Jory Smith was raised in foster care until he was taken in by a faith healer, Adam, and used for his talents. Jory has no idea how he does it, but he can pull illness out of people just by touching them — although that means he temporarily takes on their pain and injury. One day, Adam takes things too far, selling Jory’s talents to a dying man and then leaving Jory for dead when his healing efforts virtually kill him. Jory manages to barely survive, and when he recovers enough, he flees to a small town where he gets a job as a baker.
Malpheus Pelle is a former hellhound, now bounty hunter, who is hired by a client to track Jory down. Mal thinks that Jory is just Adam’s crooked partner and has no idea that Adam and his client almost got Jory killed. Mal learns that Jory is part incubus, thus partially explaining his talents, and sets off to find him and bring him back. When Mal finds Jory, he immediately is attracted to the man. He also realizes that Jory is weak and scared to touch anyone, and that clearly what Mal has been led to believe about Jory isn’t true. In fact, Jory doesn’t even realize he is not human; all he knows is that after that last healing, any time he touches anyone it hurts.
Once Mal realizes there is a lot more going on than he thought, he is determined to help Jory, and he definitely won’t be bringing him back to those who hurt him. But Adam and Mal’s client are determined to get their hands back on Jory, and they are not above reaching out to other demons for help. Now Mal and Jory find themselves fighting for their lives and trying to stay one step ahead of those that want to control Jory and use them for their own gains.
I first heard about Strays when we hosted the cover reveal for the book a while back, and it totally caught my attention. Something about the cover just stuck with me, so when the book came around for review, I was eager to check it out. Thomas had me right from the start with the set up here and I found it really engaging. There is great tension early on as we see Jory participating in one of the faith healing services and learn more about how his life is essentially controlled by Adam, though Jory doesn’t seem to totally realize it. Then Jory is tapped out and left for dead and Mal brought in to track him down. It was such an interesting set up and opened the door for some creative plot elements, such as Jory learning about what he really is, Mal dealing with the fact that he is lying to Jory about why he is there, and of course, the bad guys looking to track Jory down so they can sap him some more. Not to mention the romance between Jory and Mal. And, I think in many areas, Thomas does deliver here and there are some engaging elements and clever twists to the story that kept me interested throughout.
However, I did feel like the story expanded so much in so many directions that Thomas kind of lost control of things. So much gets thrown in here that it felt like we were moving all over the place. I can’t get into too much detail because a lot of it is spoilerish, but there are fellow demons in town and demons showing up from hell and demon politics, and while the main thread of the story is still there, there is just so much happening that I felt like the story lost some of its focus. It also meant that a lot of the issues that are laid out early on just aren’t really explored in depth. I felt that Mal and Jory’s relationship got a bit of short shrift, but there are other areas too where the initial promise just doesn’t get developed enough because there is so much else happening here.
Overall, I did find this one entertaining and I think the premise is really sound. Thomas has built a well-developed world and I found many of the twists and turns to be interesting, but just a little too much. I think some tightening and some focus would have helped here, but I still think this story is engaging and I enjoyed it.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.