I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jette Harris since my early Twitter authoring days, and the good fortune to be one of her beta readers for her gut-wrenching thriller series “My Name Is Not Heather Stokes”. In between its first installment, Colossus, and the upcoming Two Guns, she began work on “Phoenix Rising”, a series of novellas which follows the sinister serial killer known as The Phoenix along the path which leads him to the man we see in Colossus. It begins in his youth, and is projected to follow him right up to the events of “My Name Is Not Heather Stokes”. Here is my unsolicited, unbiased, unvarnished review of the two existing novellas.
I must begin by saying that ALL of Harris’ novels contain unbridled scenes of abuse, both emotional and physical. If you cannot read such things, for any reason, I recommend that you steer clear. If you’re still with me, let’s begin.
Phoenix Rising, Book 1: Flint Ranch
We begin in rural Colorado, with young Thaddeus “Thatch” Adams. He and his mother live on Flint Ranch, a small horse farm, with his uncle, Jed. It is clear from page one that their surrogate home is anything but safe. Under Jed’s crooked, cruel rule of the household, nothing is allowed to remain innocent. Flint Ranch becomes a place where angels fear to tread, as the few allies Thatch and his mother have abandon them. When a pack of wolves menaces the farm, uncle and nephew are both pushed to their breaking point.
It is suggested that Jed’s business dealings are as crooked as his morals, and that backed himself into a corner with his dealings: one reason why he may be taking his anger out on his family. He is never fully fleshed out, which is for the best: it makes it easier for the reader to demonize him in the same way that Thatch does. The solace he finds in the horses is simply written, but poignant: they become his second family in scenes which are a perfect counterpoint to Jed’s abuse.
Thatch’s abuse is rough to watch, because Harris holds no punches. Her prose is raw and unapologetic, and there were times when I felt my throat and stomach tighten - particularly during one brutal scene in the barn. But Thatch’s first acts of rebellion are the seeds which will help him survive … and grow into the man who becomes Avery Rhodes.
The prose is quick, rough, and jerks from phrase to phrase, mimicking the anxiety and tension so perfectly that it’s hard not to empathize with Thatch, especially as he enters his teenage years and begins to fully comprehend what has been going on around him. Flint Ranch’s ending is abrupt, but it feels right: cut off with a final line as sharp as a gunshot. Even though the novella clocks in at under 100 pages, it carries an impact that lingers.
Phoenix Rising, Book 2: Salvage
Not long after the events of Flint Ranch, Thatch is sent to Colorado Springs. There, he enters the care of his father Wren Chares, a Greek mechanic. In the course of adjusting to his new home and school, Thatch begins to slowly recover from the abuse he suffered at Jed’s hands. But pieces of Wren’s history still haunt him, and they will come back to affect Thatch, too…
I was just as anxious as Thatch to meet Wren Chares. I, too, feared that he might be another abusive figure, but I was quickly proven wrong, and grew to love him as a character. His quiet demeanor and gentle insistence upon manners and sophistication, despite his lower-class stature, are a refreshing polar opposite to the horrors of Flint Ranch. Harris’ writing reflects this, losing a great deal of the brusque pacing and tension she strung through the previous novella.
Thatch’s post-traumatic state of mind is treated with a deft hand, showing us the lingering after-effects of abuse, both physical and emotional. One scene in particular, when Thatch is shown to his new room, is heart-breakingly beautiful, and his responses to what were considered “normal” locker room antics in the 1970s are revelatory.
Wren’s moonlighting job is handled with equal mastery, as Thatch begins to sort out his own opinions on the nature of the world, what he might want to do with the rest of his life, and his own attractions.
doctor as his father tells him stories of his own compassion and resilience, and learns first-hand by accompanying him on house calls to the brothel, where he begins to sort out his own attractions. I dare not give anything away, but the climactic scene of the novella is the birth of Thatch’s purpose, and brings joy mixed with tragedy. Where Flint Ranch was the record of Thatch’s pain, Salvage lays down the first, tentative steps toward his recovery… and ends on a note even more abrupt.
To wrap things up, I must stress that despite the graphic scenes which scar Thatch, there is far more to these novellas than shock value - if anything, it is not what happens to characters which is of note, but how they handle themselves in the aftermath. Thatch’s progression from victim to tentative survivor is what has me waiting on the edge of my comfy reading chair for the next novella.
You can find all of Jette's published works on her Amazon author page, here. Please also take a moment to follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and visit her Wordpress blog, where she frequently shares excerpts from her work in progress, and shorter pieces.
With that, I am going to tuck this blog in for a NaNoWriMo nap, and I will see you all in December! Thanks to all of you for your continued support - I wouldn’t be here without you!
Until next time,
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