Title ~ Enforcing Emory
Author ~ Mickie B. Ashling
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 27th May 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Olympic figure skater Emory Lowe falls in lust the moment he lays eyes on his new neighbor, hockey player Nikolai Vetrov. On the surface, Nik is a typical badass enforcer, intimidating and dangerous, on and off the ice. The only son of Ukrainian immigrants, Nik has been groomed from childhood to fulfill his father’s dreams of seeing him in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Igor guides his son toward that goal with a controlling—and abusive—hand, steering him clear of anyone who might ruin his chances.
Although Emory is the US National Figure Skating champion, he’s in-your-face gay, and his audacious persona rubs Nik and his family the wrong way. Raised by supportive and loving parents, Emory is Nik’s polar opposite in every way but one—his desire to succeed. Underneath the fluff and glitter beats the heart of a fierce competitor, and this side of Emory’s personality begins to close the distance between the two athletes.
While the attraction is one-sided in the beginning, Nik finds himself responding to Emory’s flirting. But before the incongruous pair have a chance at any sort of relationship, they must survive the pressures of career, separation, and most importantly, Igor’s ruthless homophobia.
Enforcing Emory is a wonderful book by an inventive, talented author: Mickie Ashling. This is the first book by this author I’ve read, and it was nothing less than a revelation – far more than I expected and beautifully written.
Enforcing Emory is the story of Emory, a world class figure skater on his way to the Winter Olympics. He’s slender, a bit effeminate and absolutely fabulous. His costumes are marvelously over-the-top, his makeup often includes pink false eyelashes, but his talent, skill and daring are unmatched.
He’s enjoying a week at home with his parents, Tom and Darlene, and his brood of younger siblings, as he prepares to go to Connecticut to study with his new coach. He’s gone as far as he can with the long-time coach who brought him to this point, national champion and pre-emptive Olympic favorite, but he needs just that little push, that little extra that will earn him the gold.
Nik is a Canadian, Ukrainian-born, athlete who moves to Chicago to join an AHL hockey team. He’s an enforcer, the rough, tough player tasked with keeping the opposing team’s defense away from his star players. Unlike enforcers of the past, he’s not just aggression and testosterone, he’s smart and wily. The Wolves have invested their high hopes for the Calder Cup, this year, in their new enforcer. Their current one is on the disabled list and they’re desperately in need of effective on-the-ice protection for their top scorers, without which the team has no shot at the championship.
Ms. Ashling engineers what must be the ultimate meet-cute - Nik happens to move across the street from Emory, just outside of Chicago, and the moment they meet they start fighting – about which of their sports is a real sport and which one is harder. Nik has little respect for figure skaters because of his father, Igor. He is not just his father’s son; he’s his father’s creation. His controlling and unbalanced father has been grooming him for the Hockey Hall of Fame since he was five years old, planning every facet of every day of his life, living his failed dreams through Nik. He’s also smothering him, and continues to physically abuse him despite the fact that Nik is a grown man big enough and strong enough to demolish the older man.
But Nik is saddled with his family’s expectations. They’ve already picked out a bride for him (with wide hips, good for child bearing) and informed them both that they shall marry. Period.
The fly in the ointment is Emory. Wanting to see exactly what’s so special about this pretty young man, Nik checks him out on YouTube and his jaw drops in awe of Emory’s stunning talent and skills. It changes his whole attitude and he desperately wants to get to know him better.
Which, of course, he does - much better. He’s never been with another man, though if he were being entirely honest with himself, he would have to admit he has admired hot men in the past, so perhaps he’s actually bi? Or maybe he’s gay and just hasn’t acted on it yet?
Emory makes it his goal, in the last few days before he leaves to join his new coach, to seduce the blond, blue-eyed Ukrainian hunk. Of course he does, and didn’t even need a lot of convincing to lure Nik into his bed. Nik has no idea what’s going on in his head, but all he thinks about is Emory. Despite the fact that he simply can’t be gay – his family would throw him out, he’d be giving up his career in hockey, he just can’t keep his hands off of Emory, or his heart from reaching out to him.
These are two of the more unusual lead characters in the gay romance genre. Oh there’s plenty of athletes coming out (it’s a standard gay fiction meme), but these two vivid and utterly believable characters are special – sharing their obsession with the ice, but otherwise as different as two men can be. Emory is a very out, flamboyant showman. Nik is a reserved, conservative, man’s man and a brute on the ice. Only later does Emory learn that Nik wanted to be a figure skater as a kid, but his father forbade figure skating because that’s only for “poofters”.
Emory’s family, on the other hand, is as caring and accepting as a family can be, bound together by their unconditional love for each other. Em’s also an activist, refusing to rein in his “gayness” in order to get higher marks from homophobic judges. He’s making it in Figure Skating on his own terms, being fully himself and challenging anyone to find fault.
The odds are stacked against these young men. Nik’s violent father will kill rather than “let his son” be gay. His whole family is cowed by the violent, ignorant, controlling man. Unless Nik is willing to fight back, he will never be his own man. And his father fights dirty, threatening Emory with physical violence that will knock him out of the Olympics (shades of Nancy Kerrigan) and setting thugs on them in the Olympic Village in Sochi, resulting in Emory’s father suffering a broken arm at the hands of Igor’s gay-bashers-for-hire.
But Enforcing Emory is definitely gay romance, so we know that the two talented and beautiful men will eventually surmount the obstacles – and they do. But it’s both fun and, at times, terrifying, to follow their progress to acceptance, confidence, pride and commitment. One of the things I loved most about the book is how the author has endowed this effeminate, glamorous young man with true courage, power and strength. She never dismisses him as a “silly queen” or a “twink”, but treats him with the deep respect his courage and talent deserves. Well done.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Ms. Ashling is a wonderful writer who obviously avoids trite gay romance memes like the plague. All of the angst in this book is authentic and necessary, not imposed by the author to “spice up” her book. She renders a beautiful contrast between the loving acceptance of both Emory’s family and Nik’s hockey team (which has a very strong non-discrimination policy and other out gay players) and the hateful Russian audience at the Olympics and Nik’s family. For heaven’s sake, even Nik’s mother is willing to see him dead rather than gay.
Enforcing Emory is a beautiful, emotional book that explores the world of sports, the nature of homophobia, and the redemptive power of love without ever being preachy or self-conscious.
I couldn’t put the book down once I started reading it. It just grabbed me and didn’t let go until the very last pages, which is the highest compliment I can pay any book. Exceedingly well-edited, paced and literate, it was a pleasure to read and it warmed my heart and soul.
Please read this book. It deserves to be read by everyone who loves good gay fiction. And anyone who loves good gay fiction will be thankful for the many hours of reading pleasure Ms. Ashling delivers, seemingly effortlessly, in Enforcing Emory.