Overall Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️+++++
“It’s a ritual without meaning…If we can’t assign meaning to what we’re doing, then how will we know if we’re doing it right?”
Have you ever put a puzzle together, striving for the final moments when you can finally see the picture before you? Each piece provides a part of this bigger picture, this greater being. Everyone believes the finish is the most important. However, each piece and its placement is as important as the final product. This is the feel behind Sierra Simone’s Thornchapel series. You cannot see the finished portrait, rendering, story. Instead, each of these books, Feast of Sparks, her newest book, included, is the piece towards the end. And it’s this realization while reading it that both excites and frustrates you, much like putting a puzzle together.
There is so much that swirls in my head in the shadow of reading this book. As I was sitting down to put my thoughts together on Simone’s book, my head swirled with thoughts. What should I include in my review? Should I focus again on Simone’s use of polyamory or varied coupling in the book to underscore the idea of love? Yet, she’s done this before in The American Camelot series. Should I focus on belief or the God factor and its influence over the choices of the characters? No. That discussion has happened in Priest. Time and again in this book, my focus was drawn to the nature of Thornchapel and its surroundings because Simone draws that for us time and again in Feast of Sparks (and the prior one, A Lesson in Thorns). What I know about Simone’s stories is her intentionality in her choices. There is a reason that nature, the wild of this place, is crafted for us. Even more, there is a collective consciousness in this story, a connection through ritual between the past and the present…and I imagine, the future. The six (Auden, Saint, Proserpina, Rebecca, Delphine, and Becket) are connected to their ancestors and their parents through their study and use of the rituals. There is something big here…and I’m not sure I have it fully worked out in my head, to be honest. But it excites me, and I think Simone is pointing us to the idea that our rituals build our mythology and connect us to our past as a way to absolve our future or maybe it’s to question our beliefs in our families, in a religion, in our self. If you simply focus on this alone, what you find is the genius of Sierra Simone and the reason I will always read her books. Feast of Sparks is a reminder of the depth of Simone’s storytelling, of the careful crafting of her characters, and of the headiness of her thinking as she pours this trauma-filled, love-driven erotic story on the page. And it’s magnificent to say the least.
While this book is seemingly St. Sebastian’s story (and it is heavily favored towards him), it is actually everyone’s story, just as A Lesson in Thorns. Each character is given chapters like the first book in the series. However, St. Sebastian’s story consumes more of this book. You will find out the trouble between St. Sebastian and Auden. I’ll be honest. Reading that story on the page grew my anticipatory anxiety the most. I want them to forgive each other and move forward in their relationship with Poe; however, Simone makes you patiently wait on their story. I found myself taking more breaks in reading this book than any Sierra Simone book before me (well, except maybe for Priest). She has a way of crafting Feast of Sparks that there were crescendo moments that the story builds to, and waves of discomfort wash over you until the resolution. I personally love those moments, but they make me nervous for the characters because I want a specific resolution for them…and I’m never sure if my resolution matches the author’s (in this case Simone’s). This emotional unraveling is my love for Sierra Simone. I want to feel deeply, as I do here, when I read. That should be an author’s intent, and Feast of Sparks pulled so many emotions out of me that I had to stop and relish those feelings before moving forward into the story. That’s delicious to me. That’s my biggest warning with this book: it will make you feel a myriad of emotions and feelings, and you’ll need to find a way to deal with that menagerie of angst, joy, and lust.
On the feeling of lust, as any Sierra Simone reader knows, she has a corner on erotica. Anything goes in a Simone book, and Feast of Sparks in no different. In fact, in my opinion, this book is steamier than A Lesson in Thorns. Even more, the $exiness begins fairly early in this book. And it doesn’t disappoint. While dealing with the theme of open love, this book, as was suggested in the first book of the series, is also focused on Dom/sub relationships. Notice the plural as this is the case with this book. If you struggle to read a Simone book given her language and depth of ideas, you can count on, especially in this book, reading $ex at its most tangible and erotic.
