The world has been ravished by a plague and those who succumbed have turned into flesh eating monsters—zombies. For the past two years, Sean has been wandering the world alone, looking for a fabled safe haven. As he walks the streets of what he thinks is yet another abandoned town, the sound of battle echoes off the pavement. Sean runs to help a fellow human in need. Except the man doing battle with a dozen zombies is deftly welding a pair of swords. Together, they make quick work of their enemies, but the drama doesn’t stop when the last body falls.
It has been two years since Aaron has seen Sean. His boyfriend had always been the slighter, the less athletic of the two of them. When they got split up in the pandemonium of the pandemic virus, the more days that passed without seeing or hearing from Sean, the less likely Aaron thought it was that Sean survived. He thought he lost the love of his life, but in this dystopian world, succumbing to grief meant forfeiting life. Aaron chose to live. When he and Sean reconnect over a small battle, they come together as if nothing had changed.
At first, the romance Sean and Aaron shared before the zombie apocalypse flairs brilliantly and lustily to life. Despite the harrowing years, the attraction is as strong and reciprocal as ever. Yet when Aaron introduces Sean to the group of which he’s the ad hoc leader, Sean starts to see glimmers of how the times have changed his old beau. The longer Sean sees Aaron interact with his new posse, the more he realizes the man he fell in love with is not the man he’s with. Sean has to figure out if he can love the man Aaron has become—and if he can trust his heart with the same.
I wasn’t sure at first what to expect of this book. Based on the blurb and knowing that it is a short story, I was interested to see how the world would be built and what Bain-Vrba could do with a lovers reunited story in such a short space. All in all, I was pretty well entertained. There is plenty of action, lots of time seeing Sean and Aaron reconnect physically, and because the story is told from Sean’s perspective, no small amount of doubt that grows into full blown angst over some of the choices Aaron makes.
First, you gotta love a story that doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to the main pairing getting together. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed being privy to their reunion love scene (not terribly graphic, but not just fade-to-black, either) given that this happens almost immediately after the story starts. Maybe it was the pull of two seemingly competent, strong, capable men who just happened to be lovers in a past life—I guess that was all the background I needed.
One thing I liked about a start like this is that I thought it built a ton of potential and not a little bit of dread. If Sean and Aaron could get on like a house on fire after two years of thinking the other was dead, how might that emotion grow over the course of the story? Surprisingly enough, their relationship does grow on page and it’s actually not Sean who pushes them deeper into couplehood. I say surprise because, given the narration, I know Sean was like Buttercup in The Princess Bride—when he thought Aaron was dead, he was never going to love again. Aaron, on the other hand, is a character who was able to move on. Yet there is a pivotal scene where Aaron fiercely protects Sean against a potentially life-threatening situation.
The actions Aaron takes with respect to Sean make him seem like an okay buy, but Sean’s evaluation of Aaron’s actions with respect to the situations the group find themselves in (theft, dumb luck, etc.) make me dislike Aaron as a sort of arrogant, entitled jerk with some anger management issues. What’s more puzzling is that this doesn’t really seem at odds with what Sean says he remembers of the old Aaron. I sort of wondered why a blandly good guy like Sean would be with a low-key douche like Aaron—but then, there’s no accounting for taste? And, like I said, Aaron does make some pretty grand gestures at the right moments.
For all that this is a zombie story, there are relatively few zombies in it. That said, the world building was done well enough to give me a solid feel for this dystopia and to understand in a very broad sense how the human population got wiped out, how the zombie infection spread, and how some people survived. If, however, you’re looking for answers beyond that (like why any of the buildings would still have functioning water/electricity after two years or whether Sean and Aaron have to spend the rest of their lives on the run), you won’t find those answers here. The action is driven by the characters and the whole point of the book is to explore how lovers, reunited after a tragedy, might reconnect. To that end, I found the story compelling despite some distaste for Aaron as a character and overall sparseness in what brought about the apocalypse in the first place.