Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Strain by Amelia Gormley
Author: Amelia C. Gormley
Cover artist: Kanaxa
Buy at Riptide
Buy at All Romance eBooks
genre: dystopian, science fiction
length: 320 pages, 104 k
formats: mobi, epub, pdf, print
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.
A guest review from Eden Winters
From start to finish, Strain by Amelia C. Gormley was a non-stop, unapologetic journey through darkness and into, if not light, then the pink-around-the-edges promise of dawn.
Kudos to the author for taking a risk on a volatile subject and giving us front-row seats to every possible angle, and some of the best, well-drawn characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Although the POV switches between Rhys and Darius, our main couple if you will, this is an ensemble cast made up of characters so real, and dialogue so believable, that you find yourself completely caught up in their struggles.
First off, I realize this book is not for everyone. A protagonist must choose between death or sex with multiple partners. Turned off yet? Go back now. Those still with me? Let’s march forward. Right and wrong are gray areas in a world gone to shit, and the soldiers who patrol what’s left of the United States have little in the way of comfort but each other. Their camaraderie and their devotion to their brother-and-sisters-in-arms are the only things that keep them going. They take what little joy there is to be had, and yes, this manifests as sex in many cases. The thing they have in common? Military background and a virus that offers protection against the two mutated strains that have quite nearly wiped out the civilian population.
Enter a young man who’s been raised under the condescending eye of a megalomaniacal zealot, and taught from an early age to believe himself wicked. After exposure to certain death, he has a choice to make: wait until death claims him, or accept the soldiers’ offer to try to save his life. The lifesaving virus he needs is sexually transmitted.
He’s torn. Yes, he desires men, but is it a sin to let others into his body to preserve his life? That’s the dilemma he faces. But Rhys, for all his naiveté, is as plucky and resilient as they come. But while he may be reluctant to do what’s necessary, he wants to live, and agrees.
The men who help him are equally reluctant, for they prefer willing bedmates. Because he will hopefully become one of them, they see him not as prey, helpless or weak, but as a new member, and much of the actual encounters take place off-stage, except in the case where there’s character growth and plot development to be shared. There is no gratuitousness here. In one scene, at the completion, a soldier kisses Rhys and says, “Welcome, little brother.”
Rhys’ main objection to the encounters is that the men are doing what they must, and not because he means something to them. And guilt ensues for actually wanting one of the men, and only him. I guess now is a good time to mention Rhys’ submissive tendencies. No, don’t roll your eyes at me. I mean that he’s one of those compassionate souls with a genuine desire to make life better for everyone else with no thought for himself, as is demonstrated in the opening scene when he sacrifices himself for others.
To a battle-hardened group of fighters, destined to forever stand on the outside and gaze in at humanity, Rhys is balm for the soul. Their leader, Darius, is perhaps the most hardened, and the most in need of Rhys’ gentleness. But how can he let the man under his skin when any day now, if Rhys shows signs of the wrong infection, Darius will have to cut an already precarious life shorter still?
Now, with that premise, you may think this book revolves around sex. It does not. It revolves around the soldiers, doing what they must to preserve mankind, and delivering a dose of reality as harsh as killing a loved one for the greater good. This is handled with great sensitivity. In the hands of someone else, this story may have fallen short of the brilliance it achieved through Ms. Gormley’s storytelling skills.
Strain is bleak, gritty, and raw, in a harsh world. And yet it represents the author’s craft at its finest: taking untenable situations, world-weary characters, and an unlikely pair of heroes, and taking us along for the twisty, turny ride. And maybe, just maybe, shedding some light at the end of the tunnel. 5 marbles