Juggernaut (Strain .5), Amelia C Gormley
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Gay Romance
Tags: Futuristic, Dystopian, Dark Themes – including rape/non-con, Religion, Series
Length: 378 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
They helped destroy the world. Now they have to survive the new one.
For rentboy Nico Fernández, it’s a simple job: seduce a presidential advisor to help cement approval to launch Project Juggernaut. He’s done similar work for General Logan McClosky before, and manipulating people for his favorite client beats the hell out of being trafficked for slave wages in some corporate brothel.
Zach Houtman feels called to work with the most vulnerable outcasts of society. But his father, the Reverend Maurice Houtman, insists that Zach work for him instead as he runs for Senate. Zach reluctantly agrees, but is horrified to see his father leave behind Christ’s mandate of love and mercy to preach malicious zealotry and violence instead. Zach even starts to suspect his father is working with fundamentalist terrorists.
When Project Juggernaut accidentally unleashes a deadly plague that claims billions of lives, Nico and Zach are thrown together, each bearing a burden of guilt. With only each other for safety and solace, they must make their way through a new world, one where the handful of people left alive are willing to do anything—and kill anyone—to survive.
Nico Fernandez works for his mother as a high-end escort/rent boy at Costas Companions. He’s studying his masters, he likes his work, and has a good relationship with his mother. He also has a regular client, General Logan McClosky, who’s asked Silvia for one of her (male) escorts for a specific job, one that will be a bit rough and is both delicate and important. McClosky wants a military project he has in the works to be green-lit in Washington. Senator Littlewood is the specific target. McClosky needs a younger male who will cater to Littlewood’s… tastes, make him happy, and thus help guarantee the desired political support for Project Juggernaut. Nico soon works out that Littlewood is much more than rough, he’s beyond sadistic, but wants his mark to be an “innocent.” For those who don’t like non-con, parts of chapters 2 and 3 could be tough going. It becomes apparent soon enough that Nico has unwittingly helped set in place events that are about to become the world’s worst nightmare come to life.
Zach Houtman is the son of Reverend Maurice Houtman, an Evangelist and political aspirant. He’s the head of the ultra conservative and zealous Righteous Word Party. Zach is about love thy neighbour and thou shalt not kill when his father’s religious rhetoric is becoming increasingly Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. He fuels the notion that the USA has become like Sodom and Gomorrah – full of fornicators, sodomites and idolaters – and should be dealt with accordingly. Righteous Action League is a religious terrorist group that is more and more active but Zach can’t believe his father has anything to do with the RAL. He overhears a conversation between his father and a man named Derrick, who is eventually arrested after the Midsummer Martyrs bombing of Silvia Costa’s charity. Zach feels guilt over not acting when he initially put 1 +1 together. Unlike Nico, who has a mother who is open and loves him dearly, Zach has become a barely-tolerated family member by his father and his younger and sycophantic brother, Jacob.
After the fallout from General McClosky’s Project Juggernaut’s ‘super soldiers’ – the Jugs – and the resulting pandemic, life, the world, has completely changed. Zach and Nico come into contact when events force Nico’s lightcar (a hover car) to crash on the way to NORAD in Colorado Springs. He ends up finding shelter in a shed at the back of a property in Indiana. The property belongs to the Houtmans – yes, of all the gin joints… However, it’s fiction and in a chaotic, less populated USA there is a distinct believability in their meeting.
Zach and Nico are wonderful MCs. I have to say that I fell completely in love with Zach, he is everything that I admire about the true Christian ethos. I loved Zach because he bravely defies his fanatical father when it’s critical and is true to his religious beliefs throughout – kind, positive, loving and selfless – and the antithesis of his father and Jacob. Zach also knows he’s gay but he hasn’t ever acted on it. He’s dated girls but they weren’t what he needed. He (thank you) accepts his relationship with Nico as God-sent and nothing to be ashamed of… and that fit Zach’s very essence.
God was offering him another chance; he knew it. Another chance to be the man he was born to be, to understand that God’s truth had nothing to do with the indoctrination he’d received his whole life. This wasn’t the damnation he’d feared before. It was the opposite. It was his salvation.
