Marc reviews ‘Strain’ by Amelia C. Gormley. This book was published by Riptide Publishing on February 15, 2014, 320 pages.
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 provide 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. And that means that Darius might soon have to put a bullet in the head of the one person in years who reminds him of what it means to be human.
Cover: I really like that cover. The way the spine from a destroyed building can be seen in the background and the segmentation of the image. The color scheme. It is very artistic and fits well with the mood of the story.
Title: The title is short and to the point. A lot can be gleamed from the cover and title and they fit together well. I really like it, though sharing a name with a well known series makes things about THIS book harder to find.
Story: I saw this story long before it was released, available as free net galley review copy. It looked very intriguing and I love dystopia and post-apocalypse. However, the story seemed extremely dark. I’m not usually very good with dark stories. I don’t even mind stories that have no happy ending, but if a story has non-consensual sex, slavery and some other topics, I often can’t enjoy them as much as others do, even if they are well written. Books recommended to my by friends who know my tastes well, usually rate very highly for me. The exceptions were almost always dark stories that might have been well-written, but too dark for me to handle.
So, while I heard it was a pretty damn well written book, I was very cautious. I really wanted to love it, but reading it might mean I would find out it wasn’t for me. The whole concept the book was built upon, seemed like something that had to be handled extremely delicately. And I have to say, when I finally started to read it on my way to UK Meet this year, it was hard to read. However, I also immediately realized that it was indeed well-written and not some kind of weird rape-fantasy posing as post apocalypse. A book like that I would need to DNF directly, because rape is in no way arousing or amusing to me.
No, Amelia C. Gormley pushes the boundaries to the maximum and even beyond, but in a way that is never glorifies breaking these boundaries, feeds the progression of the story and feels authentic in the gritty, hopeless setting. There are consequences for everything that happens, but it is also clear that with such a shift in the world, many things have changed and we cannot apply our own moral guidelines to a world that is nothing like ours anymore. The rules have changed and the characters have to adjust to their new world!
I read another review about this book, where the reviewer said she did not think the world-building was developed well-enough and made-up too little of the story. She believed that a Dystopia should be more about how that new world works. I agree, many Dystopian novels focus more on that and I find that very interesting to read. However, this book is not Dystopia. It is post-Apocalypse. It does not focus on a new world that is ultimately bad for all the people like ‘1984’ does. Instead it focuses on the results of an apocalypse, a destruction of the world as we know it, and the emotional ramifications it has on the main protagonists. At it’s core, for me post-apocalyptic stories are about the human tragedies that the chaos of the new world creates. There is often a kind of Anarchy or only temporary and imperfect government, and it is more about how the characters handle these changes and live in this new world.
The author builds a world that is so dark and gritty that there is nearly no light, no hope in it. Rhy, a very sympathetic main character, went through nearly unendurable events in his live and through it all has remained honorable and good. Even when he was told he was bad, a sinner. He has an underlying strength and courage and it can be seen in his actions.
At the beginning of the novel, he has to make a choice that is very difficult for him. Understandably. He can either choose to die, or allow men he doesn’t know, strangers, to try to sexually transmit a strain of the terrible virus that so changed the world of this book. If it works, he would not become one of the zombie-like people, but he could never go back into the city, either.
He would be forced to do the thing that he was always suspected of, worse even (to him), the thing he wished for – but he would have no control. He only agrees to it, because he can’t quite give up his life and this means he at least has a choice, but it is a reluctant choice made out of desperation. And this reluctance is painful, even if he already agreed to it. It makes it hard on him and hard on the people, who are trying to help him, but I loved that the author does not make this an easy choice. What happens to Rhys is understandable and necessary in the circumstances she created, but it should never be an easy choice.
The author goes to great length to effectively demonstrate to the reader that this is not rape, but it is still something very painful to read. Something very dark and often disturbing. As the story progresses, though, and the romance slowly develops, we also get to know the different supporting characters and it gets much easier to read. Still, every sliver of happiness is hard earned and comes at immense costs.After my initial resistance to accept what was happening, the story drew me in quickly and left me very invested in the characters.
It is like the author thought about the darkest and most horrific version of the future she could come up with and took that to write this story.Still, there is true love, gentleness, friendship and moments of true beauty to be found here. The author show to the reader what is important, when everything else is stripped away.
This future is a much darker place where our rules can no longer be applied, but finding the humanity in the savageness, the light in the darkness, the hope in a world that seems so very desolate, makes this story beautiful – even when it breaks the reader’s heart and the character are left with unbearable choices. Or no choices at all.
I often had to put away the book, especially in the beginning, but once the story really got going I found myself at the edge of my seat. There is action, heartbreak angst, elements of horror, love, erotic and there are many twists. For me the special things about the twists was that readers never know know what will happen, because everything CAN happen. Characters can die and the worst thing can and often will happen, though I can promise you a happy ending, if not a HEA (which makes sense in a world as volatile as this one).
The growing feelings between the main protagonists and their struggle to kill any sparks before they create a fire that cannot be doused are the heart of the story. It is a very psychological journey, we see how these difficult decisions and actions affect the men. They have to do things they don’t want to do and it is heart breaking, but readers will strongly root for them to find a way to deal with all of it in a healthy way.
Even in a dark world with few rules and less hope, Rhys is proud and stubborn and he doesn’t bend – even if that means he might break. That makes him special. A rarity that in a world where people had to bend to the circumstances to survive.
The story is extremely well-written and touches upon many difficult issues that are handled with the utmost care and gentleness by the author. It took me a while to read this one, because I had to take stops. The story affected me emotionally, broke my heart and made me tear up, but it also made me smile and took my breath away. A lot of what we take for granted, is shown in it”S true beauty and value in this novel, as we see it against the chaos and darkness of a different world and it made me re-evaluate aspects of my own life.
If you can handle the darkness, you will find a wonderful story beneath all the pain. A tale that will grip readers and linger long after the last word is read. A strongly recommended read – 9 out of 10 pots of gold! 😉
9 out of 10 pots of gold
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 a 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, theThe Professor’s Rule series of erotic novelettes (co-written with Heidi Belleau), and her upcoming post-apocalyptic romance, Strain.
Follow @ACGormley on Twitter