Rating: 3 stars
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Phil Bacardi is a security contractor. He was supposed to be working on a big job until he was pulled off for a late night shift guarding a pharmaceutical warehouse. Phil is annoyed about the downgrade in position, especially since he is sure it is because he is gay. But he and his husband Ted need the money from his job so he decides to stick it out, especially since Ted has been having his own job problems. He almost lost his substitute teaching position when he taught students at the parochial school about James Buchanan, the first gay president and the man who put into place the first anti-discrimination laws to protect gays.
While Phil and Ted are dealing with their job troubles, much bigger issues are brewing. A secret society called the Sons of Scion is hatching a plan to exterminate anyone who is gay. They have developed a virus that will infect and kill all those with an active gay gene. The reach of the society includes the highest levels of government and soon the plan goes into place. To the public, they are testing everyone within the containment area (aka CONICA) for an infection caused by a terrorist attack and giving them treatment. In reality, they are testing for the gene and infecting anyone in whom it is active, causing mass genocide.
As the containment area widens and the government begins to fall apart, the danger to Phil and Ted increases. While Phil begins to learn more about what is really going on and helps the resistance, Ted is caught up in a “testing facility” and is at risk of becoming infected. Phil must fight to save his husband and hope he is not too late to help stop the Sons of Scion before their evil plans succeed.
So this story is a hard one to review because there were things I particularly liked, but also so much that didn’t work for me, I am really of mixed feelings. I think what drew me to this story and what worked best for me is the really creative plot. The book sets up a world that is basically ours, with a few history twists. Gay civil rights have been in existence for more than 100 years and discrimination is completely illegal. Yet there is a secret group that is anti-gay and plotting this huge attack, basically throwing the government into a dictatorship and setting up what are essentially death camps for gays. It is a horrifying idea and I felt like there was a lot of potential here, especially the idea of the escape for the camp as described by the blurb.
What we get is sort of a mixed bag though. Yes, Ted is ultimately taken into an immunization center and yes he is rescued. But that is about 2 pages of time in the book. So while the blurb makes it sound like this is the major element of the story, it is really just a very tiny piece and the rescue is so simple as to be barely a blip. The vast majority of the book focuses on two interweaving plot threads. One concerns Phil and Ted and basically their daily lives, and the other follows the researchers who are doing testing on the virus and the bad guys behind the plans. While I liked the way the plots intertwined, giving us both the big picture of the research and the more direct look into the lives of real people affected, the two plot lines didn’t work equally well for me.
What fell flat for me was the Phil and Ted plot line. At the start we see them sort of caught up in some anti-gay politics, but most of their story is just them leading their daily lives. There is a long section where they take a belated honeymoon to Hawaii. It is told in incredible detail, right down to the exact food they eat on their romantic dinner, and including specific details on the excursions they do while on the island. We even see them befriend a jet ski operator and invite him and his family to their renewal of vows. Honestly, I still have no idea what the point of all of it was. Yes, there is a key element about their trip that is important, but there are so many ways it could have been worked into the book (including a vastly shorter section about their trip) than these pages of detail that had nothing to do with the rest of the story. I just felt like there was a lot of random time hanging out with these guys that didn’t really develop anywhere and took up tons of page time.
This is exacerbated by the fact that there is virtually no character development for these men. I could barely differentiate them, even at the end of the book, other than Ted=teacher and Phil=security guy. At the end, Phil does take on a more active role in the resistance, but truly I don’t feel like I know these guys at all even after 200 pages. They felt totally interchangeable, I knew nothing about them other than their jobs, and so I had no real investment in them.
The second plot line was better developed and worked more successfully for me. We see the researchers doing testing on gays, trying to hone the virus to attack only people with an active gay gene. Then as the resistance heats up, we split into two factions – those continuing to work to annihilate the gays and those who are trying to stop the infection. I loved the ironic twist of the ultimate solution to the spread of the virus; it was very clever. This part wasn’t perfect, however; I still I am not totally sure what the plan is. Yes, kill all the gays. But just in America? And what happens when new babies are born? This will go on indefinitely and no one will ever figure out what is happening? Will there be no more immigration? The plan is kind of vague to be honest, but I still think it makes for an appropriately horrifying story and some nice suspense elements as things heat up. I do feel like the final resolution is thrown in on the final pages and really could have used more development (maybe less time jet skiing?). But there still was some nice suspense and excitement.
I think where this book really didn’t work for me, however, is the writing style. We talk a lot in our reviews about showing versus telling, and this book felt like the poster child example for too much telling. Everything seems to be just stated outright. There is no subtly, no showing us emotions or feelings. We are just told what they feel or think and that is it. It made the story just feel so incredibly flat, I had a hard time connecting with it at all.
The story just also reads very awkwardly for much of the time. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is that bugged me, though the telling versus showing is definitely a factor. But here is an example from a sex scene:
Phil exploded into Ted and felt the satisfying sensation of orgasm. When he was done, he collapsed onto Ted.
“My God, you came a lot,” Phil said as he withdrew himself.
“I know. Wearing that uniform was a great idea, and your groaning as I poured that hot wax on you made me extra hot.”
The two men cleaned themselves up and cuddled before they got dressed and devoured their anniversary dinner.
It just all seemed so flat and robotic. I just couldn’t connect with the writing at all and constantly felt pulled out of the story by the author’s style.
I was also bugged by the way the characters are referenced. Someone will be introduced by full name and then referenced numerous times by first name only, which makes sense. Then randomly the character would be again referred to by full name, as if we had no idea who it was. Not to mention we seem to meet a million characters — scores of bad guys and military/security people — and honestly I couldn’t differentiate any of them from one another with the exception of a small handful. Like Phil and Ted, so many of them felt totally interchangeable. We never really learn the motivation for any of these people or really anything about them other than if they fall into the good or bad column.
So not to pile on here, but I must mention this passage:
“I’m about to cum,” Ted moaned.
Phil made a sound of acknowledgement but worked harder to extract the love juice from his man’s joy rod.
Just no. Please do not use “joy rod” unless in jest, and certainly no extracting love juice. Now admittedly, most of the love scenes are not nearly this purple. In fact, as I mentioned above, many are so flat that I could barely keep up in my interest in them. But wow that was a doozy.
Ok, so I know lots of picking here but as I said, I really felt mixed. There is such a great plot here, it is just so buried underneath writing that just didn’t work for me at all. I think if this author’s writing style works for you, this book may be a lot more successful for you than it was for me. But unfortunately, despite the clever plot and some nice suspense elements, I just couldn’t connect with the writing or really any of the characters enough to come out of this with really positive feelings about the story.
Cover Review: One of the things that drew me to this book is the cover. It is really attractively done. Though after reading the book I am put off a bit because it really misrepresents the story. Like I said, the confinement and escape is barely a blip in the story, and it just feels sort of misleading. But still, it did its job and got me to read the book!
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.