This much-anticipated sequel to the brilliant Ask, Tell, picks up shortly after the first book finished. The Major surgeon Bec and the Captain surgeon Sabine have got together despite the outrageous difficulties of the US Army’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. Bec has left the army to become a civilian surgeon. Sabine has had to go off on another deployment to Afghanistan, and the book opens with Sabine and her trusty buddies coming home after 10 long months in the Afghan desert doing gruesome army surgeon things.
If you haven’t read Ask, Tell, I recommend you stop this review and go read it first.
Anyway, it’s not giving much away to say that this book opens with Sabine on the plane home and with a ring in hand, ready to propose to Bec and start their new lives together properly. So, given this is a romance and the happy ending is mandatory, everything looks sewn up within about 20 pages, no? No. NO NO NO. Problem. Big problem. Sabine went through a horrific attack, related in gruesome, exciting detail in the first book, and while she has now recovered physically from being exploded and shot at, she also has PTSD and can’t even get in a vehicle without puking. It’s been getting worse on deployment again, and of course she thinks she can solve it all by herself because she’s a cocky perfectionist surgeon (well aren’t they all?). The anticipated happy return home is an awkward one in reality, and things get worse from there. The book charts months after month of spiralling-out-of-control PTSD and its effects on an intimate relationship and home. How it affects everyone, all the time. How exhausting it is for everyone, all the time. How awful it is to feel like you’re not the same person you were, and how you won’t ever be that person again. It’s a hazard of their relationship, complicated by the change in circumstances – Bec can no longer, as Sabine’s commanding officer, simply order her to do certain things, like get herself back on the medication. They do work through the terrible troubles, but only really because their relationship was so amazing to begin with that they consider it worth putting in all the constant effort.
You start to realise why so many veterans, unable to cope, become homeless or lose touch with their families. Only the absolute certainty that there would be a happy ending kept me reading this book. It’s not exactly light going, but it is ultimately an intriguing study in good communication between intelligent partners, a roadmap for good resolutions – of any type – in a relationship. The answer here lies in love and medication.
But what about the sex, I hear you ask? Sigh. Well, this is the author of the mile-high shagfest Turbulance after all, so it’s a legitimate question. The sex is genuinely linked to the story here, for a change. Everyone’s expectation is that Sabine will return home from deployment to lots and lots of hot sex, all around the house (remember the kitchen counter sex that was – literally – the climax of the first book?). But, Sabine’s on valium and totally messed up. The sex doesn’t really happen, and when it does, its awkward, disappointing, not OK. Then there is a lot of PTSD plot, then the resolution – the proposal – comes (excuse the pun) literally seconds after they do actually manage to make love for the first time. The sex writing is OK here but definitely lacks subtlety or real emotional involvement. You don’t have to be explicit to be punchy.
This book would have gone into the ‘Recommended’ category but just missed out due to the unnecessarily pornographic sex scenes, which just jarred for me. E J Noyes is at her best when she’s political, and I hope she writes a lot more political stories, with better sex. Sigh.