Rating: 4.5 stars
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October 1907, twenty years after the zombie plague
Victor has been taken by the Dal crime family, packed into a train car and sent to a prison camp deep in the woods. While most of the others brought to the camp owe the Dals money, Victor’s crime involved misreading Frey Dal’s interest in him and offending the man. Now he has spent two days crammed into a railway car and faces unknown horrors at the camp.
Victor knows his soft life as a wealthy singer means his chances of survival at the camp are slim. No one ever really gets out and seeing the other prisoners who are near death after only a month just emphasizes how unlikely he is to make it out alive. When Victor sees an attractive guard who seems to take notice of him, Victor lets his interest be known. Maybe if he has someone to help and protect him, Victor can stay alive long enough to try to escape.
When the guard Crunch gets Victor alone, he makes it clear that he is interested, but not unless Victor is willing. But Victor finds he is attracted to Crunch and enjoys the chance for comfort and intimacy in the awful surroundings. Crunch finds he too really enjoys his time with Victor, though he worries that Victor feels forced or that he is just with Crunch for favors. Despite that, Crunch offers to get Victor extra food and do his best to protect him, no matter whether Victor continues to sleep with him.
As much as he is growing to care for Crunch, Victor knows he can’t give up on his attempts to escape. The zombies out in the woods outside of camp are terrifying, but he knows he will never survive if he stays. As much as he likes Crunch, he can’t imagine the guard will want to help him so he keeps his plans a secret. At the same time, Crunch has plans of his own. He knows that there are people working to liberate the prison and just wants Victor to keep his head down until rescue comes. But Crunch can’t tell him what is really going on or his real role at the camp. In the meantime, a sadistic guard is starting to get suspicious of both Victor and Crunch. Even if rescue manages to come, Victor may not survive long enough to find freedom.
Stung is a standalone book in K.A. Merikan’s Zombie Gentlemen series. I have read a couple of the other stories set in this world and this is definitely my favorite. While the story takes place after the zombie plague changes the world, the zombies are actually not a big part of the story. They threaten outside the gates, and even horrifyingly inside we later learn, but mostly this is a captive story focusing on the relationship between Victor and Crunch in the camp.
I really liked these guys together. Victor is softer and more delicate, a beautiful man who has lived a fairly easy life so far. I appreciated that Victor is strong inside though. He finds himself in this horrible situation and immediately begins working on how he can make it better. He faces awful circumstances and manages to survive. Crunch, on the other hand, is all big power and strength. Yet inside he is sweet and gentle. He could abuse his power as a guard and take what he wants. But he is incredibly careful to be sure that any interaction with Victor is truly wanted. He is so caring with Victor, looking out for him and trying to protect him. And of course, Crunch harbors secrets about what is really going on with the camp and his own role there. I loved that these guys are such an unusual match. I also like how both men are much more than first impressions and have some interesting layers to their personality.
This book combines both the story of Victor’s captivity along with almost a thriller element. Both Victor and Crunch have secrets they are guarding: Victor’s escape plans and Crunch’s inside knowledge of rescue. As much as they have come to care for one another, trust is not something either can really afford to give. So they are both making plans independently that will certainly come crashing into one another at some point. It adds for a lot of dramatic tension and the climax of the story is very exciting.
My main issue with this book is with the world building. Although this is a standalone within the shared world, I felt like there is enough reference to the larger series that I found some holes that really needed more explanation. We are just told it is 20 years post zombie plague, but there is no explanation about the plague or how the world has changed. We learn little about the zombies themselves, what has become of the cities, or really anything else in the bigger picture. Having read two of the other stories I had some context, but I think for new readers this was missing. Even just a few sentences of set up would have helped a lot here. We also never are told anything about the Humanist group that is doing the rescue. Who are they? Why are they liberating the camp? And what are they planning next? We learn there will be more missions, but are given no sense of what the goal of this group even is. Again, just a few sentences of explanation would have gone a long way.
So while I did feel like we needed a little more context here, I really enjoyed the story of Crunch and Victor. I loved the two of them as a pair, found the camp fascinating and horrifying, and enjoyed the suspense aspects of the story. We end with an HFN for these guys, and I would totally love another story featuring Victor and Crunch. So I liked this one a lot and would definitely recommend it.
P.S. The title Stung refers to the apiary at the camp where they make Dal honey and some of the horrors to be found inside.
Note: I just saw there is a follow up story called Stung: Winter Special that is currently free at All Romance Ebooks if you want more of Crunch and Victor. I can’t wait to check it out!
Cover Review: I kind of like this one. It is beautiful and unsettling at the same time. It fits so well with the tone of the book, with the romance and the horrific happening at the same time.