Pansies, by Alexis Hall
Series: A Spires Story (Stand-Alone)
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: October 10, 2016
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Alfie Bell is . . . fine. He’s got a six-figure salary, a penthouse in Canary Wharf, the car he swore he’d buy when he was eighteen, and a bunch of fancy London friends.
It’s rough, though, going back to South Shields now that they all know he’s a fully paid-up pansy. It’s the last place he’s expecting to pull. But Fen’s gorgeous, with his pink-tipped hair and hipster glasses, full of the sort of courage Alfie’s never had. It should be a one-night thing, but Alfie hasn’t met anyone like Fen before.
Except he has. At school, when Alfie was everything he was supposed to be, and Fen was the stubborn little gay boy who wouldn’t keep his head down. And now it’s a proper mess: Fen might have slept with Alfie, but he’ll probably never forgive him, and Fen’s got all this other stuff going on anyway, with his mam and her flower shop and the life he left down south.
Alfie just wants to make it right. But how can he, when all they’ve got in common is the nowhere town they both ran away from.
Former Bully/Victim Relationship
Mention of Past Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide (Off-Page)
Homophobia and Biphobia
Yeah. So. *coughs* This book is everything. Go read it. Um, that is all.
I’m sorry but I’m weird with reviewing books by Alexis. I’m so full of love I get silly and swoony and gah… (I fear this review is gonna be long. ) This book is perfect! Pansies is even better than Glitterland, my so-far favourite contemporary, and I’ll try to tell you why now.
It’s in the big and little things. And because I have difficulties talking about the big ones (consider me still speechless), I’m gonna start small. There are these nice little sentences and exchanges throughout the whole book that either make me smile like this one:
Mum always said there’s no such thing as a weed.”
“Um, what are weeds, then?”
“Flowers where you don’t expect them.”
Or sentences that hook into me, right into my heart, and blow me away with their truth and the connection I feel, because, like I always say, Alexis’ writing connects me to the world and to myself because I feel like I’m seen and that’s very precious to me.
Pansies is set in North-East England, and it’s incredible how very atmospheric it is. The roughness and vastness of it all, the sea and the harsh weather. The language. It’s omnipresent and feels like a huge loving wool blanket that is comfy in it’s simplicity and in its feeling of otherworldyness (this should be a word!). It’s like being in another place and time—which is another huge point that speaks in favour of this book. I got lost in it. I just was. There was no rush to finish, no waiting for the next book, no looking at the progress bar. That nearly never happens to me, and I think it was the first time with a contemporary book, since I have it easier to fall into another world by reading fantasy. I also don’t want to read another book ever again. I’m in this love-dazed mourning stage after you finished the loveliest thing. You just don’t want it to be over…
While Pansies covers a lot of heavy stuff—I will come to this soon—there are many hilarious scenes, too. There is this one DIY scene in which Alfie basically destroys everything. I laughed. So. Hard. I am sure I would have cried tears of laughter had I not been sitting in a public space.
Pansies actually takes on quite some heavy subjects. I think the content warning tags above might have given a clue already. But to me it didn’t feel too sad or like there was too much of it going on. Alfie and Fen both struggle with their own demons and past and it’s amazingly rewarding to see them overcome them and get better and find happiness together.
It’s fascinating how one can love one character (Alfie, from whose POV the book is written) so much and think he is a total arse at the same time. Gah. He’s really fucked up and says some really messed-up shit from time to time. But seeing where he grew up and seeing the reason for all of it, makes you just want to hug him better.
“It can be one of the most difficult things in the world, I think. To accept yourself.”
But that he does in the end; that he’s gay and still a man; that men can cry and wear what they want; that he can cook and take care of someone else; that he can accept himself even if his parents and other people don’t.
Being that Fen and Alfie share a difficult past, Fen isn’t at all pleased to see Alfie again and has a lot of understandable and confusing feelings to wade through. Their first meeting was kinda really unique and also kinda horrible.
“You’re wrong, Alfie Bell. You haven’t changed. Maybe you suck cock these days, but you’re still a coward and a bully, and that’s all you’ll ever be.”
Their story is a slow burning one; one that starts off rough and like you can’t see how they ever can be happy together, despite the strong connection they share. There is so much fun, though, too. So many smiles and laughter.
And did you see, that Fen calls him Alfie Bell? He does that so often—in a lot of nicer circumstances, too. It’s the sweetest thing. I mean, Alfie Bell and Fenimore… Gah. That’s just… Be still my heart… Um, got carried away there, sorry.
I really love how we get glimpses from Fen, too, although the story is written from Alfie’s POV. Fen writes a few letters to his mom and there’s this one episode in it, sigh…
I think Alfie Bell has decided I’m his butterfly. And some part of me desperately wants to be. I would love to be held in his hands, sheltered and made precious, especially now, when I feel so very alone.
Okay, what I think I’m trying to say is that this book is beautiful (I think they got this, Mel) and that it deals with sad stuff but is funny, too, and that it’s incredibly romantic and OH MY GOD, I didn’t even mention the sex, which is like, phew… Hot and intimate and passionate and the places are… definitely exciting. Heh 😀
A few more things before I leave you. Finally.
The secondary characters are great! Real and lovely and weird and, and… Alfie’s parents, though… They make me sad. I… I cried a little. *sniff*
I think, without going into any details, that their past and overcoming it was handled exceptionally well.
And, like is mandatory in the Spires series, there is food and a recipe. And, and… The cover!!! All the hearty eyes. I think it’s perfect and really mirrors the vibe of the story as well.
Now do the thing and buy the book. I looooooooooooove Pansies and I hope you do, too.
(Disclaimer: I have always been a fan of Alexis, loved every single book he has ever written, and am friends with him, too.)
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.
He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.
He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.