Review: Refuge by H.L. Day

RefugeRating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


Blake can’t believe the hot guy is actually making eyes at him in the cafe one day. Not even his best friend and fellow cafe worker Cherry can quite convince him—until Blake finds himself being intensely studied by the deepest set of brown eyes. It should have been easy, just a nod and a smirk to get the guy to follow Blake home. Yet from the moment they awkwardly exchange names, Blake knows there is something different about the handsome man named Zed. Still, Blake isn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth and some of Zed’s quirks turn out to be rather, well, charming. Like the way Zed treats Blake with utmost tender affection and genuinely enjoys spending time with Blake. Not to mention the sizzling connection they have between the sheets.

The lives together take a turn for the bizarre one day, however, when Zed grabs hold of Blake and gives him an ultimatum: grab whatever fits in a backpack in 10 minutes or less or be left behind. Confused and dismayed, but also wondering what sort of surprise Zed may have planned, Blake rushes to comply. As the minutes tick by, however, his boyfriend grows more somber and more taciturn. Racing down the street, Blake fires question after question at the stony faced Zed—all of which go unanswered. When the explosions and mushroom clouds start to rise from the horizon, however, Blake finally realizes his life has just undergone a major change and not in any sort of positive way.

Along with the complete change in Zed’s behavior and the stark but tacit evidence that the rest of the human population is either dead or taken, Blake learns he and Zed are not alone. Creatures are roaming the land and looking for something to kill. By turns stunned and scared, Blake quickly learns that if he wants to survive, he’ll have to put his life and his trust in Zed. But despite the years they’ve lived and loved one another, the man beside Blake now bears little resemblance to the sweet and loving man Blake used to know.

This was a great read. There are so many elements that initially come across as trite (much like my tired summary of the story), but that get delightfully turned around later in the book. As an example: Yes, Blake is initially portrayed as completely reliant on Zed for guidance and encouragement. He comes across as a bit whiney, especially before it really sinks in that it’s “rocks fall, everyone dies” end-of-days level craziness unfolding. However, later in the story, the roles are sort of flipped and it’s Blake who has to take the lead and serve as the same sort of bedrock for other characters. It just really tickled me that Day took the care to craft the story to allow Blake to be both follower and leader.

Another element that kept me turning pages is how the first half or so of the book is told in alternating timelines. We open with a chapter in the present, skip to three years ago when Blake and Zed first meet, and flip-flop back and forth. This was a great way to show the audience not only how Blake/Zed came to be a couple, but also little slivers of what kept them together. It’s not gobs and gobs of backstory, but Day hits some good relationship milestones this way and broadens the cast of characters a bit with the best friend Cherry, convenience friend-with-benefits Brendan, and a few other friends. The one “criticism” I have about this flip-flopping was that it wasn’t exactly immediately clear that present-day Zed was the same guy as three-years-ago Zed. There were two reasons for this. One, present-day Zed is almost always referred to as “boyfriend” so I was just guessing it was the same guy from the flashbacks. The other is that with this being a sci-fi book, I wondered if maybe this was a case of body snatchers.

I read this story in one shot—partly because it was good enough and partly because it’s been a while since I’ve actually had the leisure to just lay around and read all day. Clearly, I enjoyed the book! My only major critique is that, despite how interesting the characters are and how engrossing the story was, I felt like the descriptions were a bit flat. I don’t have a good mental picture of Blake beyond the fact that his hair curls when it gets wet. Zed fairs a bit better; he’s tall, super pale, and had dark hair and brown eyes. That said, the writing lacked a bit of the richness—at times, this was nice because I could zip ahead to whatever came next, but the overall effect left the story feeling a bit, well, underdressed.

Despite having scant descriptions, I thought the sci-fi elements were fairly well explained. This is greatly helped by the structure of the story. Specifically, this is the first in a three-book series. While the Blake/Zed story has the traditional “beginning, middle, climax, HFN end,” the plot that revolves around the explosions, mushroom clouds, and murderous creatures is only at the beginning stage. I’m also sort of desperate to know what happens with the HFN ending in future books. The truth about Zed blows the door wide open for several possibilities, but the reality of the situation Zed and Blake and their friends are in leave me wondering what will come down the pike in later books.

All in all, this was a super fast, easy read that had me turning pages like crazy. The dynamic ebb and flow between Blake and Zed, the juxtaposition of them being a dopey-sweet couple and a pair of refugees running for their lives, was deliciously delightful. The background goings on are constantly simmering, but develop in slow stages that help build suspense while also reinforcing the sci-fi elements of the story. If you’re looking for an exciting story that takes some tropes and turns them around a bit while weaving what seems to be a promising three-book saga, then this would be a great book for you.

camille sig

 

Comments

  1. I’m not typically one for dystopian stories; however, this sounds quite intriguing. Thanks for the review, Camille.

    • camille says:

      This is definitely more nuanced than the official blurb makes the story sound. It looks like the other books in the series are not written yet, but even though the first book ends with clear possibilities for future installments, I was completely satisfied with where our main characters ended up…and, of course, would love to see what develops. I think the best part was seeing how subtly, yet definitively, things changed for Blake and Zed’s relationship.

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