From the beginning of the book I was drawn into this alternate world. I loved the author’s use of a real towns set in the Willamette Valley. The writing is at times gritty, parts are dark, and all of it is believable and very realistic in its description of life after a viral pandemic. I was immediately pulled into this alternate world. I was emotionally invested within a few chapters. This is a story you either love or hate, I don’t think there will be many readers who are in the middle ground.

You feel for Rhys, who has lost everyone dear to him. He is young and innocent, a virgin who has dreamed of falling in love and being made love to by that person. Now he’s just trying to survive. You feel for how resigned he is to his own death and it’s a bit disconcerting. Yet given the circumstances of his life and the “rot” you might chose his path also. But then when the team of rescuers decides to save him, the method chosen almost makes him want to die instead. Something he held so dear and wanted to be special is now just a thing to do to save his life, it’s just sex. And sex with as many people or men as he possible can. But he can’t seem to keep it separate from just sex when it’s with Darius.

Darius is the leader of the Jugs, a team of soldiers who have the virus and benefited from it. Jugs are stronger and have all the skills you would associate with a super soldier. You can understand Darius’ apathy after reading all of the things that he has seen and had to do. When the discussion of whether or not to try and save Rhys’ life comes about, you empathize with having that kind of decision left in his hands and how hard a choice either way would be. So he decides the team should save Rhys, but he’s not sure why it bothers him to see the others partaking of sex with Rhys. He knows he can’t develop feelings for the kid. And yet as time goes on, emotions are engaged.

The secondary characters are an integral part of the story. Xolani is at times a mother hen to Rhys and others hard-nosed soldiers. Jason, Rhys’ brother in law, is the guy you love to hate. The rest of the soldiers round out the group and add to carrying the story along.

The writing is strong, the characters are developed with all of the layers of personality that real people have. The world is easy to visualize. And the sex scenes were amazing and hot. There is something for everyone, bits of BDSM, voyeurism, orgies and shades of D/s. Some of the early sex scenes, the ones where Rhys is struggling with his “cure”, the not wanting it (not really non-con but borderline), are not hot but they are necessary for the flow of the story and the building of the relationship between Rhys and Darius, they needed to be there. Over all this is an amazing and complex story. This is well worth the read.

Book Blurb for Strain

In a world with little hope and no rules, the only thing they have to lose is themselves.

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.

Night Owl Reviews Apr, 2014 4.50