Additionally, I believe Simone is using the rituals in this book to highlight the situation of the relationships in the story. In A Lesson in Thorns, the Thornchapel six engage in Imbolc, and it highlights the change from innocence, specifically Poe’s innocence. In Feast of Sparks, the ritual is Beltane, a spring ritual meant for new beginnings and the start of spring. In this story, new beginnings abound: Auden and St. Sebastian, Auden/St. Sebastian/Poe, Rebecca/Delphine, Becket and his understanding of his relationship to his priestly vows, etc. Even more, it’s the beginning of understanding themselves as both individuals and as a group. Truth in identity runs like a ribbon through this book. As the six engage in a ritual, it acts as a metaphor for their personal growth in the story. Again, it’s the genius of Simone’s writing. Everything is intentionally created to highlight or underscore the significance of the people in the story.
For relationships to occur, however, one needs characters. Feast of Sparks provides more development of these characters in its progression of the story. Simone gives us 6 (I’d actually argue 7, as Thornchapel/Thornhill/nature is a character in this story) characters, and they are so varied that you can find yourself, the reader, in at least one of them (or at least parts of yourself). When you spy yourself in some part of a character, you empathize, you connect with them, and the story becomes more palpable.
Even more Simone is working with the construct of queer in her book. Interestingly enough, two of the characters label themselves (or are labeled) as such: St. Sebastian and Rebecca. However, the other three never conceive that label for themselves, even though they engage in queer activities. This is interesting because it illustrates the flexibility within this term, as it suggests that labels are reductive to a certain degree. Even though Rebecca defines herself as gay, she readily kisses Aude (that’s no real spoiler), blurring the lines of labels. It’s this that I love about Sierra Simone. There are shadows of this truth in her other books. $exuality is constructed in a moment, she is suggesting, through her character’s actions. She might also be suggesting that $exual preference and one’s actions can only be defined by the person, not a societal definition. If I’ve lost you in my discussion of this aspect of the book, well, you’re in good company. But it’s ideas like this that elevate Simone’s stories, Feast of Sparks included, above other romances. As I noted at the beginning of this review, her books are intentional craftsmanship. That is the beauty of her writing.
Even more, nature is its own character in this book. It’s represented in Thornchapel and Thornhill. It’s represented in Thorncombe, the surrounding area. And it is purposefully detailed. In early American literature, the wilderness represents unbridled, true human nature. In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne removes to nature where her lust is fulfilled. It’s where her truth resides. In ordered society, she is spurned, made an exile. However, nature gives her a reprieve from that stricture. Much like Prynne, the characters of this book engage with this character, nature, to fulfill their truth. In the Thornchapel, in the house, in the graveyard, all places where Simone details the space, societal rules are removed, and the characters are able to explore their elemental being. Auden and St. Sebastian realize their relationship in the wilds of the graveyard. Beltane is performed in nature. This character acts to free the others from the confines of their daily lives, from its rules, so they can be free to live as themselves and together. When you understand how nature performs in this story, again, you can’t help but admire Sierra Simone’s story even more as it, once again, shows her intentionality, her storytelling.
This story is incomplete. Feast of Sparks does not end the series and its overarching story; it simply presents another beginning towards its end, another piece of the puzzle. This book is also so much more than I’ve put forth here in this review. I could write a seminar paper on the imagery and metaphor, on the way in which Simone uses mythology to point to the truths of the characters in this story. Even more, this book holds greater truths about belief (or disbelief), identity, longing, respect for the past, collective memory with our ancestors, the difficulties of love, and power. Sierra Simone’s Thornhill series is much more than your average romance. Feast of Sparks and its siblings will challenge you; it will titillate you; above all, it will make you believe in a love without bounds, a love meant beyond space and time, a love meant, I think, to heal the wounds of the past; it’s a romance for the ages. And it will be one of my top reads of 2019.
In love and romance,