I’m into post-apocalyptic stories, complicated m/m relationships and plots and characters that don’t piss me off. When I read the synopsis for Strain I figured it was meant for me and I was right. But it probably isn’t a book for everyone.
Rhys is 19 and was only a child when the world changed. A military experiment gone awry destroyed most of humanity and turned people into plague ridden monsters called revenants. Rhys grew up living in seclusion with a small group of survivors that included his sister & nephew, a holier than thou leader and his asshole protégé Jacob. The book throws you right into the action as Rhys is using himself as bait to save them all from an attack. Unfortunately, due to Jacob’s cowardice, he is unsuccessful and they are the only two survivors. Rhys and Jacob are rescued by a group of Jugs, former military “experiments” who have superior strength and stamina. They take them in but because they are now both infected and will die horribly, the Jugs decide to do a little experimentation of their own by infecting them with their superior Jug strain of the virus. If they succeed Rhys and Jacob will live and join their crew. If they don’t succeed they’ll have to put them down.
The quickest way to infection is via anal sex. Several times a day. With different partners. I know it sounds porny but it actually works in this world the author creates. At least it worked for me and didn’t feel forced, exploitative or cheesy. Rhys is a virgin but he doesn’t want to die. He’s stuck in a situation that is appalling. He is attracted to men but he’s been raised to believe his feelings are an abomination. His internal struggles are beautifully crafted. Despite it all he manages to develop feelings for Darius, the Jug who initially found him and the one he spends the most time with, but Darius is a hardened soldier who won’t allow himself to soften towards the kid because he knows he’ll have to be the one to put a bullet in his brain if this whole mess doesn’t work out.
Yes, there is a LOT of dubious con sex going on here due to the nature of the plot but it’s not overly descriptive unless it’s furthering/changing/exploring a relationship. There is humiliation and some knife play involved and multiple sex partners and a whole lot of unvanilla sex. I felt bad for Rhys (how could you not?) who isn’t even given time to grieve the loss of his family before he’s thrust into his new role as sex toy for the Jugs and he’s forced to deal with Jacob who he despises. Rhys is treated with kindness by the Jugs and makes some friends but they all have a job to do and they do it even though it’s soon apparent that Rhys isn’t having fun with anyone but Darius.
This is Rhys’s story of survival and I wouldn’t classify it as a typical romance. If I had one complaint (and of course I do) it would be that Darius’s character wasn’t given enough page time. It’s easy to see why Rhys was attracted to him, he’s powerful and attractive and knows how to handle Rhys, but he’s off screen doing Jug stuff for a large part of the book. When he’s with Rhys they talk a little but mostly they’re too busy having hot sexy times. Not that there was anything wrong with those scenes (they were pretty fantastic) but I would’ve enjoyed knowing Darius a lot better. We only get a small glimpse into his feelings and it wasn’t enough for me. Wait, I have one more complaint. The bad guy, Jacob, had one dimension and should’ve been shot on day one. I found his character very predictable. Other than that . . .
Strain is suspenseful and unique but it’s one of those books that you need to know what you’re in for before you start it. It was a compelling world, with interesting characters and I hope there is a sequel (and I never say that) not because there was a cliffhanger but because I’d love to revisit this world and learn more how Darius and Rhys are getting on.