The Way Home diverges from that formula a bit, however. Instead of building characters around a plot, the plot is built around the characters. Tyler Brown and Jess Albert met briefly in Last Man Standing, the final book in Gerard’s Black Ops series. Although their interaction was brief, they felt a connection they couldn’t deny, so Tyler comes back into town a year later to pick up where they left off. Jess, however, is wary of the sexy warrior after her Special Ops husband was killed by a IED three years prior. But of course, you can’t turn down a giant hunk of man candy forever, so they eventually hook up and get engaged. Rainbows and butterflies galore. The problem? Jess’ husband isn’t actually dead. Dun dun DUN!
Tyler and Jess don’t feel fleshed out as individuals, so they’re doubly bland as a couple. There’s nothing wrong with them, per se – they fit into standard romance tropes pretty easily – but something’s missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. There’s no palpable chemistry like there has been in every other Gerard book I’ve read, and maybe that has to do with the storyline. For the first half of the novel, high stakes have been exchanged for relationship melodrama, and although I love me some romantic melodrama, I don’t think Gerard handles the new tone skillfully enough to make it work. Plus, I really don’t have any clear picture of what Jess or Tyler even look like. Sure, there are generic descriptions of blue eyes and brown hair, but I don’t have anything more than an inkling of who they really are. Basically, they’re supposedly really attractive and in to each other, but that doesn’t translate well to the page.
With that said, I did thoroughly enjoy the realistic exploration of the toll war and violence takes on our soldiers – Gerard shows their vulnerability and struggle without making them out to be helpless, broken victims. I’m not an authority on military experiences by any means, but I think that military families would be happy with the portrayals in this novel. I also loved the relationship between J.R. and Rabia (and appreciated the inclusion of POC who are awesome/aren’t terrorists of some kind) and the cameos of the Black Ops team and Mike… I only wish we could’ve seen more of them, because they had a lot more charisma than the main couple did. And I really want to visit Lake Kabetogama now… this novel is basically a love letter to that place, and if the descriptions are any indication, it’s gorgeous.
Final verdict: The novel started out really slowly, but the climactic firefight, heartfelt and bittersweet relationships and the supporting cast really saved it for me, so I still give it 4/5.