Genres: M/M, LGBT, Erotic Romance, Military, Dystopian Society, Futuristic, Big Brother
Steam Rating: HOT & Steamy
This book was provided by Netgalley and Grand Central Publishing Forever Yours in exchange for an honest review.
This book is tough for me to rate. At it's heart, there's a STORY here... but it seems buried under politics, world-building, sex, and Commander Caspar Cannon's POV. So while there's glimpse of promise, I just can't recommend this story - it's made up of too many extremes to resonate and connect to its readers. If it were simply a M-M erotica that wasn't attempting to take itself seriously or broadcast a message, the sex scenes alone would rate a 3.5-4 stars. But it does try to be a serious story... and it's just not there yet.
First, let me make clear that I read M/M and erotica on a regular basis. I'm not biased against this genre, and some of my favorite series and stories (Outlander, Ty&Zane/Cut & Run, Psycop, Special Forces) incorporate gay characters and their relationships. But in this book, it seemed apparent to me that the book was written by a woman attempting a gay man's POV. And it didn't work for me, because there's too many extremes in how the main character, Caspar, comes across.
It's the year 2070. We're in a dystopian society where there's a one-world government, even though out story takes place in what we know today as the U.S. The world is divided into quadrants, such as the southern-U.S. (Georgia area?) now known as Alpha. When the world was falling apart after the lack of resources, deadly Plauges, and so on, The Company stepped in and took control. The world's population was decimated, so the new world order focuses on Order and Repopulation. Order is maintained by strict rules and the military. Repopulation is enforced through RACE (Repopulation and Civilization Enforcement), which means that only sex between males and females is permitted, and that, generally, within the contract of marriage. But sex is almost strictly for procreation and not recreation. And those who marry or are suspected of sex crimes like homosexuality, bisexuality, menages, or other "aberrant" practices are forced before a RACE committee and forced to perform the sex act with the opposite sex. Imagine your first time consummating the relationship/marriage being done with an audience! (And they don't think voyeurism is abberant?)
As within any society, there are ways around The Company. Ampitheaters, known as Theater, are underground raves where people anonymously or through nicknames pursue their "criminal" sexual interests. Rebels outside the marked Company territories are called Nomads and considered no better than animals; Nomads are blamed for most of the killings and other ills.
Those who wish to delay the marriage-for-procreation life can sign up for the military. So Commander Caspar Cannon, a gay man, has done just that. He's hidden his true feelings and sexual urges all his life. He's a typical bury-it kind of military guy. He doesn't allow himself to feel or really live, because there's nothing to feel or live for. Except that he's obsessed with a particular tall, handsome, blond man who attends the Theater near him.
After a quick encounter with Blondie, alarms go off. A rebellion is in full swing - Nomads and Rebels have messed with the water supply, and a full lock down goes into effect. Caspar is called to duty, and his next assignment is to guard Company Exec Nathan Rice with his life and get Rice to an Outpost several hundred miles away. It's not clear to me why Rice must go to the Outpost, which seems to be along the East Coast (perhaps D.C. area?) or at least north and somewhat east of the Appalachian Mountains. Oh, and Rice is Blondie. Thus begins our story...
Caspar: Caspar is a military guy, through-and-through. We're completely in his head for the whole story, which presents some interesting opportunities, but I got tired of his trust issues. I understand that in this world and in Caspar's life, he's not been able to trust anyone other than himself and his second in command, Liz. But the "lust-love-gotta-have-him-right-now" and the "can't trust him" schism in Caspar's head got old.
There's such a dichotomy to Caspar - the tough, military guy versus the guy who's longing for love and a place to belong: somewhere he can simply be himself, without fear and without reprisal. That's a wonderful sentiment, and something that everyone can relate to. BUT... the way that dichotomy is expressed shows Caspar to extremes, rather than as an integrated person, which makes him seem almost unbalanced.
At times, Caspar comes across like a wimpy, love-sick, high school girl. He waxes so poetic in his head about Blondie/Nathaniel, and he gets so obsessed with things like smells, flowers, and tokens of love. Is this because a woman is writing a man's POV? And we're told that guys think about sex every 5 seconds, but I got tired of hearing that constant sexual, lustful dialogue in Caspar's head interspersed with tactical/military thoughts, political thoughts, and memories of his past. It's hard to reconcile THIS Caspar with the tough, honored military guy. There's nothing wrong with a guy who appreciates nature - flowers, water falls, etc. And I get that The Company's world is mostly fake and artificial. So his wonder in encountering them isn't the problem; it's the girly way that his wonder is expressed that seems so at odds with the man and the warrior.
Politics: Again, such extremes between the Big Brother Company and nature. While freedom is a theme, it centers mostly around gay rights or the rights to freely express love outside the traditional bonds of heterosexual marriage. But even marriage in this world within The Company is joyless. Anyone at an executive level in The Company is corrupt, evil, angry, homophobes. The military are mindless drones who drank The Company Kool-Aid and mostly act just like The Company execs. Those within The Company's grasp - the ordinary folks - are poor, mostly joyless, colorless, and constantly afraid. Nomads are really Freelanders, folks who've gone back to the rural, farming communities in pre-tech and pre-industrial days; they're mostly portrayed as smarter than they look, industrious, creative, tolerant, accepting communities.
It's easy to see the world in black-and-white. But that's not as interesting as the shades of gray. And the author attempts to put in those shades of gray by showing characters outside these norms - Caspar in the military; Blondie/Nathaniel in The Company; and the mostly brawn-over-brains villain within the Nomads. But it falls flat.
Sex: Lots and lots of it. Easy to see how, in this society, folks would grab for random encounters whenever they could. But again, The Company's monitoring sexual activity to the Theater's random racking-up-the-body-count encounters is extreme.
Not to mention Caspar's constant lusting over Blondie. Despite his better instincts (or because of them), Caspar only has to look at Blondie to want to tear his clothes off. And frequently, he does. Are we supposed to look at this desperation as a means of finding touch and relationship in The Company's world? Because it is desperate and meaningless. This "relationship" only takes on meaning because Blondie forces it - forces interaction and sharing with Caspar. As much as Caspar longs for belonging, love, and closeness, he has no desire to put effort into it and no plans for a real future. That hopelessness is just sad. And that, combined with the extremes in Caspar and this world just made the whole thing seem trite and confusing.
World-building: Most of the world-building occurs through Info Dumps. Tell, not show. The author attempts to show at the beginning, but because we don't yet understand this world, her show is confusing and has to be interspersed with info dumps in the form of long narratives by Caspar to explain what-the-heck is going on.
By the end of the book, I was drawn in by the characters, but it took until the half-way mark before I cared. I kept reading, because I was determined that a book with this length must have something to it. But when I finished, it felt too HEA-ish. After all that happens in this book, the HEA was the easy out, and a way to lead us into the next book.
While I see promise in this story and its characters and likely in this author, I can't recommend this book. It feels like it's a good draft in need of a developmental/story editor to really tighten it up and make it come alive. Someone who can help the author bridge the gap between the extremes, so that as the story builds, the readers see that there's more to this life and these characters than it seems; that the extremes are only the outward picture and not the true inner person. Otherwise, we don't experience real growth or change; we only see caricatures that move from 1 to 9 within 300 or so pages.