“Tank” Tankersley is lugging around a delivery of MREs destined for an Alaskan military base. Having recently joined the army himself, he’s still working on a few things, like having opinions, sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, and running head first into trouble. While taking the boxes to the commissary all hell breaks loose in the form of blaring alarms and two people tumbling into his elevator, clothes akimbo and feverishly groping one another in a way that suggests there’s not enough room in the elevator for three people!
Leaving the elevator Tank finds himself face to face with a cute intellectual type who demands that Tank fuck him. Either it’s something in the air or something in the man’s touch, but suddenly Tank feels caught up in the same urgent rush. After an interlude in the closet, it’s up to Tank and Lev, and the strange man called John Doe, to do something about the aphrodisiac affecting the base. Fortunately, Tank has seen devices similar to the alien tech the Incursion Force are dealing with in this strange facility buried beneath Alaska’s surface. Only then he was in high school and they called them demons.
Colonel Clyde Aldritch — who fortunately avoided the pheromones — can’t let Tank leave. The young man has seen too much and has a surprising talent for handling alien devices. And… Lev likes him. Which means Lev, Clyde’s best friend and their best and brightest tech, will get to keep Tank. So the young man is transferred to the Incursion Force where he learns that the creatures he fought in New York weren’t demons at all. They were aliens who came to earth to kidnap, torment, and study humanity.
The Incursion Force can’t fight them and win; all they can do is try to hold them back and mitigate the damage as best they can. That’s not the sort of battle Tank knows how to fight, but he’s doing his best to stay under the radar at the moment, trying to keep his secrets hidden. Because the aliens aren’t just playing with humans, they’re changing them, tinkering with them, breeding them like lab rats with new genes. John Doe is one, but so are Tank’s friends back at home. Friends the army doesn’t know about… not yet. And if Tank has anything to say about it they never will!
This story has almost as many issues as Tank does. Issues with pacing, character relationships, tension, antagonists, protagonists, and more I’m leaving out. Much of the story involves characters putting two and two together, so I’ll do my best to not give away too much of the plot.
The story is told from two viewpoints: Tank and Clyde. Tank is a young man who we are told has PTSD. We are told often, repeatedly, and by several different characters that Tank has a severe case of PTSD. However, if it weren’t for being told again and again that he suffers from this disorder, I’m not sure I would have caught it. In part this could be due to Tank being an unreliable narrator — though I’m not so sure of that — or it could be because I’m not familiar with the issue myself. This should have been interesting. Growing up as a teenager in a ‘demon’ infested neighborhood, spending so much of his developing years trying to fight them, losing friends to them, it would make sense that Tank is suffering the aftereffects of such horror. Watching him deal with the stress, having people trying to help him overcome his PTSD would have made for an interesting book as he faced the ‘demons’ again from another angle. Instead, it’s mentioned that he has PTSD. It’s mentioned a lot. What is also mentioned is how good Tank is at combat, at thinking outside the box, and at tactical thinking. The other characters spend so much time talking about it I wish I could have seen it. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few examples, but for each action Tank takes there’s a chapter of people talking about how amazing it is.
Don’t get me wrong, Tank isn’t a terrible character. He’s got a smart mouth, a good heart, and all he wants to do is close his eyes and put his past behind him. He doesn’t want to be hurt again or to have someone else’s life rest on his shoulders, but Tank doesn’t get to live the life of a dishwasher. He has to take actions, again and again, to save the ones he loves. He’s brave, reckless, and reads very much like a twenty year old. Which makes his relationship with Lev all the more cringe inducing.
Lev has had a string of abusive relationships. He’s had people take advantage of him, manipulate him, and hurt him. It has been so bad that Clyde had to transfer people away, people who knew what was going on and who might have had access to sensitive information, just to get them away from Lev who is now focused on Tank. He’s a forty-year-old man (give or take) who thrives on drama and dramatic relationships who now obsesses over a twenty-year-old young man. We never see into Lev’s head, which might be just as well. When Clyde mentions sending Tank away, Lev becomes hostile and stubborn. Maybe, after their first impromptu ‘meeting’ Lev is simply smitten? Whatever the case, it only gets worse when you look more into Tank’s side of things.
Tank was in high school when he was accepted into the Big Brother program, older than they tend to take little brothers but they found Tank to be emotionally vulnerable and underdeveloped and so gave him a big brother. Tank lost his first boyfriend recently in a violent altercation, an event that sent him running far away from home and into the army. He’s a young man who needs time to heal and psychological counseling and is instead being thrust into a relationship with a man twice his age who is, himself, high maintenance. I have nothing against a May/December relationship, but this isn’t about physical age. (To be honest, Lev often comes across as younger than his age.) It’s about an unhealthy relationship that is encouraged simply to keep Lev happy. Especially when both Clyde and John make it clear to Tank that Lev is more important to them, that their friendship with Tank will always take second place to their friendship with Lev. They know he’s emotionally unstable, they know he’s lost the security both of his Big Brother and his foster family, they encourage his friendship with them, and then make it conditional on how happy he makes Lev.
The book also has some severe pacing issues. So many chapters where people talk and talk and talk about fascinating things — Clyde, Lev, and John being prisoners on an alien ship; Tank and his days fighting demons in New York — that I wondered if this was a second or third book in a series. Long, lingering passages where characters referenced things in a stiff manner that made me think they were glancing back at a previous story, giving enough information for new readers without tiring returning fans. Sometimes the hinting and storytelling worked, but often it didn’t. It was halfway through the book before any action happened to move the plot forward. Up until then it had been talking, plotting, rehashing, and hints about stories that had come before — and I’ll admit, I was already losing interest in the book. When we meet an alien/demon, it’s anti-climactic and over before you can blink. One scene that interested me — when Tank, Lev and assorted others had to deal with an alien computer about to blow up — was well-written, but lingered on for a few pages too long with far too many people talking far too long about exactly what was happening in case the reader hadn’t caught it the first three or four times. Every scene was drawn out and half the time the tone shifted between one paragraph and the next. Going from a tense, taut face-to-face with a dangerous alien to Tank making jokes and getting lost in thinking about a scene that took place months before. An examination of a tape between top brass where Clyde directed the team’s attention to the ‘model handsome Asian.’ Hardly professional, considering he was talking about a high school student, which made it a little unpleasant.
Clyde, himself, as the second POV character, exists mostly to be the voice of the author, showing us things Tank isn’t able to see and explaining to us things we might not be able to figure out. Instead of showing us how dangerous or scary the aliens are, he makes it seem like they’re some people he met at a picnic. His time on the alien ship was a pleasant vacation. He treats his superior and subordinate officers with the same informality and explains anything and everything to this private who just happens to be sleeping with his friend. It would have been better to tighten the focus solely onto Tank and to let the reader see the world unfold before them along with Tank rather than have Clyde talk about it. And talk about it. Have I mentioned how much exposition there is in this book?
The reason televisions shows talk about how evil something is rather than take the time to show it is mostly due to budget concerns. A book has no such issue. With a book we can take a chapter to have a flashback, or take an extra paragraph for Clyde to have a tight look on his face or a quaver in his voice when talking about his time as an alien slave forced to kill other enslaved humans to live. Instead it’s all casual, indifferent, and relaxed.
This book is a solid pass from me. I have always liked alien worlds and stories with difficult endings. The only difficult part of this book, for me, was finishing it. Please remember, this is only my opinion. I found this book to be flawed in execution. I found the relationship between Tank and Lev to be highly problematic and while there were three scenes that worked for me, there was a whole lot of book that didn’t.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.