Phoenix by Cole Denton
Phoenix, the third book in the Trial by Fire series, is dark AF.
Just wanted to make that clear right from the start.
This series isn’t dark in the sense that there is a seriously fucked up relationsship between the two main characters – which is often the case for dark reads. It’s dark due to the sheer amount and level of sexual abuse described.
That being said, it’s an incredibly intriguing story. And in all honesty, Phoenix is probably the book in the series with the least amount of horrid descriptions of abuse, and when comparing with the first two, it’s definitely the most easy-going and hopeful. It’s also BDSM twentyfour-seven. So, this is definitely not a read for everyone.
Phoenix continues the story of Cole and Russel. With Russel helping Cole to slowly heal from the effects of the atrocious assaults committed against him throughout his childhood.
It’s agonizing to read about the broken person that is Cole. It’s heart-wrenching in the worst way. But with every fear he overcomes, the story gets lighter and lighter. And there are definitely a lot of warm fuzzies too.
I had a bit of trouble with the detached writing style. In the first installment, that style was a necessity. I wouldn’t have been able to handle all the vile stuff happening without puking otherwise. But in Phoenix, that detachment actually made it harder to feel connected to the main characters. Despite the dual POV writing, the feeling when reading was unquestionably a bit removed. Like an out of body experience-description might be.
I’m very, very conflicted about this series. It’s totally fascinating and sucked me in, no doubt. But I can’t really come to grips with the idea of Cole enjoying physical pain. I can absolutely understand the use of physical pain as an outlet for mental anguish. But in Phoenix, you get a sense that Cole doesn’t need the pain for that purpose anymore, but rather, it has become his lifestyle and is all about the sexytimes. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that, consenting adults and all. But if the outlet isn’t needed anymore, the pain and all that it entails has become just another learned behaviour for him. In that scenario, Russel isn’t the nice guy, but just another kind of abuser. Or if not an abuser, at the very least someone taking advantage.
So, the question for me boils down to this: The comfort Cole finds in pain and submission with Russel, is that him finding himself, or is it the only way for him to cope now considering the ghastly trauma he lived through? It might seem like splitting hairs, but it absolutely effects the way to view Russel in all this. Is Russel a kinky knight in shining armour or just another person in Cole’s life using him? They love each other sure, but could Cole actually get past the need for pain entirely? And in that case, Russel is actually holding him back from purely selfish reasons.
So, you see. Conflicted indeed.
But no matter how you interpret the dynamics between Cole and Russel, Phoenix – and the Trial by Fire series – is soooo worth reading. If you can stomach appalling abuse, BDSM and M/M-shenanigans in all it’s glory that is.