Nico has never allowed himself the luxury of love because he worked and studied hard, and his profession didn’t leave room for it. The most fond he ever became of anyone was General McClosky, who has made a total clusterfuck of everything, which causes conflict for Nico. Now, in this dystopia, he finds what he’s been missing… Zach Houtman. He keeps waiting for the judgement from the son of a preacher, but it never comes. Zach is about love not judgement, and even in tough times he searches for God’s guidance and plan. That Nico craves touch and intimacy fuels Zach’s protective nature and desire to touch and be intimate with someone he’s fallen in love with.
There’s a bit of religious point-counterpoint in Juggernaut. I won’t lie, I found myself getting pissy at times and the writing evoked strong feelings and thoughts. I’m sure others will have theirs but, no matter what, it definitely sets the tone for Rhys’ ordeal – and for Jacob’s character – in Strain.
So Nico and Zach leave Indiana behind together and use a truck and supplies to help them on the journey to Colorado Springs. However, courtesy of McClosky at the very beginning of the outbreak, Nico has protected (infected) himself with Bane Alpha strain, and while it has some benefits, like being immune to the Beta and Gama strains, being stronger, it has some major downsides. He needs more protein because his metabolism has sped up and in and the middle of nowhere, with limited supplies, this is not possible. Most significantly, if he bleeds he will infect Zach or anyone else who is ‘clean’ causing Beta or Gama strains, effectively killing them or condemning them to a life as a revenant.
Apart from the havoc around them there are issues for both men. There’s the guilt about their part in events that have occurred. Nico is also terrified about infecting Zach, has nightmares about it, and it has a knock-on effect, causing complications with any love-making. Nico also isn’t sure how the contagion is transmitted, other than his blood and it’s airborne. Could it somehow be transmitted via his semen? Zach also has a chance to use an ampule of Alpha for immunity to the contagion but he doesn’t feel that’s his calling, which is his choice, but it does amplify risks/problems.
When they arrive at Cheyenne Mountain, life in quarantine is a shock to the system. The guards are on a power trip, people are unwell and dispatched easily, the weather is brutal, revenants mutate which means that person’s family is also killed, childbirth is beyond difficult. The wait to move to the Clean Zone is three months but this seems to get extended. Someone is organising gangs, there are rapes, and people are on the take. The military government does little to support the survivors who will be the ones to repopulate.
The book is dark and Amelia C Gormley paints life in a dystopian world as harsh and fraught with pain and danger. She gives people the actions and behaviours you would see exhibited when people are faced with doing whatever it takes for survival. The Jugs are given more background in Juggernaut and their treatment is like many who serve their country only to come home and find they are pariahs. And when one system ends the politics of the next are still no guarantee of being better. On top of this, when Nico can no longer go on risking Zach’s life, he has to leave.
Both Nico and Zach have their own POV, so the reader knows exactly what’s going on for both of them throughout. It’s very important as Zach remains at Colorado Springs and Nico eventually goes to Sierra Company in Atlanta. While they do have times of catching up, the situation they find themselves in does not support either a HEA or HFN. But there is hope for Nico and Zach… and society… by the end of Juggernaut. Bane won’t be too far behind Juggernaut, perhaps wait for that book’s release if more of a concrete end is mandatory for you.
Strain was one of my books of 2014 and I loved, loved, loved Juggernaut as well. I am not a big fan of prequels and things with ‘point’ something in the title, but if ever there was a book crying out for a prequel it was Strain. I enjoyed seeing the seeds sown here but I’ll stress that you do not have to have read Strain. Some characters from that book make appearances, and I understood more regarding certain people and events as a result of Juggernaut. Personally, I think it’s better to read Juggernaut first and then read Strain.
Yet again Ms Gormley’s writing is strong, the characters distinct. It takes a little bit to build, as some groundwork is laid, but the book had me reading until late into the night then up early the next morning to finish it. I felt compelled to be with Nico and Zach because they are wonderful MCs. The chemistry is palpable, their struggles real. Their love difficult but powerful. There is nowhere near the same amount of sex in Juggernaut as Strain, they’re different premises, but when it occurs it’s either intense, nasty even, or passionate and meaningful. The world building is stronger still in this book, all characters just as interesting. I cannot wait for Bane because I am totally invested. I want to see what happens with the strains, the people, the planet, if there is a cure or something similar, if they nail the good senator to a tree, if the Jugs have some recognition and respect. Best of all, I’ll get to spend more time with both Rhys and Darius and Nico and Zach. 5 Stars! As another plus, the covers on the books in this series are fantastic.
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