Book Reviews

Under a Sky of Ash by Brandon Witt

Genre Gay / Contemporary / Interracial / Romance / Drama
Reviewed by Serena Yates on 25-May-2020

Book Blurb

More than a decade after leaving Colorado to escape his past, Isaiah Greene returns and builds a life in Denver as a special education teacher. But coming home revives memories of the racist, homophobic violence that destroyed his youthful first love. When Isaiah meets Ben Woods, the mentor of one of his students, the lightning-quick attraction grows into something deeper. 

Raised by a bitter and abusive grandmother, Ben is a recovering addict who has made a family with his construction worker boss, Hershel, and Hershel's husband, Daniel—drag queen ManDonna. Adding Isaiah to his life gives Ben a glimpse of a future he'd never dreamed possible for himself.

Isaiah and Ben are survivors, and the revelation that they've both suffered traumatic childhoods forms a bond between them. But when guilt and the secrets of the past threaten to end their relationship, Ben and Isaiah embark on journeys of self-discovery.

Though their path will be difficult at times, humor and love find a way to bring light to the darkness.

First edition published by Dreamspinner Press, March 2016.

Book Review

This novel totally overwhelmed me, making me feel a multitude of emotions as I read this story about characters I won’t soon forget. It is an emotional roller coaster from the tragic beginning that made me cry for the characters’ pain and loss, to the surprisingly (and thankfully) heartwarming ending. Not a happy ending, I think that would have been a step too far, but one that is “as happy as possible under the circumstances” and I think that is perfect. The focus is on Isaiah’s and Ben’s journey of self-discovery and happiness, and it is not an easy voyage. They have a lot to overcome: past abuse, tragedy, misplaced guilt, a history of struggling through life alone. I think it is fascinating that their racial difference (Isaiah is black and Ben is white) hardly plays any role at all. Luckily there are amazing secondary characters like Ben’s boss, Hershel, and his husband Daniel, whose drag queen persona is simply formidable. ‘Under a Sky of Ash’ does its name proud – it is a character-driven story of suffering and redemption that touched me deeply. I am having difficulty describing how fantastic it is, but all I can do is try.

Isaiah is twelve when he receives his first kiss from a boy and tragedy strikes. RJ’s father catches them and even though Isaiah is no match for the man and RJ tells him to run to save himself, Isaiah never gets over the guilt he feels that RJ ends up with brain damage. Years later, after escaping for a while to go to college and become a special education teacher, Isaiah moves back to Denver. He is ready to build a life there, be closer to his family, and he wants to continue to see RJ, whom he still visits regularly in a home for mentally disabled people. As a teacher, the children Isaiah works with are the challenging cases, some of which have single parents supported by mentors, and it is one of those mentors, Ben, whom Isaiah feels attracted to from the first meeting.

Ben works in construction and has gotten his life together after he had to live with his bigoted grandmother when his father ended up in prison for killing Ben’s mother. The grandmother, by the way, is one of the most horrible characters I have met in a while and she still abuses him, demanding he send her money despite the fact that neither of them likes the other. Ben is a recovering addict and his family consists of his boss, Hershel, who was the one to offer Ben a helping hand when he hit rock bottom, and Hershel’s husband, Daniel, who is a successful drag queen. While Ben and Isaiah interact over Aaron, the boy Ben mentors, and their attraction could get both of them in trouble, Ben is as determined as Isaiah to give it a go.

Isaiah and Ben do not have an easy relationship, which is not surprising due to their backgrounds, But the fact that both of them survived situations that could have easily crushed them completely gives them something in common. Dealing with the guilt of their past is not easy and I was holding my breath as I followed their discoveries, angst, and ultimate realization about what is really important in life. The final twist broke my heart as much as it made me sigh in relief – and I can’t say any more than that for fear of ruining it for you. You may see it coming, I certainly did not and enjoyed it all the more.

If you are ready to have your heart raked over the coals with a story about two men who have suffered incredible pain before they find each other, if drama and angst and the power of love are your thing, and if you’re looking for a read that is as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming, then you will probably like this novel as much as I do. It is not an easy read, but it was well worth it for me.





DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by the publisher for the purpose of a review.

Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 333 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 10-May-2020
Price $3.99 ebook, $14.99 paperback
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