Bane (Strain #2), Amelia C Gormley
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Dystopian, Interracial, Religion, Erotic, Sci-Fantasy, Series
Length: 279 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
**THIRD BOOK IN THIS SERIES SO BEWARE IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST TWO.** NSFW
The weapon that nearly destroyed humanity may be their only salvation.
Rhys Cooper’s unique immunity to all three strains of the virus that nearly annihilated humanity has brought him the unwanted attention of Clean Zone scientists. They’ve summoned him for testing—ostensibly in the hopes of finding a vaccine—but Rhys’s partner, Darius Murrell, has good reason not to trust any government. He and his comrades in Delta Company were unwitting test subjects for Project Juggernaut, the military experiment that gave them superhuman abilities and unleashed the pandemic. Doubting the government’s intentions, Delta Company refuses to let Rhys go alone.
Fear of infection has kept Zach Houtman and his lover Nico Fernández apart for a decade. They meet rarely, just long enough to coordinate their spying on the head of the government’s virus research division. Secretary Littlewood is a vicious predator, and they suspect he’s trying to acquire the strain of the virus that would make him superhuman. To stop him, they need the perfect bait: Rhys.
For Rhys, helping them might cost him his relationship with Darius—or his life. For Zach and Nico, even if their plan succeeds, they still face the ultimate question: can infected and uninfected people ever live together safely?
Bane is set two years after Rhys and Darius met – Strain – and Delta Company made a decision to save his and Jacob Houtman’s lives. Darius and Rhys met under dire circumstances and their relationship is still rough and raw. Badass Darius loves Rhys but the “L” word isn’t one that gets bandied around, and not because of Darius. Rough, primal sex, blood play, pain, and a ‘super-strong Jug/human’ power dynamic? Sure. Absolutely. All these things get used easily for connection and disconnection. Rhys has physically developed from the underweight survivor of not only living outside the Clean Zone in a monastery, but the religiously zealous and sadistic Houtmans. Recovering from the psychological abuses, the loss of people he loved as well are hard. So Rhys keeps feelings close to his chest – learned behaviour, lack of anything positive from nine to eighteen doesn’t suddenly just disappear. Darius, on the other hand, dotes on his “boy.” Thinks of his wellbeing, even when Rhys doesn’t understand what he gets from it. That there is a big age gap makes Darius more intuitive about Rhys than Rhys about Darius.
Darius feels that maybe Rhys would do better in among civvies, not traipsing around the country with the Jugs – which is hard to voice because he wants Rhys with him so much. But voice it he does. However, Rhys has fitted into Delta working provisions and has a purpose, if not joy. You can see that the majority of Delta have taken him under their wing. Except maybe Schuyler, Kaleo’s widowed partner. She isn’t so glad to have him there due to reasons surrounding Kaleo’s death…and a bit more to do with her own perceptions of Rhys.
Because of Rhys’ immunity he’s been summoned by the Department for Pandemic Research and Prevention, or DPRP, to the Clean Zone for testing. The Clean Zone is a bone of contention now for the Jugs, and the civvies who have been settled there don’t trust them. This, after the Jugs helped rescue, rehome civvie survivors and (re)build the area. And, after they helped the civvies overthrow a corrupt government, they were banished to wander unsettled. Unable to have children. Unable to fit in because they were once infected and that infection is permanent. The civvies are scared and, through fear, mistrustful. The Jugs have also cleaned up a fair amount of the revenants and made whole areas, states, clean. But like people who often serve their country honourably, there’s little to no support.
“I don’t know what they intend. And honestly, I don’t know what we would do if they did go on the offensive.” She gave him a bleak look. “A lot of us resent the fuck out of them for the way they treated us after the overthrow, but we don’t want to fight them. We can’t. It’s too risky. They’re the only ones who can reproduce.” She snorted bitterly. “They’re the fucking hope of humanity.”
Even though not a civvie, Xolani, Delta’s doctor, is appalled to learn of draconian measures in place in the Clean Zone, such as the Genetic Diversity Mandate involving the Zone ‘owning’ a uterus for population expansion. She wants to address the Scientific Committee, who keep stalling her. Meanwhile, The Jugs never let Rhys out of their site and accompany him for all testing.
