Balefire: A Review
Jordan L. Hawk
*Sings Balefire to herself to the tune of the old Crossfire commercial* BALEFIRE! †
Cough, I mean, cough.
I don’t remember how I found Jordan L. Hawk’s Whyborne & Griffin series, but I did not look back once I did. This is the tenth book in the series so there will be spoilers for the series. Also, the review will not make any sense without having read the series. I cannot stress enough how much I love this series, so if you haven’t read it, stop reading my review now and go read the series and then come back. Not kidding. Okay: The Hexslayer series tends to be the one everyone else loves but you really cannot go wrong with Jordan L. Hawk’s books if you have any interest in well-written plots and characters set in paranormal settings. Much of this review will make more sense when you know that this series is based in the Lovecraftian mythos.
Quick very spoiler-filled summary of the plot of Balefire: Okay so Sorcerer Suprem… I mean Whyborne is approached by his Endicott cousins to help save them from their mutual enemy the Fideles cult who have taken over the Endicott stronghold, giving Fideles the resources they need to release the Masters. But once Whyborne and crew get to Cornwall, they discover not everything is as seems. Turns out Fideles isn’t behind anything. Instead, the Endicotts have been infiltrated and manipulated into self-destruction by the Man in the Woods. Whyborne saves the day, defeats the Man in the Woods and gets the description key to the Wisborg Codex needed to defeat the incoming Masters.
The strongest parts of this series and the author’s writing in general are the way their characters interact and the way they interweave the occult so seamlessly into the plot. Whyborne and Griffin are my favorite couple, probably ever. They fit each other and communicate and just in general their relationship is so wonderfully healthy. It’s all there in this book as Whyborne is struggling with his future. Yhe next book in the series is the last, and how the impending showdown between him and the Masters will effect him and his family, chosen and blood.
The one thing about their relationship that was very different in this book, as opposed to the other books in the series, was the amount of time they spent together in bed. The two have a very free, very flirty, very physical relationship behind closed doors in the other books, but they are rarely alone together in Balefire, and it was a noticeable difference.
The side characters get a lot of page time in Balefire. Not that they are lacking in any of the other books, but in Balefire, Heliabel, Christine, and Iskander—even the Endicotts—all get a lot of space to speak and interact. The book alternates between Griffin and Whyborne’s POVs, but this was the first time it really felt like that wasn’t necessary. In other titles the group are either split up or the POV shifts help to fill out characterizations and plot because one is closer to certain characters or the group splits up and the reader needs to follow all the action. In Balefire, enough time has passed that Griffin and Whyborne are in the same places in all but a few chapters. I didn’t find the dual-POV necessary and often found myself hoping to get someone else’s POV to help round out the narrative.
Especially as Heliabel and Christine are given some time bonding together, and as I love both of these characters (it is incredibly refreshing to not only have likable but lovable women in a gay series) I would have loved to get their POVs. Still, the series is about Whyborne and Griffin, so this is not a complaint more ,just a wish. Maybe we’ll get a short story one day.
The only small complaint I have with this book is that it reads like a giant prologue to the final book in the series. The pacing is different to the rest of the series. There is still the build-up, the planning, everything going to hell, and the win, but overarching throughout the book is the upcoming showdown with the Masters. That overarching tension really pulls you out of this story and doesn’t allow it to just be on its own. It also robbed the climax of this story, where they take down one of the biggest bad guys the group has dealt with so far. They barely bested them in the previous story, Draakenwood.
Very tiny complaints. Overall this series has stayed fresh, entertaining, and a little unsettling in the best way Lovecraftian mythos can be. Final note: I love, love how Hawk uses the creepy, unsettling, horrific bits of Lovecraft’s mythos and rips them away from their creator, who was a terrible human being. I love when people repurpose things terrible humans have made and turn them into beautiful queer works.
Please, if you like any of the following—healthy queer relationships, set in a historical setting, filled with an amazing support cast, deeply unsettling to downright horrific moments, found families, and a kick-ass sorcerer—check out this series.