Kit Rocha delivers an action packed post-apocalyptic dystopian romp through Atlanta and North Georgia filled with super soldier-mercenaries, evil tech companies, sweltering humidity, and sex. If any of that appeals to you gentle reader then this book may be right up your alley.
“The United States went belly up 45 years ago when our power grid was wiped out. Too few live in well-protected isolation while the rest of us scrape by on the margins. The only thing that matters is survival. By any means. At any cost.
Nina is an information broker with a mission: to bring hope to the darkest corners of Atlanta. She and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to help those in need. But altruism doesn’t pay the bills—raiding vaults and collecting sensitive data is where the real money is.
Knox is a bitter, battle-weary supersoldier who leads the Silver Devils, an elite strike squad that chose to go AWOL rather than slaughter innocents. Before the Devils leave town for good, they need a biochem hacker to stabilize the experimental implants that grant their superhuman abilities.
The problem? Their hacker’s been kidnapped. And the ransom for her return is Nina. Knox has the perfect bait for a perfect trap: a lost Library of Congress server. The data could set Nina and her team up for years…
If they live that long.” – Goodreads blurb
Let me say first that I didn’t do my homework before requesting this book on Net Galley. I didn’t know who Kit Rocha was (actually the writing duo of Donna Herren and Bree Bridges) or that they wrote dystopian/paranormal erotic romance. And when I say erotic I mean yeah…there’s lots of sexy time in the pages of the book. I’m not usually a romance reader (though I’m trying to branch out a little with romantic fantasy) and I’m definitely not an erotic romance reader. If I’d realized this I probably wouldn’t have requested the book. BUT…this is my fault, not that of the author or publisher so I’m going to try to complete the rest of this review on the merits of the non-erotic parts. But if you’re a fan of a little sexy time in your reading you might just enjoy this one.
Interestingly the blurb does a pretty good job of setting up the plot of the book without giving too much away. I’m a fan of dystopian stories even if they tend to follow the same tropes, especially with the evil tech companies running the world with little enclaves of people holding out here and there. Because this is a well worn trope I’m looking for something to grab me and keep me engaged, be it the plot, the characters, or whether the author is able to pack any of “the feels” into the story. Enter this new series about “mercenary librarians.” I was sold on that description immediately. So did it deliver?
Well…kinda. For starters Deal With The Devil is very heavy on the mercenary and pretty light on the library. The latter was one the biggest disappointments for me. The ladies led by Nina don’t run much of an underground library, or not one you get to see much of. They do try to find copies of books and print and lend them out when they can. But that part of their story is just referred to really. It’s backstory. And they are much more than book lenders. I hate to really give them the title librarian – sure librarians do a lot more than just lend books too, but Nina’s crew is something different. They are really the local neighborhood saviors helping with all manner of things, more community service in general than librarians specifically.
But that needn’t kill the story because the mercenary part is very on target. There are two teams (a team of women led by Nina and a team of guys led by Knox) who find themselves on the same mission but with very different goals so there’s drama and tension from the get-go. And these are no ordinary mercenaries. All of them have been enhanced in some degree. They are more super soldier than normal humans, each given specific abilities and trained to perfection. This makes the action exciting and definitely takes things up a notch, especially when there’s trust issues between the teams.
As for the characters themselves I was just kinda meh. I didn’t hate them but I definitely didn’t love them. They’re all beautiful, they all have enhanced abilities, they all have some stock “issue” they are dealing with from their past. But they felt very formulaic. I never really found myself caring about any one of them overly much. Their stories were somewhat compelling but I just wasn’t really sold on them. Add to that they were all lust buckets. I know that may be part of that erotic romance element, but it really started to pull me out of the story. And I don’t mean the sex scenes, I mean the fact that almost every waking moment all they were thinking about was potentially boning their counterpart on the other team. It kinda got old. I also felt at times that Rocha painted Knox’s charter as more of how they wish a guy thought and felt about sex and not how most guys really are. That isn’t necessarily bad, I mean fiction is the place for ideal characters, but it just seemed to stand out to me.
I did rather enjoy the world-building. Again I’m typically a fan of the dystopian future element. Rocha’s new world is one where multiple things went wrong in quick succession in our near future. Solar storms wreaking havoc on the grid, famines, wars, the collapse of governments at a time when only larger tech corporations could step in to save who they could in their respective regions. These tech corporations then create private armies to protect their interests. Again, not a new concept but one I do enjoy.
Rocha’s writing style was good for the most part. The prose flowed well; evenly paced when it needed to be and fast when the action needed to pick up. Rocha used a recurring element to begin each chapter in the form of blurbs from a company report on individual test/study subjects who you quickly learn are the characters in the book, you just don’t know who at first. This element gives nice little additional details to the world building and to the characters that would have required info dumps if used otherwise. Where the writing began to fall flat for me was the near constant descriptions of how hot the characters are and how hot they are for each other. Now I get it, erotic sci-fi romance, it’s to be expected. But there were two straight chapters where almost the entire point was to show off how sexy the female characters were. And they didn’t shy away from the men either. You know that old complaint about how male authors describe female characters? Well it’s here in this one. They may not have talked about how much the ladies’ boobs bounced but it came close. And every time Nina and Knox touched it was electric. I mean Every…Single…Time. There was so much electricity in the air I don’t know how somebody wasn’t struck by lightning. I know I’m complaining perhaps a little too much here, but it did feel really over done. But then again I also admit I’m not the normal audience for this story.
So in the end what did I think? Well given everything above it really comes down to the overall story. Did the narrative grab my attention and keep me reading? Was I excited about it? Did it give me the feels? Will I read the next installment?
The answer are mixed. I liked the story but didn’t love it. I did keep reading and there wasn’t ever a time I got bored with it. But excited about it…not really. I can’t say there was ever a point where I got “the feels” about anything. And the climax felt a little underwhelming. For me the story was OK, but I don’t think I’ll pick up book two. But…that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Like I said I’m probably not the right audience for this one. And if any of the stuff I said I didn’t like is the kind of trope you’re really into well I think might really enjoy it.
*I received a review copy of this book on Net Galley courtesy of the publisher.*
3 of 5 Stars
Author: Kit Rocha
Series: Mercenary Librarians #1
Publication Date: July 28, 2020