ApocalypseAlleyRating: 3.75 stars
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Length: Novel

Comet is a member of Duke’s Reindeer Squad, one of some twelve men and women who kill, capture, blackmail, and bully anyone who gets in Duke’s way. Upon returning home from a lengthy assignment, Comet swings by to visit an old friend, JT, only to find him missing and his home destroyed. The only clue Comet has to who might be responsible is a disreputable hacker called Buzz Howdy.

Buzz is a member of 3djinn, a … data liberation consortium made of powerful hackers. They keep themselves safe by living in the “High Castle,” their bodies protected while their minds are free to roam the world through virtual space. Only, Buzz isn’t ready to put his body away just yet, which leaves him vulnerable to people like Duke and Comet, or worse, to people like Valentine who will not only  destroy his fragile physical form, but destroy his mind. His best hope to help JT — who happens to be an old friend of his, too — and his friend Austin is to partner with Comet.

Comet doesn’t trust the man he’s dubbed “Shaggy” in his thoughts any more than Buzz trusts Duke’s pet killer, but JT and Austin need their help. If only he could keep Comet from handcuffing him at every opportunity. If only they had a moment to do more than kiss. If only there weren’t radioactive spiders, ghouls, killer drones, and a dragon mage chasing after them. Welcome to Apocalypse Alley. Hope you survive the trip!

This is the second book in Don Allmon’s Blue Unicorn series, but it can be read as a standalone. Reading the first book, The Glamour Thieves, helps however, since it lays out more of the world building. To swiftly summarize, some years ago — for no discernible reason —  magic entered the world again, turning random people into monsters, orcs, elves, and a unicorn or two. Add to that the way science and magic combine, which allowed people like Buzz to have implants that give him to access the virtual world and let him hack guns and cars and security systems in seconds with only his mind, it’s led to a dystopian world that’s part science fiction and a good dose of fantasy.

Comet, whose real name is Noah, is one of Duke’s favorites. When he was nearly killed in a mission, Duke spared no expense to have him put back together… with a few interesting modifications. Adrenaline, for Comet, is an aphrodisiac. After a fight it’s normal for him to come down from the killer high by fucking whoever might be closest, or whoever Duke wants him to. It makes him very aware of Buzz, who not only isn’t hard on the eyes, but tends to get himself into trouble pretty regularly. While it’s mostly chemical, it’s also alarmingly personal as Buzz isn’t just someone sucking up to Comet to get to Duke. In fact, Buzz would rather be far away from Duke. Buzz’s helplessness, his sincerity, even his cluelessness make Comet feel something more than just his a chemical reaction. It’s almost friendship, and the more time they spend together — and the more Buzz saves his life —  it starts turning into something else.

Buzz tends to favor simulated sex. It’s safer, for one thing and, for another, he can control it. As a master hacker, he can program anything he wants, scratching any itch. He can pitch, catch, or do both at the same time, no partner required. Unfortunately, it’s also predictable and a bit lonely. It’s one of the reasons he’s avoided joining his friends in the High Castle. He wants to live his real life for just a little longer. Comet offers him something BangBang and the other hackers can’t. He offers a real connection, a physical bond that won’t be perfect. In fact, it’s the very imperfections that make it … well, perfect.

I’m not normally a big fan of insta-love stories. They tend to rely heavily on cliches, and while this story does the same, it does them in a very charming and sympathetic way. For Comet and Buzz, you can see why they rushed at each other like starving men at a feast. Comet’s bodily autonomy has been taken from him by Duke. So many of his sexual partners have been because Duke wanted to watch or because he was driven by the chemical needs of his new and improved body. Buzz is something new, something Duke hasn’t touched. In fact, every time they come close — when endorphins are flooding his programmed system — they’re interrupted. When they finally do come together, it’s calmer, and sweeter, and more fun.

Buzz is lonely and isolated and being pressured to give up his own freedom. So much of his life has been lived in his head that the very idea of the mess Comet’s thrown him into is a novelty. It’s fast, exciting, and dangerous and Comet — who saves him from danger, who scares him as much as he attracts him — wants him. Wants Buzz. How can you turn that down? They go from unrequited lust to requited love in zero to sixty. It’s cute, it’s fun, and it makes perfect sense in their world.

The plot — the finding and rescuing of JT, the crazy dragon mage, the cybernetic bounty hunter with her drones — is a bit messy, but it’s messy for the characters, too. They’re coming in to part two of a story along with us and having to pick up the pieces as they find them, guessing and hoping blind luck will take them where they need to go. The writing is good, the pacing tends to be a bit rushed… but even for Comet and Buzz they’re running as fast as they can.

I very much enjoyed the first book and like this one. Not as much, perhaps, but I still liked it. I loved the idea of syncing up and chatting through mental PMs as telepathy, how the cyberspace of this world was described with chat rooms, virtual meeting places, and hackers as mages. It’s very much a fun take on the sword and sorcery meets cyberpunk tropes. If you’re into science fantasy books, give this one a try. And check out book one, while you’re at it.

elizabeth sig