Ever since his fiance Sören’s death, Hale has gone into the wild every year to kill monsters with Alexandr, his bandmate, best friend, and Sören’s brother. This year, though, it’s different. Hale sees Sören, again. Or, at least, a spirit that takes Sören’s face. It shakes him, leaves him on edge, and sets both Hale and Alexandr back into a spiral.
Hale has the power to heal, a gift given to him by the Norse gods. He can take away the pain of others by swallowing it himself. That, along with the monster hunts, has left him hurting. His hip, his back, his joints, his heart … all of it. Alexandr has a gift, too, the ability to talk to the gods. Or, at least, he did. Lately, they haven’t been talking to him, and Alexandr has begun cutting again. It’s a release of pain, a moment of control, and an addiction.
Hale is fighting his own vices, his own desire to turn to drinking and drugs, things all too available to a musician on tour. This isn’t helped by his new boyfriend, Sterling, who hasn’t met a drug he hasn’t shot up, smoked, snorted, or swallowed. Stirling also drinks like a fish and always intends to get clean … eventually. But he has his own band to lead, and they’re getting better. Besides, the pills help him deal with the pain of a shattered jaw that keeps locking up.
This is the first book in the Heavy Metal Hunters series, a paranormal story involving heavy metal bands, Norse gods, and vampires. However, much of this book is focused on drug addictions, cutting addictions, constant pain, and the craving for drinking or drugs to combat it. There’s also a lot of vomiting, talking about disordered eating, and scars. There’s a lot more of all of that than there is vampires or romance. If any of these topics are uncomfortable for you, you may want to pass on this book.
Hale is already, apparently, in love with Sterling, for all that he spends a good portion of the book mourning his lost fiance. Sören’s death was traumatic and opened Hale’s eyes to a new world, but it’s not a world that I ever felt like I was able to learn about. Hale spends more time thinking about his pain, his suffering, his joints, and the rigors of training than he does thinking about or talking with Sterling. Sterling, for his part, spends long passages rhapsodizing about drugs and bemoaning his past than he does thinking about Hale. That’s not to say there aren’t moments between them, but I felt no connection between the couple and very little interest in the characters themselves.
So much of this story has already happened long before we start the book. Hale and Sterling are all but engaged and already in a part of their relationship where they’re ready to settle down. Sterling’s jaw has been broken, and eventually we’re told how that happened, much as we’re told other aspects of his personality and of his relationship with Hale. I felt like I was being given the final book in a series with everything already done. It was like being late to a party, or catching the tail end of a conversation. No one backed up to let me know what I’d missed, so I was just hearing the punchline without ever knowing the joke.
Oh, and then there were vampires.
This is very much a slice of life book about men dealing with pain — emotional and physical — and dealing with the realities of growing old. Their bodies are failing them, their energy levels are fading, and their fame and accomplishments are pretty much already done. The vampires felt out of step with the rest of the story, to be honest. And because Hale already knew them and had a past with them, nothing needed to be explained. Hale had a conversation with them about things that had already happened, and it was so matter of fact that all I could do was shrug.
Even when Sterling is hurt and in the hospital, I could only shrug. I had no connection to him beyond his addiction, his self-destructive behavior, and the fact that he had a boyfriend, To be honest, mostly I thought “maybe they’ll toss him in rehab when they see how many drugs he has in his system.” Instead, Norse gods and vampires showed up and things are left open-ended for the next book in the series.
I did not feel welcome in this book. Instead of being thrown into the deep end and left to figure things out for myself (a style I do enjoy), I felt like I was watching other people swim while being left on the beach. There didn’t feel to be an invitation for me, as a reader, to join in with the characters, and I’m left with not much of an opinion. The writing is fine, the pacing is fine, and it felt to me like the author cared very much about their characters. I, however, didn’t. Personally, I’d pass on this book. Maybe it’s the author’s style, but I had no connection to anything in this book, and was left with a very mid feeling, overall.