Hi there! Today I’m sharing my review for STRAIN, the first book in the Strain series by Amelia C. Gormley. This is a fantastic sci-fi, dystopian M/M romance, though the romance is slow to build.
About the book:
In a world with little hope and no rules, the only thing they have to lose is themselves.
Rhys Cooper is a dead man. Cut off from the world since childhood, he’s finally exposed to the lethal virus that wiped out most of the human race. Now his only hope for survival is infection by another strain that might confer immunity. But it’s sexually transmitted, and the degradation he feels at submitting to the entire squad of soldiers that rescued him eclipses any potential for pleasure—except with Darius, the squadron’s respected, capable leader.
Sergeant Darius Murrell has seen too much death and too little humanity. He’s spent a decade putting plague victims out of their misery and escorting survivors to a safe haven he can never enjoy. He’d rather help Rhys live than put him down, so when Rhys can’t reconcile himself to doing what’s necessary to survive, Darius is forced to save Rhys in spite of himself.
But with each passing day, it looks less and less likely that Rhys can be saved. Which means that soon Darius might have to put a bullet in the head of the one person in years who reminds him of what it means to be human.
The story is set on Earth, more than a century from now. After more than 100years of constant aggression to settle interests in the world, the US military struggled to recruit new soldiers. So, it’s scientists created a virus with which to infect its soldiers to generate supersoldiers, and a poison pill to its enemies at the same time. The effect was devastating, leaving an airborne virus that caused Rot, degeneration of the skin and brain and yielding revenants: hungry, carnivorous uncontrollable humans who are for all intents and purposes zombies.
Rhys has lived in a sheltered community, an abandoned monastery in rural Oregon, for the past 7 years– since age 12. His mother died two years ago and the only remaining adults were Father Maurice and his son, Jacob. They despised Rhys–having suspected him of being a homosexual from his youth–and routinely beat and starved him. Jacob was given Rhys’s younger sister as a bride, in accordance with Father Maurice’s demands, and the book opens with Rhys positioned as bait for marauding revenants while the good Father, Jacob, Rhys’s sister and nephew all escape. Only, it doesn’t go down like that. Rhys fights back–still trying to distract the “revs” and is nearly overcome when the cavalry arrives. And, by cavalry, I mean the original infected supersoldiers.
The soldiers of Project Juggernaut are super in every way: strength, stamina, accuracy. They take down the revs, but not before Rhys’ sister, nephew and the Father are killed. Jacob, that miserable abusive gobshite survived because he ran, leaving his “wife,” toddler son, and father to be attacked.
The “Jugs” aren’t sure what to do with Rhys and Jacob. The are clearly at risk for Rot, but the medic officer argues that transmission of the original virus–via copious sexual intercourse with the Jugs–could help Rhys and Jacob develop immunity to the mutated strain causing Rot before they develop symptoms. It’s a super longshot, and the platoon commander, Darius, is reluctant. Previous Jug leaders had created mini-empires by capturing civilians and raping them into submission–creating new Jugs in the process, and Darius is loathe to taste that power. Rhys even volunteers to die, knowing that he’s likely infected, and this changes something for Darius. He’s intrigued by Rhys, who is so small and scrawny and fierce at the same time.
All of this happens in the first 50 pages, or so. It is fascinating! All those years of being punished (beaten and starved) by Father Maurice and Jacob for his “unnatural perversion,” and yet, given the choice of Rot or Jug life, Rhys remains hesitant while Jacob is only to happy to drop trow. Rhys’ scared out of his mind of developing Rot, and sure that Jacob will find some way to torment him if he shows any inclination of enjoyment of sex. As the platoon makes it’s way back to camp, Rhys and Jacob submit to the “treatment” and I don’t mean this in any porny way, at all. It is rough and brutal, and some non-consent is part of the bargain. It affects Darius, who becomes inordinately possessive of Rhys–against his own better judgement.
I absolutely loved this story. It was an intriguing look at ethics and morality in a post-apocalyptic world. And, I dug that the author flipped the script on man-on-man action–making it vital to Rhys and Jacob’s survival. Growing up in the HIV/AIDS era as I have, and being disgusted by the dismissal of it as a “gay plague” that too many smugly thought well-deserved, I could appreciate the irony and also the necessity of this device. I so wanted Rhys to come to terms with his issues–but it is truly all he can do to keep up with the fast-paced Jug patrol and also keep out of Jacob’s line of fire. Rhys doesn’t mind having a sexual partner–Darius, actually–but the treatment is to “inoculate” him with as many variants of the strain as possible, which means multiple partners daily.
The story is simply brilliant in its treatment of bullying, the balance of power, life after bioholocaust, and the need to live a good life, as good as possible, in extreme situations. I was captivated from the beginning. There are a few tender moments, and many that aren’t so tender. That said, this is a romance, and you can expect an HEA for Rhys–but only after he is pulled so far through the plot-wringer that he’s *almost* superhuman.
Many thanks to the publisher, Riptide Books, who supplied a review copy.STRAIN has two companion novels coming in the next two months, JUGGERNAUT and BANE. I have read both of these, and they are incredible.
About the Author:
Amelia C. Gormley may seem like anyone else. But the truth is she sings in the shower, dances doing laundry, and writes blisteringly hot m/m erotic romance while her son is at school. When she’s not writing in her Pacific Northwest home, Amelia single-handedly juggles her husband, her son, their home, and the obstacles of life by turning into an everyday superhero. And that, she supposes, is just like anyone else.
Her self-published novel-in-three-parts, Impulse (Inertia, Book One; Acceleration, Book Two; and Velocity, Book Three) can be found at most major ebook retailers, and be sure to check http://RiptidePublishing.com for her latest releases, including her Highland historical, The Laird’s Forbidden Lover, the The Professor’s Rule series of erotic novelettes (co-written with Heidi Belleau), and her upcoming post-apocalyptic romance, Strain.
Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!