And she would be the first to demand COMPLETE FUCKING HONESTY in a review. So here it is:

THE AMAZON REVIEW:

Johann

AS A READER:

Forge’s skills are in creating a very realistic environment and characters, with a plot that perfectly plays off of both. This is a complete world we are presented with, and that means it’s not always an easy place to dwell. And it means that the people who live in it are multidimensional, living with their own motivations and limitations.

Forge doesn’t spoon-feed information about this science-fiction world to the reader – instead she immerses you in it, so that every detail, word and act adds to your knowledge of the history, culture and rules of the complicated place known as the Colony. If you skim, you will be lost.

I was first introduced to the Colony in “In Liam’s Wake.” This book is not a sequel to that one – it is a stand-alone, using different characters and giving us a very different view of the Colony – that of the denizens of the upper crust.

The important thing to know about the Colony is that it represents both Haven and prison to its inhabitants. It is underground, isolated, deprived of resources, and the human population is dependent on an interface known as The System, and the other notable segment of the population, people known as Elementals, or “E’s”. E’s provide power, they manipulate matter, they act as healers and fighters. And they can grant wishes.

In this story, the main character Johann yearns for an E, much like Cinderella would have yearned for a fairy godmother if she knew they existed. He has a very difficult life – as I said in the Amazon review, his family hates him. The book opens with the characters attending the funeral of the only person who appeared to like Johann for himself – his Grandfather. His death leaves Johann both vulnerable, and as the heir to his Grandfather’s legacy, in a position of power if he can only grab it and hold on in the face of opposition.

But while Johann perpetually tries to be upbeat, he is not noted for his strength of will or body, and so keeps hoping for the easy-way-out – an E. Then one is dropped into his lap, a smart, stoic, but deeply damaged E named Tannenbaum. As Johann tries to figure out how to use this gift, an odd friendship develops between the two, then something deeper.

The first half of this story is told very deep in the head of Johann, with everything that happens filtered through his thoughts and actions. When we start to get chapters devoted to Tanner’s POV, we begin to doubt Johann’s reliability in judging his own actions or those around him. As we learn the truths that Johann has been ignoring all these years, he and Tanner form a bond that nothing that happens can break. Together, they weave a story of two people healing from their pasts and discovering ways to trust – and love – again.

AS A WRITER:

I want a companion volume to this story, dedicated to all the past and functions of the Colony that are hinted at during the series! I love the way Forge organically reveals details in the telling of the story itself, but those revelations just increase the burning desire to WANT TO KNOW MORE!

My writing style and Forge’s are vastly different, but that only increased my awe in her story-telling. She tackles very painful topics with sensitivity, and yet complete honesty, and some of the plot twists left me reeling.

And I am in even more awe of her characters – especially Johann and Tanner. Johann’s character provokes a rollercoaster of emotions in the reader, from sympathy and appreciation at the beginning, to frustration and the desperate desire to smack him around by the middle, to admiration and high-fives by the end. Tanner is much easier to like throughout the entire book, but he also has a lot of depth, complexity and secrets. These are not character who always do the right things, the smart things or the kind things. There are massive miscommunications, borne not just of the current moment, but of the baggage of their experiences and expectations.

That level of character depth is not something that all romance authors delve into, even in a sci-fi setting.

There was one point that was hard for me – I call it a “sitcom moment” – about halfway through the story. It was when I could SEE that Johann was about to do something so massively stupid that it would ruin the nearly perfect thing he had already. AFTER that event we discover his reasons, and they are compelling enough that my heart ached for him. It was a lesson to me as writer that sometimes the reasons for actions don’t have the most impact when presented up front, but when they’re allowed to fester and explode out after the event. It is part of the showing, not telling (and definitely not insulting the reader’s intelligence by hand-holding them through everything!) that makes Forge so impressive an author.

Oh, and as someone with a big ass who endured the humiliation of trying on pants today, YOU GO, JOHANN!!!

****************************************************************************

You can get “From Johann to Tannenbaum” here, and find other works by Ashlyn Forge here.

I have also listened to the audiobook version of this book, available through Audible for $1.99 (yes, you read that right, it’s cheaper than the kindle version) and read by the talented Stephen Ridgewood. He does an admirable job in bringing the characters to life. My favorite is the dead-on reading of Queen’s snarky sarcasm ❤

I will update this review when I get news about sales and promotions.

Next week I will review H.J. Bradley’s “Prince in Exile“, followed the next week by Annelie Wendeberg’s “The Devil’s Grin” (which is still available for free!!)

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