Riley Bell starts fires she can’t control. Milo Reed controls fires he can’t start.

The world has never been kind to deviants – the mysterious and often powerful creatures who walk amongst regulars – as teen runaway Riley has learned the hard way. When Riley meets Milo, the boy in the woods whose abilities complement her own, he offers her sanctuary and stability. But can she overcome her toxic relationships, control her dangerous abilities, and escape the demons of her past?

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t already read Flame, get out of here and go read it!

This one’s a good bit darker than the first, and the first was already pretty damn dark. It’s longer, too, and there are significantly more chapters. (Did you enjoy the chapter titles? I’m particularly proud of I’m Not in Love With You and I Never Will Be and We Need to Talk About Dom.)

Quinn was a strong and fierce female protagonist, and in some ways she was every bit as much of a victim as Riley, but Riley’s fears, insecurities, demons, and panic attacks make for a softer and more fragile character that I fell in love with writing in a whole, new way.

People respond to trauma and abuse in all kinds of different ways, and both of these characters gave me a chance to explore that. Quinn’s response to such things was simple: she hardened herself, refused to become emotional, and refused to trust. Riley, on the other hand, is highly emotional and eager to love and trust.

A large part of this is due to Joey and Jason – and, to that end, the whole slew of friends who Riley meets at the Academy.

Quinn was alone. Sure, she had Kurt for a while, but she’d had people before him, too, and they were all ripped away from her. By the time Quinn reached Siloh, she had no plans of ever loving or trusting anyone again.

But Riley? Riley lives for Joey and Jason. She loves them with every inch of her heart, and everything she does is to protect them. When she meets Milo, Alice, Gemma, Lacey, Roscoe, and countless others, she grows fond of them, too. Riley wants to make friends; she even wants to fall in love, though she knows it won’t be easy.

(Not easy, but totally worth it, right? Milo is too friggin’ good to be true.)

Riley can’t fall in love, though – at least, not as easily as she’d like. When things heat up with Milo, her body goes into a panic. When she tells him the truth about Dom and Trainor, her nails dig into her skin. These heartbreaking patterns she has a hard time escaping are real problems that victims of domestic violence and abuse go through on a daily basis, and my goal with Riley was to do justice to those problems, while still reminding such victims and survivors that they, like Riley, can and will eventually find happiness.

But what about Jason? you might be asking me. You’re right – I can’t write a post about Flame without tackling the sad and complicated boy that is Jason Levi. Have you forgiven him yet for what he almost did to Riley? If your answer was no, well, me neither. But there’s a soft spot in my heart for him, even still.

Jason is human. He fell deeply and desperately in love with his best friend, who doesn’t and will never love him back. Many of us have been there. Yeah, but I didn’t try to rape them, you might be saying. And you’re right – there is no excuse, even the superhuman kind, for such behavior.

Jason’s not-excuse – the superhuman kind – serves as a metaphor that I think we should all keep in mind. Sometimes, we lose ourselves in the moment. Whether it’s fury, lust, depression, or elation, we find ourselves making decisions we wouldn’t otherwise make. And we’ll have to live with those decisions – and the cost they have on the people around us – forever.

So, no – don’t forgive him. Learn from him.

Who was your favorite character in this story? Was Milo as ridiculously perfect to you as he was to me? (Listen, y’all, sometimes you just have to write your dream guy.) Was it Alice, the silver-eyed sidekick we’re sure to see more of? Did Quinn, Dash, or Rory carry over as your favorite from then to now?

I would love to hear your thoughts on Flame, and whether you’d like to see more from Riley – okay, and Milo and Alice and the gang.

In the meantime, keep your eyes out for another update about what’s next in the world of deviants. We’ve got a couple different possibilities, and I can’t wait to dive in!

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