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Mostly Cross Posts from my blog, Readings From the Dark Side

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Review of Strain by Amelia Gormley

Strain - Amelia C. Gormley

Terrific. I had my doubts about this because I’m not a zombie fan, and I considered the set up really risky. TV writers sometimes use the phrase “coinkydink” to refer to an overly convenient set of conditions, in this case a deadly virus that can only be cured (possibly) by having as much sex with as many people as possible. I’ve read a bunch of Evangeline Anderson stories with a similar idea—e.g. a demon who must have tons of oral sex with a woman or he’ll implode; a vampiric alien who must bite his severely needle-phobic lady-love or she’ll die of a virus—and they drove me bonkers.

But Gormley takes a basically implausible idea and uses it as a stepping stone for a consistently sensitive, intelligent exploration of sex, desire, trust, inhibition, power, shame—the list goes on. Given the essentially dub-con premise, the story is not as dark as I was expecting, but for once that was a plus, because Gormley avoids the exploitative potential in favor of a mellow pacing that really allows us to get to know and care about her characters—not just Rhys and Darius but a small crew of wonderful secondaries who create a very lived-in feel to the whole story.

There’s a fair amount of encounter-group style dialogue-as-therapy or narrated reflection, but the insights were so astute that again I didn’t mind at all. Examples.

“You made me do something I had to do but couldn’t. It’s like—“
“Like what?” Darius’ question was a hoarse whisper.
“Like shoving someone out the window of a burning building into a river far below.”

Darius could tell himself he was saving Rhys’s life all he wanted, but the fact was, he liked that power differential too much for it to ever be right.

“You can’t just go half in with a kid who doesn’t know how to play the game so that you have all of the authority and none of the responsibility.”

I’m pretty much a sucker for most D/s stories and dark fics, but I save my admiration for authors who go further than just tossing out some kinky acts for heat or shock value and actually explore the complex and contradictory impulses that underlie these sometimes unwelcome desires. That Gormley accomplishes such a nuanced, respectful exploration within the unlikely context of a Zombie Apocalypse is triply impressive. Highly Recommend.