Fair warning: Unlike basically every other Annabeth Albert book, the military plays a very small role in Arctic Sun. Griffin's got a bit of a limp due to an injury from his time in the military, and we're told that he has surgery scars and burn scars on his back and shoulders when River notices them, but there's no discussion or conversation about it.
This story's got some really excellent overthinking; about coming out to each other, not ordering alcohol, figuring out sex with a new person, deciding on easy foods to eat, and doing all of that while you're with a group of strangers on a roadtrip where you need to look like you've got it together.
Hopefully it was just the formatting of the review copy that made the perspectives a bit tricky to keep track of --I couldn't always tell whose POV I was reading from or when it had switched. But each chapter was amazing, regardless. And bonus: Both guys are out and on-page identify as pan and bi!
River is a supermodel-turned-author who signed up for this trip as inspiration for the followup to his Eat Pray Love-esque book, which he needs to finish writing ASAP. He's highly aware of the professional pressures he's under, but he's also openly flirting with ya boi Griff. Griffin's super focused on getting through this stressful being-a-guide thing, but he's also very aware of River's hotness. Which is new, because Griffin's been unsure how / if his libido functions when he's sober, something he hasn't felt comfortable enough to experiment with yet. As Griffver (guys I'm so sorry but I just accidentally made a ship name and now it has to stay) spends time together, Griffin he finds that he enjoys the person he allows himself to be around River, and so he indulges in exploring the possibilities with him. It's a really beautiful, exciting thing to see Griffin bloom. The sexual turning point happens when there's the classic mixed-up cabin booking situation and they end up sharing a room.
"Lying here like this, I keep thinking of the hundreds of summer camp fantasies I've had over the years." Griffin was going to hate himself for this later but he couldn't stop the words from coming out. "Yeah? Like what?"
and !!! Things get HEATED! Like!!!! Wow. I did NOT truly did GET roleplaying until this very moment and wowwwww. Did Annabeth Albert just create an 'accessible roleplay' sub-genre because... I'm 1000% IN!
Arctic Sun gives us neck biting, first-time fantasy fulfilling, and trying-to-be-quiet-so-the-
The sex is incredible on many levels, but the romance of Arctic Sun is very much in the idea of Love being an action. River and Griffin are sooo accommodating, generous and patient with each other! And they're never condescending or forceful or controlling. When they're scared or worried or hesitant about something, they say so. The compassion and kindness and genuine care between them; there were moments that absolutely floored me.
I found a hopeful joy in this story having two men who talk openly; saying what they feel, without pretense or ego or subtle avoidance. It’s a special, unique thing I want in more stories. And their open discussions of their coping mechanisms and what they struggle with --more of that, please! especially in men!
So, they have this amazing trip together, and then they have to go back to their lives in different parts of the world. But they find ways to see each other. They text and email, sending adventure stories and photographs, planning trips to visit. We get to enjoy some lovely 'You came to see me!' giddy airport scenes. I love that this story is about two people choosing to try, to go, to make it work and spend the time together. They do what feels good and important and special between them. and they don't fix each other. Griffver (yes, it's a thing now) makes their relationship a constant conversation, something that's continually building.This quote sums it up perfectly:
"Maybe it's not that we're perfect for each other. But that we're imperfect --this is a place where I don't have to be perfect. And you don't either. And we don't have to be perfect together."
(But they are!!)