Mark Edwards has long dreaded turning forty—by his own estimate, this is the gay sixty and his life may as well be over. It certainly doesn’t help that his photography hobby and work as a features writer for a magazine don’t spark joy, or that he’s still wary about making a love connection due to a bad break up. Vincent, magazine CEO and his best friend, offers Mark the chance of a lifetime: write an expose about an up and coming business that specializes in anti-aging treatments. Mark is skeptical at first, but the more he reads up on Youthology and the more he feels his age, he decides to accept.
Youthology is a hot new company that wants to help people of a certain age regain their youthful vitality. How they do this requires blood to be harvested from carefully selected donors and given to the patient via transfusion. So far, the results have been promising. As Mark peruses the catalogue of donors, he is captivated by a hot young man who appears like a god among men. He quickly agrees to start the treatments and it’s not long before Mark begins reaping the promised benefits. His skin tightens, his muscles firm up, he has more energy, and his libido is through the roof. It’s just like he’s twenty-something again. The side effects are a mixed bag, however. He has dreams about a devastatingly handsome young man and feels an emotional connection to him, but he also has nightmares about partaking in snuff fantasies. Mark also didn’t expect the physical changes to include his hair and eye color changing, or even his physical body type. Suddenly, when Mark looks in the mirror, he’s not so sure he’s just Mark anymore, but someone else.
I have been hankering for a story that features a genuine bad guy, a criminal. I wanted to read about a character who wasn’t framed for bad deeds they didn’t do or who gets redeemed one way or another. In that regard, It’s In My Blood fits the bill almost perfectly. It’s part of the Criminal Delights collection, a set of darker, standalone stories written by different authors. Personally, my first impressions of Mark before he started any blood infusions were of an incredibly shallow man obsessed with himself. Towards the end of the story, Mark himself seems to labor under the opinion that he was just milquetoast—compared to what he turns into, I supposed I can see that, but I didn’t not get any impression whatsoever that he was timid or bland, just self-absorbed and poor at handling turning forty. All that is to imply that Mark pre-infusions wasn’t a character I found particularly likeable. This is an interesting choice for me because the nature of the book (and the author’s own blurb about it) make it clear that post-infusions, Mark’s character turns downright nasty.
The fun of watching Mark’s transformation comes not from his physical transformation, but his mental transformation. The prose is peppered with moments where Mark is receiving transfusions and notices his reactions to everyday irritations becomes increasingly out of character for him. For instance, when someone bumps into him at a coffee shop and zips off without apologizing, Mark literally screams curses after the offender. Clearly, the anger management issues Mark develops are accredited to his transfusions—so is his nearly non-stop libido. When some of the people Mark sees in his dreams start to materialize in his waking life, Mark begins to experience issues balancing sexual desire with normal functioning. So much so that Mark sort of devolves into a cyber stalker and works to orchestrate little “happenstance” meetings between himself and Sean (the devastatingly handsome man he’s dreamed about).
Mark’s experience with the Youthology treatments was an interesting exploration of extreme human conditions. The more transfusions he takes, the more he takes on the physical characteristics of his donor—and that includes his donor’s horrible personality. I don’t know if this was supposed to be more suspenseful in the book, but it was pretty obvious from the get-go what was happening to Mark. Rather than draw out that drama, however, it was more interesting to read about Mark both acknowledging what is happening is not just weird, but flat out creepy…but also seeing Mark rationalize it away.
All that said, I had some difficulties getting into the story. It takes a good one-third of the book before the transfusions start…plenty of time to get exasperated with pre-transfusion Mark’s shallowness and self-centeredness. Given that the transformation happens slowly and builds the more Mark has transfusions, I was disappointed I didn’t see *more* early-transfusion Mark asserting his good-senses and late-transfusion Mark embracing all the bad, selfish proclivities.
The biggest shortfall here is in the writing. Youthology sounds like a placeholder name to me and City Magazine comes off as unimaginative (although a few publications do seem to use some iteration of this). Mark’s photography hobby is nebulous—I was under the impression he’s a *writer* for the magazine, but offers to be a *photographer* for some of the publication’s articles. And the fact that he has a darkroom in his house is crucial to the plot, even if it only appears as bookends on page. As noted above, it felt rather obvious what was happening to Mark and the explanation for why blood transfusions would cause the problems they did are glossed over and never really addressed. Finally, there are copious mechanical errors in the text. Plural and possessive forms are often mixed up; the tense of the narration needlessly flip-flops from present to past. There is even a glorious bad typo at the climax of the sex scene that cements just how depraved Mark becomes. I had to take breaks from reading because the mechanical usage of the language was so irritating.
Curiously, despite Mark taking on some terrible attributes, the story has a HEA type ending. Indeed, the final line of the story was delightfully on-brand for who Mark has become, though it’s unclear whether Mark continues to pursuit the darker elements of his new personality (i.e. interest in snuff). On the whole, I would say that despite the (copious) mechanical mistakes, It’s In My Blood would still be an entertaining read for anyone who wants a story about a character who’s NOT on any sort of hero’s journey.
*An obligatory note: there is a sex club that features in a few big scenes in the book and there are graphic depictions of very rough sex and a myriad of sex acts including water sports and fisting.