Pansies by Alexis Hall (Spires Universe #4)

Alfie Bell is . . . fine. He’s got a six-figure salary, a penthouse in Canary Wharf, the car he swore he’d buy when he was eighteen, and a bunch of fancy London friends.

It’s rough, though, going back to South Shields now that they all know he’s a fully paid-up pansy. It’s the last place he’s expecting to pull. But Fen’s gorgeous, with his pink-tipped hair and hipster glasses, full of the sort of courage Alfie’s never had. It should be a one-night thing, but Alfie’s never met anyone like Fen before.

Except he has. At school, when Alfie was everything he was supposed to be, and Fen was the stubborn little gay boy who wouldn’t keep his head down. And now it’s a proper mess: Fen might have slept with Alfie, but he’ll probably never forgive him, and Fen’s got all this other stuff going on anyway, with his mam and her flower shop and the life he left down south.

Alfie just wants to make it right. But how can he, when all they’ve got in common is the nowhere town they both ran away from.

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Cornell Collins (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Tantor Audio
YEAR: 2016
LENGTH: 376 pages (11 hours 53 minutes)
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Contemporary, Romance

Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Main Character(s).

Alfie was in his mid-twenties before realizing he's gay, which is more than a little awkward when one night, back in his hometown for a brief stay, he unknowingly hooks up with the guy he used to bully when they were kids. Fen, who used to use his middle name at school and thinks at first that the flirting now is a trick, sleeps with Alfie, knowing full well who he is, at least a little bit because there's a very satisfying power fantasy in having the bully on his knees this time around. I wasn't sure how the bully/bullied dynamic would work out, but what results is a thoughtful and romantic story of taking the time to try and be better, and examining the dynamics which made things so awful in the first place. It takes them a while to figure things out, and that weird and winding process is funny and well-written. There's an understanding that someone taking the effort to bully the same person on a daily or weekly basis for years must have some kind of fascination with them, and Alfie begins to untangle the ways that his internalized homophobia and fear of being singled out meant that he took it out on Fen, who never stood a chance of hiding his queerness, even if he'd wanted to. 

Four books in, I'm able to notice the connections to the other Spires titles and it's starting to feel more like a series than a smattering of individual stories. The story is very self-contained, like the others so far, but with at least one notable reference to GLITTERLAND's main character. They're not talking to each other, precisely, but the connections are accumulating. While technically someone could start here and this particular story would make sense on its own, I recommend reading them in order, generally. If nothing else, the delicate web of references can build when read in publishing order (which isn't quite chronological in-universe). 

I was nervous as the ending approached, but I managed to not be too stressed as the question of "can this even work" loomed large and I wasn't sure how things would play out. The story wraps up in a manner which rings true for Alfie and Fen, and I hope they appear elsewhere as the Spires series continues.

If you like this you may like:

  • JACK OF THORNS by A.K. Faulkner (Inheritance #1)

Graphic/Explicit CW for sexual content, homophobia.

Moderate CW for cursing, hate crime, bullying, biphobia, toxic relationship, injury detail, pregnancy, suicide, parental death, death.

Minor CW for ableist language, abandonment, excrement, dementia, medical content, self harm, torture.

Bookshop Affiliate Buy Link

Add this on TheStoryGraph

Two men in a shop filled with flowers, with golden light spilling in through the window. One man has medium-length blonde hair and is leaping into the other man's arms. The second man is catching him, holding him tight.


Popular Posts