While Rhys begins testing, Zach – Juggernaut – who is part of the medical team, makes contact with him. Zach wants to persuade Rhys to be kidnapped and be right inside to help him gain vital information about the secretive and elusive DPRP. Find irrefutable proof of what he suspects is going on. When Rhys eventually sees Zach without a hermetically sealed suit Rhys freaks out because he looks just like his nightmares – Father Maurice and Jacob Houtman. Zach is a Houtman by name, but nothing like his brutal, fanatical and self-serving father and brother. Zach believes in a loving and all-encompassing God. His father and brother believed in the God of Hellfire and Brimstone. They caused Rhys immense trauma and now a new Houtman is asking him to be bait for yet another sadistic man, Senator Littlewood, who heads up the DPRP. Zach and his partner Nico have been trying to find out where young men, and some other civvies, have been disappearing to since Littlewood turned up (originally) in the Clean Zone six years ago. The young men fit the tastes of the sexually deviant Littlewood. The others disappearing are not so clear-cut. Neither are the intake interviews and questionnaires of civilians being bought in to the Clean Zone.
Zach and Nico have been apart for ten years. They met at the beginning of the viral pandemic that wiped out most of the world. They were both indirectly involved in the pandemic and feel they have their own crosses to bear. They haven’t been intimate for ten years – Nico is a Jug, self-injected Bane Alpha into himself. Nico refused the other vial as he believed, still believes, God has other plans for him. This means that Nico’s blood is potentially fatal to Zach, and I swear they both have the biggest case of lover’s balls. Ever. I felt frustrated on their behalf. But my chest ached for the tender-hearted, self-sacrificing Zach and the touch-starved, but understandably frightened, careful and responsible Nico.
Bane has several arcs continuing from previous books. All of them totally riveting. There’s the fact that both parties – Delta Company and Zach and Nico – have to work together as Rhys allows himself to be bait. Nico now knows where the secret DPRP lab is and Delta Co. need him to get them there before Rhys is harmed, in more ways than one. Rhys not only has the promise of antibodies, but he’s the right ‘type’ for Littlewood. Zach is also a civvie and a Houtman, nothing the Jugs are thrilled about. Nico and Zach have issues borne out Zach’s refusal to have taken Alpha when it was offered which has kept them separated. But love and purpose can conquer a whole lot. The Jugs are looking for somewhere to settle and Xolani is on a mission to stick it to the Scientific Committee and new government, and maybe get an antiserum… if it’s possible. Rhys has some growing up to do. He has to realise that living in the minute and making a Heaven out of Hell is not a bad thing to do. His personal growth and his newly attained chutzpah are fantastic to observe. And there’s so much more. All arcs are so well written and intelligently progress the story from the beginning to this point. From Charlie Company to the obsessed desire for Bane Alpha. All characterisations have stayed right on track from book to book.
I’ll also add that the sex is all kinds of brain-zappingly hot. Zach and Nico are more gentle and reverent, when not desperate. Darius and Rhys scorch the Kindle pages right up with their frenetic and intense passion.
There are moments in this book when I was scared out of my gourd about the outcome. I flew through the pages because I loved the story and I had to see what would happen to my guys. To Delta Company. My love for Xolani and respect for the others grew even more. I could go on and on about the book but it’s best read and enjoyed by the individual.
The thought made his farewell to Darius seem particularly unsatisfactory. Should he have said more, in case they couldn’t get him out? Thanked Darius for making the last two years the only good years Rhys had known since he was nine years old and the world had changed forever?
It’s a testament to the quality writer that Ms Gormley is that this series can be set in darkly dystopian times, that there can be loss, grief and hardships, and I want to jump in and be a part of the characters’ lives. All three books have tied in seamlessly – if I thought, “But what about ABC?” ABC would be addressed beautifully. I didn’t want to put any of these books down once I started. I kept thinking about the characters – one more chapter! – when I went to bed. I think both sets of MCs are amazing, but I hold a special place for Darius and Rhys. And if I can squee for just a moment – being with them again was so good for me. That this book had so much centred around two of my favourite guys was my personal heaven and I hope to see them again. The ending is nicely done but left open for more, please let there be more.
Review bottom line? Bane is a cracker of a read. It’s always a pleasure to read the author’s work because she is incredibly diverse and has no formulaic approach to the “MM” romance genre, which is not always easy to find. If you like this type of book, this type of setting, seriously run… don’t walk, and grab a copy of one in the series so you can start reading. 5 Delta-Carved Stars!
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Book supplied by the author for an honest review.