Title ~ Juggernaut (Strain .5)
Author ~ Amelia C. Gormley
Publisher ~ Riptide Publishing
Published ~ 10th August 2015
Genre ~ Dystopian M/M Romance
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.
I have a confession to make. This is the first book I have read by Amelia C Gormley. I’ve read enough of her blog and other social media sites to have enormous respect for her as a person and for her way with words, but I’d got it into my head that she was one of the darkest writers around and since I’m not terribly comfortable with sexual violence I had given her works a miss. However, this book was available so I gave it a go and to say I was surprised is an understatement. This is a terrific book and I can’t wait to read the next in the series, Bane, which will be out later in the year.
Juggernaut is the first part of the Strain series, though the second to be published. Strain, first to be published, second in the sequence, is a standalone work dealing with different characters. Bane, the final instalment, merges the two sets of characters to bring the story to a conclusion.
But this review is for Juggernaut, an extremely unsettling but all too plausible story of the near future. In this world access to scarce resources is a source of conflict. The extremes of wealth have reached their logical conclusions with the uber rich living in luxurious defensible communities and the urban poor packed into state run factory tenements and living on basic and limited rations.
The opportunities for self improvement are rare for the poor, but the Fernández family have managed it by starting and running a very high class escort agency that has brought them wealth and notoriety. Nico, son of the owner, is one of the most sought after commodities on their tariff and his favourite client is General MacClosky. As the story begins, Nico commits to helping MacClosky persuade Secretary Littlewood into approving the funding for MacClosky’s pet project, Juggernaut. Nico does this willingly, even though he soon recognises Littlewood as one of the worst and most brutal sexual predators he’s ever had to service. This is probably the darkest part of the book, leaving Nico damaged both physically and psychologically, but filled with satisfaction that Littlewood will vote the way MacClosky wanted him to.
At the same time Zach Houtmann assists his religious fundamentalist father with a campaign for election to high office, while recognising, much to his horror, that his father has deserted the true Christian teaching for a doctrine of self-aggrandisement, hatred and bigotry. That this hatred spills over into violence comes as a horrible shock and leads to the first steps in Zach and his father’s estrangement.
Months pass with Zach increasingly at odds with his family and Nico making a slow recovery. Then Nico and his mother, Silvia, are invited to an isolated mountain retreat by MacClosky and while Nico is there the world as they know it ends. Juggernaut was a virus intended to create super soldiers, and it did, but it also mutated into a necrotising disease that kills billions but turns a few of them into vicious predators with a taste for living flesh. The fast agile ravenous zombie apocalypse is upon them. Thrown together by circumstances, Nico and Zach traverse a ruined land to try to find sanctuary with the remaining Government only to find themselves in a worse predicament.
This story has dynamite for plot and well-rounded and engaging characters. Nico and Zach’s relationship is touching, especially concerning the impediments to their union, but I wouldn’t describe the story as a romance. The two boys spend as much time trying to stay alive as they do yearning for each other and I found the sections where they were parted as exciting and absorbing as the bits where they are together. Readers need to be aware that while this book ends on a note of hope, the story continues in Bane.
Speaking of which- roll on release day for Bane. I’ll be first in the queue.