Jarod Samuels is paid to take out the trash. The trash just happens to be the remnants of failed experiments from Vertex. Jarod knows that Vertex does bizarre, even dangerous, experiments and often on human subjects, but Vertex is also saving lives. For Jarod, that makes the job seem bearable. He’s tasked with training a new employee, Gabriel Anderson. Gabriel is brash, arrogant, and underneath all the cockiness, Jarod thinks the kid might just have what it takes to be good at the job.
Vertex is on the verge of a major break through with its newest drug, Paragon. If it works, Paragon may have the ability to stop any disease and heal the body from trauma. They’re about to begin human trials and the expectations are high. But as a series of tragic events begins to unfold, Jarod and Gabriel must confront the hard truths about themselves and the company they work for. Even then, it might be too late to stop the nightmare that’s coming.
Monster was a pleasant surprise. It was enjoyable from the beginning, but it evolved into something completely different by the end. On the surface it’s an occasionally slow developing romance between two men who start as competitors but advance into partners both at work and home. Gabriel, especially, has his secrets and he isn’t as honest as he should be with Jarod, but they still mesh as a couple. Jarod comes off as wearied and settled in his life and only reluctantly agrees to the whirlwind of a romance. Yet he and Gabriel are loyal to one another with an absolutism that I found refreshing and sweet. Their relationship develops believability against the backdrop of their increasingly dangerous job. The pacing is a little slow, but this is often counterbalanced by the anticipatory thread running through the plot — we know something is coming, but we don’t know quite what.
I’m going to work very hard not to give away any spoilers regarding the ending. I will say there is at least one sequel, which gives the ending a bit more gravity. We are exposed to the realities of research at Vertex through several instances of “cleanup” that Jarod and Gabriel must endure. Aside from questionable ethics, there are very real questions about how and why Vertex conducts its trials in such a way. As a result, there are often more than one kind of monster roaming the halls Vertex and all of them are a threat. One of the major themes in the book is that each character must decide at some point if the work they do is helping or hurting and at what point do the ends no longer justify the means.
Monster was an intriguing look at the dangers of unchecked experimentation. There are genuine questions here about what it means to be human and at what point we begin to sacrifice humanity in the name of science. The book ends with a unique twist on a classic situation and I’m anxious to know if the author can continue this through to the next book. For anyone who enjoys realism mingled with horror, consider Monster recommended.
Siren is a free short follow up to Monster that is available on the author’s web site at http://www.sorensummers.com/siren.html. Siren is essentially a condensed version of Monster as seen by Gabriel rather than Jarod. It really must be read after Monster or otherwise the events taking place won’t make much sense. There is a point in Monster, towards the end where it would be very easy to hate Gabriel. He’s been foolish in his choices and even cruel to Jarod, though he has a good reason for his actions. Siren doesn’t exactly redeem Gabriel, but it does reassure the reader that his love for Jarod is real and not some ploy or act of convenience. Because in Monster we’re treated to a sweet organic romance and when Gabriel’s lies are exposed, we’re forced to ask ourselves — were we fooled just as much as Jarod? Siren shows Gabriel’s crooked path to caring for Jarod and all the stumbling blocks along the way. We see his love is not as blind or fleeting, but as a very real devotion that Gabriel never expected to experience. Instead of focusing on the dark happens at Vertex, this novella explores and amplifies all the moments between Jarod and Gabriel that make them such a strong couple. All the good, the bad, the sweet, and the terrible are laid out in the same excellent writing style as Monster. Because I know what happens at the end of Monster and because I know something horrible waits in the future, I was able to enjoy Siren as a moment of calm before an oncoming storm. It was a pleasure to share in some of Jarod and Gabriel’s happier moments. Hopefully the warmth of those memories will carry these characters through whatever comes next.