Rating: 4 stars
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Length: Short Story

It is July 1893, and England is under siege by a zombie infestation. Most of the citizens have fled to the protective walls of London leaving the rest of the countryside devastated by the zombie hordes.  James Hurst has brought his wife and son to London, but money is running out and he has jewels (as well as some drawings that are quite important to him) in his country house.  So he hires former sailor Ira Russell to come with him to the family home and retrieve these items.  Ira has become a specialist in fighting the zombies and helping people retrieve their belongings in exchange for a share of the wealth.  He is big and bold with huge muscles and lots of tattoos.  He exudes confidence that both impresses and attracts the more shy James.

When the men arrive at James’ former home, the zombies are everywhere and they must fight for their lives to retrieve the jewels and papers.  Yet at the same time there is definitely some mutual attraction happening between the men, which picks up when Ira realizes James’ “important papers” are actually some hot m/m erotic drawings.  James has always had an attraction to men, but he doesn’t really see himself as gay and certainly has never been brave enough to act on it.  But Ira is a man of action and has had enough experience with men to lead the way into a hot encounter with James.  But zombie hunting is dangerous work and the men must fight for their lives if they are going to have any hope of making it out of the country and back to London safely.

Scavengers: July is the first of a three-part series of short stories and is part of a larger group of interrelated stories called Gentlemen’s tales of love, lust, and the undead.  I was drawn to this one because I haven’t read many zombie stories and I really liked the idea of the mix of horror along with the historical and a bit of a steampunk feel. In this story we get the first act, the start of a relationship between Ira and James and an introduction to the what the world has become after the zombie virus destroys the country. I think the authors do a great job of creating a interesting and detailed world in such a short story.  We get great descriptions of the horrors of what London has become due to the overcrowding as everyone flees the countryside. The story also gives us great detail on the destruction of the country home, the dead bodies, the ferocious zombies, and the devastation left in their wake.  There is a lot packed in here for such a short length and it felt very rich and well-developed. My only quibble here is I would have liked a bit more context – Is the whole world affected or just England? And how did the virus begin?

I also enjoyed James and Ira together.  They are a nice set of opposites, with Ira being older, brawnier, and more experienced in both life and sexual adventure.  He is a man of bold confidence and total competence, easily handling each challenge as it comes.  James is more timid and unsure of himself, but he too fights bravely and jumps right in there with Ira.  I could feel for him as he returns home to see the life he once knew totally destroyed, his childhood home gone, and most of his family and acquaintances killed by the zombies.  James has always had a fascination with men, but has never really thought to act on it until Ira opens his eyes to what could be.  In this story the guys do have a hot encounter, but it is mostly lust and there is no real resolution to their relationship. Given this is part one of a series, I assume further development will happen in future books, but we definitely leave the guys with an HFN.  I will point out as well that James is married with a wife and child when he gets together with Ira.  Although he feels some guilt, it seems primarily focused on the “I shouldn’t be having these wicked thoughts” variety, not on his wife.  I am curious to see how this will develop when the men return to London and how the authors handle it.  But I mention it for those of you who can’t handle cheating because it is pretty blantant.

I enjoyed this story but I definitely struggled a bit with some of the writing style as well as some editorial issues. I had a hard time getting into the book at first because problems were just jumping off the page at me.  Just some small grammar things (dangling prepositions, punctuation that seemed off, incorrect use of “which” versus “that”) that kept catching my attention.  Now I went to journalism school and I work as an editor so I probably notice and care about things that the average person does not.  So your mileage may vary in terms of whether this bothers you.  But I did find myself struggling a bit to settle into the book because I was so distracted.  As the story continued, I didn’t notice it nearly as much. I am not sure if that is because the editing improved, or I got caught up enough in the story not to notice, but I do think the book would have benefited from some tighter copyediting.  The authors also have a tendency to use phrases like “the man” to refer to their main characters, along with “the aristocrat,” “the sailor,” etc.  It was oddly distracting and I am not totally sure why. I kept thinking they were talking about a third person besides the MCs.  I think it just felt distancing, like we were being removed from the action so much, and it just felt awkward to me.

Overall I enjoyed this one though and am curious to see how it develops further. The zombie fighting scenes were well done and quite thrilling.  I would like to see the relationship between the men turn into more than just lust, but I think there is a lot of potential here and the authors create a unique world. I look forward to seeing where it all goes.

P.S. Lest you think I am crazy referring to “the authors” I’ll just mention that K.A. Merikan is the pen name for the combined work of authors Kat and Agnes Merikan.

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