In a bid to curb violence, the government allows everyone to have any one fellow citizen murdered, no questions asked. It’s run by the Liquidation Bureau and the law kept Thorn Hull off the streets and out from between the sheets when he had nothing else. Under the guidance of an older agent named Kannan, Thorn has learned how to be a government assassin. Kannan also hammered home the fact that no agent should take on extra trouble. That was a hard lesson for Thorn to learn on the heels of trying and failing to save another teenaged boy from being raped. Now, after fifteen years in the Bureau, Thorn is starting to question some of Kannan’s lessons. His job made him rich, but the material comforts can no longer quell the sense of longing for a real connection to someone else. Someone like that kid from the alley that Thorn cannot stop thinking about. When their paths finally cross again, Thorn feels an instant connection and an attraction. But he also knows how impossible it must be when Thorn’s job as a government assassin is literally tattooed to his body.
All Sid Barker wants to do is grow potatoes, make moonshine, and somehow keep both himself and his dog fed. His current set up is ideal; despite growing more potatoes than he is legally allowed and brewing beverages he has no license to make, and illicitly keeping a pet…he is more or less a free man. Sure, the new world order is structured to keep everyone not in the government ground under the heel of the state, but Sid is surviving. And when his best friend and fizzled flame, Jeb, asks him to up his production, Sid is hopeful he’ll finally make the jump from surviving to living. Until a strangely familiar agent named Thorn from Liquidation Bureau shows up. The fact that Thorn is not visiting for an officially sanctioned hit is as puzzling as it is worrying. Instead of a long drop with a short stop, Sid ends up running away with Thorn when they realize there is a kink in the Liquidation Bureau system that puts them both in mortal danger. As messy and unplanned as their escape is, there’s a chance Thorn just may get to disappear into the real world and Sid could find a way to thrive with him.
A Drop of Moonshine is a dystopian style romance from author Holly Day. The book does a terrific job fleshing out this world where an autocratic government has stratified the country into two layers: government people and non-government people. It was clear the government people were well taken care of. Thorn has a big, fat bank account with a fancy apartment and snazzy car. He doesn’t think twice about eating most of his meals in restaurants or buying things on credit. And it was pretty interesting when he sort of accidentally-on-purpose gives all that up to flee with Sid. We learn that non-government person Sid has no money, a barely livable home, and constantly worries about being found out (for having faked his death as Sidney and starting over as Sid). The details about how this society worked were crisp and clear and easy to follow. I liked that Thorn was pretty blind to his privilege and had to reckon with the ramifications of going off the grid. In short, there is a very concrete level of “opposites (mostly, eventually) attract” going on along with a healthy dash of rich/poor character dichotomy.
As a romance, I was interested to see how the Thorn/Sid dynamic would work. Their first encounter as teenagers was anything but auspicious and, as we soon find out, there is little hope for a Liquidation Bureau agent of forming a close relationship with anyone not also in the Bureau. (Bonus points for the story making it clear that Liquidation Bureau agents themselves can be targeted!) When Thorn and Sid meet again, Thorn in a sort of life or death, three-way catch-22 and Thorn and Sid end up running away together. Personally, I wasn’t fond of how Thorn and Sid ended up fleeing. Yes, this introduces the element of force proximity. And there was at least Thorn’s attraction to Sid to stoke the flame a bit. That said, Sid frequently and loudly voiced his reservations and objections to Thorn’s running away with him. This echoed my thoughts exactly, since it’s Thorn’s presence that is largely responsible for Sid’s being in danger. It just felt forced. And the chemistry felt deeply off balance given Sid’s frequent reminders that he’d be safer without the murderous government agent. The upshot of the Sid/Thorn romance is that they do figure it out.
I think my favorite element of the Thorn/Sid romance came towards the end. After a climactic scene that brought together all the people posing threats to Sid and Thorn and left some of them dead, Sid saw an opportunity to get his life back. After all, Sid was just a cog in a huge machine. His chances of getting away with going back to his status quo seemed pretty good. But Thorn had no such window of opportunity. I just really enjoyed that the characters really went there. To be clear, Sid and Thorn do have (or maybe develop is a better term) some chemistry. After they’ve initially escaped the city and are trying to figure out a new life, they sort of start to develop feelings. Those feelings seemed about as messy as their situation though…forced proximity, surviving life-threatening situations, and clinging to the one person who’s likely to understand. By the end of the book, though, the Sid/Thorn dynamic comes together much more solidly. Once they don’t have their pasts casting shadows over their every waking moment, it was a lot easier for me to see how well they fit together.
Overall, this was an interesting read. I was enthralled with the dynamics between Kannan and Thorn, Jeb and Sid. I often wondered if Kannan was going to irrevocably break Thorn’s trust beyond all repair…and vice versa. Whatever the flaws of their circumstances, I liked these characters and enjoyed watching them interact with each other and react to their situation. It’s all set in a uniquely dystopian setting that brings some characters closer together and pushes others further, permanently apart. If you’re looking for an interesting read with a well detailed alternative reality with big noir vibes, yet that still feels like a pretty quick read, I think you’ll enjoy this.