Michael Quinn has to hide that he’s gay. In a world where overpopulation has threatened everything, the Normalcy Laws were put into effect. Anyone who isn’t “normal”—be it due to sexual orientation, neurodivergence, disability, age—is arrested and eliminated. Michael keeps his secret and carefully does absolutely nothing to draw attention to himself or his family, as his niece would be eliminated as well, since she has a learning disability. When his sister finds a way to travel in secrecy to New Zealand, where Normalcy Laws haven’t gone into effect, his family leaves Michael behind to find safety.
Michael is arrested and taken by The Black Guard, where he is humiliated and questioned by The Man. This man, unlike the rest of the Black Guard, has his face uncovered, and though he speaks in a kind tone, he’s determined to prove Michael is gay. But within a few sessions, it’s clear The Man is also gay and he wants Michael. Michael can’t help his attraction to The Man, whose name is Bevan, and a few sexual encounters ensue.
But Bevan can’t keep doing what he’s doing. He’s fallen for Michael and wants to get out. It will take time, and a few very close calls, but Michael and Bevan just may be able to find a way to live their life in love.
For Past/Future Week in our Reading Challenge Month, I went looking for a futuristic story and found this dystopian tale. The blurb piqued my interest immediately, so I picked it up. And while the premise is fascinating, the execution was somewhat lacking for me.
Michael is the third-person narrator for this story, and we fully understand his thoughts and fears about the world he’s living in. He wants to be safe, but the safety of his niece is more important to him. He’s ready to live his life without them if it means that she can live happy and healthy. I was also right there with him in his fear as he was arrested and taken to the holding cell, and I thought the author did a great job conveying his thoughts and feelings during this time.
But after Bevan is introduced, the story fell apart for me. I didn’t feel their connection, especially since at first Bevan is cold and bordering on cruel. His sudden change of heart doesn’t have enough lead up or development and, while I could understand Michael wanting any chance to escape, there wasn’t enough on the page to make me understand why Michael would trust Bevan, let alone care for him.
As the book progressed from there, I felt like we were only skimming the surface of the story, with not enough detail. Especially where the romance was concerned. With each chapter, I got more frustrated as Michael grew to care for Bevan more. Bevan has done some terrible things in his life, all in the name of hiding who he really was. But with one line about being young and impressionable and denying his true self, he explains away why he joined the Black Guard in the first place and all the things he’s done while with them. It wasn’t enough for me, and that moment of showing remorse didn’t redeem him in my eyes. So that, coupled with not enough to make me believe in their love, meant Bevan wasn’t a sympathetic character and I wanted Michael to abandon him and run.
This story started strong, and the premise was super interesting, especially given our current political climate. I was looking for more from this story though, and the romance asked too much suspension of disbelief for me. Though it’s a short read, I needed more development and detail for it to work for me. Unless you’re a hardcore fan of dystopian stories, I’d say give this one a pass.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Past/Future Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of two great book bundles from Carina Press (you can see the details and full event prize list here)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Past/Future Week here.