Still haunted by this story

Strain - Amelia C. Gormley
Originally posted at The Book Nympho

An earlier review of this book had me a little nervous because of some of the sexual content that normally is outside of my comfort zone. But, I've come to trust Amelia because the story is always first with her and she didn't let me down with this one. 

The setup
The country was decimated by a plague that was man made in origin when a virus strain, Bane Alpha, was developed to create a superhuman military force. It mutated when others were exposed to it as a blood pathogen, creating two separate, lethal strains. The only hope to combat infection was for the infected individual to have sex with as many different Juggernauts (they are the created species with the Bane Alpha strain) as possible, daily, over several weeks. When Rhys was rescued by Darius and his squadron, he had been exposed to the mutated strains. 

The issues
Rhys is young, inexperienced and, having been subjected to some warped sense of values, is terribly conflicted and in need of something more when having sex. He bonds with Darius at the onset and is almost loathe to be with anyone but him. However, Darius is solely focused on the physical cure and isn't sensitive to Rhys's emotional needs. 

The heart of the story
The book is aptly titled as it involves more than just the virus strains at the heart of the story. It delves into the strain associated with sexual and emotional repression experienced by Rhys before he was rescued. There was also Rhys's emotional and physical strain due to the amount of sexual activity and partners needed to save his life and the conditions he was subjected to earlier in his life. And then there's the emotional strain he and Darius both experienced as they struggled with their feelings for each other. 

Rhys and Darius' relationship is incredibly complex as Darius is much older but in some ways Rhys is the wiser of the two in spite of his youth. I found the emotional construct of the story to be extraordinary. There were times I broke out in tears as I lived Rhys's humiliation vicariously. And at other times I was heartened by his strength and optimism. I was also sometimes confused by Darius' borderline sadistic needs (though they were never really manifested in the story). 

There's a suspense element as Rhys's brother-in-law posed a constant threat for most of the book. While I found the conflict to be realistic, I was somewhat troubled by the Juggernauts' reactions to him. He was given the benefit of the doubt more than he merited. 

The bottom line
I haven't been able to let go of this story since I finished it. I LOVED Rhys, everything about him. I admired Darius and was grateful for his points of view as he was honorable yet somewhat jaded because of his years of hopeless experience. The contrasts were intelligently presented without necessarily clear cut resolutions. Yes, some of the sexual situations are tough but they are COMPLETELY in context of the story and the dystopian world. It's thought-provoking, creative and powerfully written. If you're drawn to something "more," I highly recommend this book. 

(I received an ARC from the publisher)