Nathen isn’t quite sure where he is or what’s going on, but he’s polite enough to listen as the man in front of him outlines his new job. The perks, the paycheck, the private car service — or, at least he tries to listen. The fact that Nathen can’t remember how he got here, or who this man is is a little disconcerting. The last thing he really remembers is meeting with his psychologist where he was told that he has Autism. And now he’s being told that he is a vampire, and is being asked to track down a group of hackers. What can he do but say yes?
Cameron is an empathic mage, able to feel the thoughts and emotions of everyone around him, and considering how many people live in San Francisco, there’s no getting away from them. Clubs wear him out. Too many people feeling too many things, so many of them nervous or angry or upset. Concerts, though, or plays or festivals, those are fun because people are there to have fun. Little did Cameron know that on the night his friend and roommate, Syn, ordered pizza that he’d be meeting the man of his dreams.
The awkward young man Syn invited over is not just someone Cameron has never met before, he’s something Cameron has never met before. Nathen might as well be the invisible man for all that Cameron can feel. No emotions, no presence, nothing. But the more he questions Nathen, the more his interest grows, both in Nathen as a novelty, as well as Nathen as a person.
Nathen is a quiet, thoughtful man who has learned to take things at his own pace. Whether it’s through meditation or therapy, he has learned to adjust to the world, and while he far prefers handling many interactions online — where, through text, he can respond to people’s ideas rather than their emotions — he has very little difficulty in face-to-face interactions. While he gets lost in his own thoughts every now and then, he’s quick to ask people to repeat themselves, or to explain why he is having trouble understanding them. When Nathen and Cameron decide to try being a couple, Nathen lists out what works for him, what he’s comfortable with and what he wants.
Nathen is the farthest thing from a victim even before he becomes a vampire, and he manages to handle that change with remarkable aplomb. Each new power, each quirk is examined, accepted, and then moved on from as he has other things to focus on, namely Cameron and the fact that he wants Cameron to be his boyfriend. (As a quick caveat, I am unfamiliar with Autism beyond what I’ve read in books or seen in movies or on television, so I cannot comment on how well or accurately Nathen’s behaviors are portrayed. I am only able to judge him as he is presented in this book, on his character arc, and the integrity of his actions as a character in this story.)
Cameron, on the other hand, has issues communicating. He’s so used to being able to read a person’s thoughts and emotions before they even open their mouth that the presence of someone he can’t touch irritates him as much as it excites him. When Cameron sees Nathen, he judges the man to be exceedingly attractive, both physically and because he has a soft spot for anyone “psychologically different”. Cameron feels the urge to protect Nathen, and when he leaves Syn and Nathen to their hacking, feels mildly upset and put out that Nathen didn’t follow him into the bedroom. (It’s been less than 12 hours since they met, but Cameron is instantly drawn to Nathen, and expects Nathen to feel the same.)
Cameron is used to reaching into the minds of people, friends and not, and tweaking them to suit hiis own preferences. Calm this one down, make this one more amenable… This feels rather at odds with the nice and caring person Syn tells Nathen that Cameron is. The casual, cold-blooded manipulation of the mind control, along with his interest in Nathen because he is neuro-divergent just doesn’t work for me. If Cameron’s going to be ruthless and feel entitled to use his powers on others as he sees fit, then he should own it. Any spark of personality — beyond the parts we’re told he has via Syn — would have made him more complex and more of an interesting character. As it is, I just didn’t feel any attachment or investment into Cameron, his powers, his being hunted by some amorphous anti-mage group, or his relationship with Nathen.
Nathen, on the other hand, for all that he has trouble reading people, has no difficulty reading himself. When Cameron kisses him while drunk, it’s Nathen who pulls back, reminding the other man that his saliva is an aphrodisiac. While Cameron is willing to keep going — and pushes Nathen to keep going — it comes across more as another semi-deliberate attempt at manipulation than lust. As if Cameron, unable to get into Nathen’s head, is willing to try going through his pants. It’s Nathen who wants to slow down, it’s Nathen who stops, it’s Nathen who’d rather do this with a sober partner.
Throughout the book Nathen is only ever Nathen. He doesn’t suddenly gain the ability to read people or to get sarcasm; he doesn’t start behaving as a different person and the reasons behind his reactions are consistent from beginning to end. Had this story only been told through Nathen’s point of view, I think I would have enjoyed it more. As it is, the scenes from Cameron’s point of view, the way he sees Nathen, just didn’t do it for me.
Personally, Cam is the weak point in this book. He’s emotional, flighty, callous, self-centered, and while he has his reasons for some of his behaviors, that doesn’t quite cover all of it. The worst part is that these character defining traits feel accidental. The story seems to want Cam to be sweet, kind, noble, and innocent as he mind controls people, manipulates people, and ignores people. I don’t mind Cam being flawed; I mind the bait and switch.
There are moments in this book that worked for me. The bare bones of a larger world are sketched out, hinting at greater depth with mentions of fae, mages, and hunters, without actually stopping the story to detail them. I think my favorite part was when Nathen, calmly, says that “I get to live indefinitely” as opposed to being immortal. It felt both very Nathen, and … I don’t know, it made me snort.
However, there is a great deal that didn’t work for me. There isn’t much to this book beyond the relationship between Nathen and Cameron. While Nathen is hired to track down hackers who did … something to a children’s hospital for … reasons, it’s mostly a red herring with a few moments at the beginning, a reminder in the middle, and then a hand waving “and then it was fixed” at the end. With the emphasis of this book being on Cameron and Nathen, it feels almost more like a prequel to a series rather than the first book, setting up the main characters as a couple without spending much time on anything else.
While I didn’t dislike the book exactly, I’m not sure I ever found myself invested enough in this story to have any interest in continuing on to the second book. It’s too similar to other books I’ve read without having anything that stands out to me as being anything unique. I’m sorry to say, but I suggest passing this one by.
Note: There is a rape scene between two characters, as well as the depiction of murder and rape filtered through the eyes of a villain. If these subjects cause you discomfort, then I would suggest passing on this book.