Retro Review: Strain by Amelia C. Gormley

An apocalypse story that probably isn't for everyone but I mostly loved it.

Strain by Amelia C. Gormley
Dark M/M Romance Fiction
In a world with little hope and no rules, the only thing they have to lose is themselves.

Rhys Cooper is a dead man. Cut off from the world since childhood, he’s finally exposed to the lethal virus that wiped out most of the human race. Now his only hope for survival is infection by another strain that might confer immunity. But it’s sexually transmitted, and the degradation he feels at submitting to the entire squad of soldiers that rescued him eclipses any potential for pleasure—except with Darius, the squadron’s respected, capable leader.

Sergeant Darius Murrell has seen too much death and too little humanity. He’s spent a decade putting plague victims out of their misery and escorting survivors to a safe haven he can never enjoy. He’d rather help Rhys live than put him down, so when Rhys can’t reconcile himself to doing what’s necessary to survive, Darius is forced to save Rhys in spite of himself.

But with each passing day, it looks less and less likely that Rhys can be saved. Which means that soon Darius might have to put a bullet in the head of the one person in years who reminds him of what it means to be human.

My Thoughts

4.5 Stars

I’m into post-apocalyptic stories, complicated m/m relationships and plots and characters that don’t piss me off. When I read the synopsis for Strain I figured it was meant for me and I was right. But it probably isn’t a book for everyone.

Rhys is 19 and was only a child when the world changed. A military experiment gone awry destroyed most of humanity and turned people into plague ridden monsters called revenants. Rhys grew up living in seclusion with a small group of survivors that included his sister and nephew, a holier than thou leader and his asshole protégé Jacob. The book throws you right into the action as Rhys is using himself as bait to save them all from an attack. Unfortunately, due to Jacob’s cowardice, he is unsuccessful and they are the only two survivors. Rhys and Jacob are rescued by a group of Jugs, former military “experiments” who have superior strength and stamina. They take them in but because they are now both infected and will die horribly, the Jugs decide to do a little of experiment of their own by infecting them with their superior Jug strain of the virus. If they succeed Rhys and Jacob will live and join their crew. If they don’t succeed they’ll have to put them down.

The quickest way to infection is via anal sex. Several times a day. With different partners. I know it sounds porny but it actually works in this world the author creates. At least it worked for me and didn’t feel forced, exploitative or cheesy. Rhys is a virgin but he doesn’t want to die. He’s stuck in a situation that is appalling. He is attracted to men but he’s been raised to believe his feelings are an abomination. His internal struggles are beautifully crafted. Despite it all he manages to develop feelings for Darius, the Jug who initially found him and the one he spends the most time with, but Darius is a hardened soldier who won’t allow himself to soften towards the kid because he knows he’ll have to be the one to put a bullet in his brain if this whole mess doesn’t work out.

Yes, there is a LOT of dubious con sex going on here due to the nature of the plot but it’s not overly descriptive unless it’s furthering/changing/exploring a relationship. There is humiliation and some knife play involved and multiple sex partners and whole lot of unvanilla sex. I felt bad for Rhys (how could you not?) who isn’t even given time to grieve the loss of his family before he’s thrust into his new role as sex toy for the Jugs and he’s forced to deal with Jacob who he despises. Rhys is treated with kindness by the Jugs and makes some friends but they all have a job to do and they do it even though it’s soon apparent that Rhys isn’t having fun with anyone but Darius.

This is Rhys’s story of survival and I wouldn’t classify it as a typical romance. If I had one complaint (and of course I do) it would be that Darius’s character wasn’t given enough page time. It’s easy to see why Rhys was attracted to him, he’s powerful and attractive and knows how to handle Rhys, but he’s off screen doing Jug stuff for a large part of the book. When he’s with Rhys they talk a little but mostly they’re too busy having hot sexy times. Not that there was anything wrong with those scenes (they were pretty fantastic) but I would’ve enjoyed knowing Darius a lot better. We only get a small glimpse into his feelings and it wasn’t enough for me. Wait, I have one more complaint. The bad guy, Jacob, had one dimension and should’ve been shot on day one. I found his character very predictable. Other than that . . .

Strain is suspenseful and unique but it’s one of those books that you need to know what you’re in for before you start it. It was a compelling world, with interesting characters and I hope there is a sequel (and I never say that) not because there was a dreaded cliffhanger but because I’d love to revisit this world and learn more how Darius and Rhys are getting on.

Yes, There Are More (and No, I Haven't Read Them Yet):

A Bit About The Author
Amelia C. Gormley
Amelia C. Gormley published her first short story in the school newspaper in the 4th grade, and since then has suffered the persistent delusion that enabling other people to hear the voices in her head might be a worthwhile endeavor. She’s even convinced her hapless spouse that it could be a lucrative one as well, especially when coupled with her real-life interest in angst, kink, social justice issues, and pretty men.

When her husband and son aren’t interacting with the back of her head as she stares at the computer, they rely on her to feed them, maintain their domicile, and keep some semblance of order in their lives (all very, very bad ideas—they really should know better by now.) She can also be found playing video games and ranting on Tumblr, seeing as how she’s one of those horrid social justice warriors out to destroy free speech, gaming, geek culture, and everything else that’s fun everywhere.

You can find her self-published Impulse trilogy almost anywhere ebooks are sold, and check out her catalog of Riptide Publishing releases at their website.

Catch up with Amelia Gormley at her website.

Read March 2014


  1. Hmmmm not sure that's for me. That's certainly a horrible situation for Rhys.

    "characters that don’t piss me off" - aren't we all looking for that? lol

    For What It's Worth


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