THE MASS OF MEN revolves around Samantha, or Sam as she is known–the sole female student of a fire training academy–Ty, a shy, young cadet, and Daniels, the head of the academy. Sam grew up in an environment where she was always surrounded by men as her father was a naval officer. As the only woman among a mass of men in the academy, Sam is at once privileged (she has the women’s locker room all to herself) and at a disadvantage (she is initially not taken seriously by the others and has to put in double the effort to prove herself). Ty has had to deal with an abusive father his entire life, which shapes him into a reticent and mostly silent person. Lastly, there’s Daniels, who has had a successful career but is emotionally closed due to a personal tragedy that plummets him into the depths of grief.
The story begins with short, conversational introductions to the bunch of new recruits and then moves on to tighten the focus on Sam, Ty, and Daniels. Slowly, Ty becomes deeply attached to Sam, their relationship blossoming into a heartwarming friendship. Author Rachel K. Wentz beautifully shows the confusing emotions that Ty has in the beginning and the process he goes through to eventually find his answer. Sam and Daniels are wildly, irrationally attracted to each other, and Wentz skillfully develops their relationship bit by bit through the novel. Finally, there’s Ty and Daniels. Both men are running away from the shadows of their past and it’s not an easy journey for either of them. However, slowly and surely they begin to trust and lean on each other.
Apart from the bonds the characters develop with each other, there is the overarching journey of each individual as they grow in their own ways. Sam proves her mettle and a fine friendship develops between her and many of the other cadets. Ty begins to show more of his innate sensitive personality and a quiet strength that had been hidden within him. Daniels starts to open up, which is, ironically, needed to close his wounds. How will each of them fare? How will each of them forge their own paths while discovering the comfort and care of having another to walk with them?
Wentz shows the nuances and complexities in each relationship through some refreshing and honest writing. She traces each person’s evolution through the duration of the training as each aspect of the academy impacts them in different ways. Written mostly from Sam’s viewpoint, Wentz has, no doubt, relied heavily on her experiences in her thirteen-year career as a firefighter and paramedic in the Orlando Fire Department to craft this book. There are long, detailed passages describing the different training processes and the physically demanding exercises. As graduation day approaches, the cadets have to go through a final test, which will tell them if they are ready to risk their lives for someone else. Wentz brings all the threads together in an exciting, nail-biting climax, which is a fitting ending to the book.
THE MASS OF MEN is an engrossing story about the training and lives of firefighters, written by an author who has clearly lived through many of the experiences she so vividly describes.
~Swati Nair for IndieReader