I’ve been reading Kit Rocha’s books for a long time, and there’s certain things I expect from them: amazing found families, strong and fierce heroines, and a nail-bitingly good plot. So it’s no surprise that their first traditionally published book has all that, plus the sunshine/grumpy trope, a post-apocalyptic road trip, and multiple discussions of whether various characters are psycho serial killers.
“F***, no. We’re gonna do absolutely impossible, totally illegal, questionably sane science? I’m pumped.”
In post-flare Atlanta, there are basically two parts to the city – those controlled by TechCorps and patrolled by the Protectorate, or the poor neighborhoods who are mostly left to fend for themselves, unless the Protectorate needs to remind them who’s in charge – or unless they have people like Nina. Nina is a perfect Kit Rocha heroine. She’s had a rough life, to say the least, but has surrounded herself with her found family, Maya and Dani. Together they’re committed to making their part of the city better. They’ve set up a book printing press, food dehydrators and a seed bank, and are planning to build a shelter, once they have the money for it. Enter Knox, who claims to know the location of a secret Library of Congress cache. Selling the knowledge there would give them enough money to fund their dreams, but something isn’t quite right about Knox and his team. They’re ex-Protectorate soldiers who deserted after being forced to “advance corporate interests” too many times. Knox is stuck between two bad decisions – give up Nina and her team to rescue a kidnapped friend, or betray the women who obviously don’t deserve it. Knox views Nina’s “aggressive optimism,” as he calls it, as naivety. Her assertion that she has to be able to look at herself in the mirror feels like a jab against him and his team, and if there’s one thing he’s protective of, it’s his men. Though they’re no longer in the Protectorate, Knox still acts like he’s the captain of the squad and responsible for making the decisions for all of them until they’re finally “free” – though what exactly that means is still a mystery to him.
“You’re not even going to look?”
“I may be a thief, but I don’t deal with liars.
“What, exactly, do you think I’m lying about?”
“I didn’t say you were lying. I said you’re a liar.” She blew on a spoonful of soup to cool it. “I see where the distinction might be confusing.”
Nina and Knox clash from their first meeting. Their chemistry is electric (there’s sex during a thunderstorm, even, so yeah), their banter is on point, and it’s easy to see why they’re so immediately attracted to each other. The whole premise is an interesting flip, in that it’s the genetically enhanced super-soldiers who need help from the, well, also genetically engineered women, but the difference here lies in how they’ve chosen to use their abilities. And by distilling it down to that, though, it’s easy to see how similar they really are. While Knox may not have had the same impact as Nina, he’s done his best to limit his targets and find creative solutions to the Protectorate’s “kill kill kill” orders while keeping his team safe. They’re both basically the parental figures for their found families, so watching the two groups learn to interact and work together (which, of course they do to hilarious and scarily efficient effect) is like a post-apocalyptic murdery Brady Bunch.
“Is everyone clear on the mission?”
Maya shot Nina a thumbs-up. “Kill, kill, save, party.”
“Overly simplistic, but accurate.”
The secondary characters on both sides are well done and fully realized, partially because they all get at least one POV chapter. Because of that it’s obvious how the rest of the couples will shake out, which is both a great thing and a bad thing because I would like those books right now, please. The pacing is fast-paced and punchy, and there’s enough plot twists and road blocks (sometimes literally) to keep you hooked until the last page, which is a doozy. There’s a good balance and synchronicity between the bam-shoot-blow-stuff-up action and the emotional tension, as both ramp up as the story goes on. Part of that is from getting to know the secondary characters and their backstories, and part of that is the romantic tension and Knox’s angst over his eventual betrayal of Nina.
“Remember what you’re fighting for, Captain.”
Betrayal plots can be a hard sell for me, as I really need to buy into the rebuilding of trust before I can believe in an HEA. In this case, it was very clear from the beginning that Knox had reservations even before he met Nina, and he was already planning on coming clean to her before the reveal was forced. The effects of that reveal aren’t glossed over, and Nina is given plenty of time to come to terms with the predicament Knox was in and his regret for his actions. I appreciated the focus on Nina as most often it feels like that the majority of the post-dark moment is given to absolving the betrayer’s actions rather than the effects on the victim. So even though it was already well established that pre-betrayal Nina was the sort of person who’d be capable of forgiving him, I found her struggle with it one of my favorite parts of the book.
Overall, this is exactly the sort of delightful murderous fun I wanted and needed, and I cannot wait for the next book!
I received an advance review copy of this book from Bookish First. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.