Review: Infected Undertow (Infected #7) by Andrea Speed

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Infected Undertow cover

In a world where a werecat virus has changed society, Roan McKichan, a born infected and ex-cop, works as a private detective trying to solve crimes involving other infecteds.

While Roan McKichan remains comatose in the hospital, his status is grievously affecting all those around him.  Dylan, his husband, remains at his side, waiting for him to wake up.  Holden, prostitute and sidekick (as much as he would hate the word) is trying to handle a tentative relationship with one of Roan’s hockey player friends, and not handling it well.  Fiona, friend and secretary, is trying to figure out if her life is with Tank, the hockey player traded to a new city or with her old life here.  The new head of the Church of the Divine Transformation is causing problems for infecteds and noninfecteds alike, including a connection to an illegal fighting ring.  All is in turmoil as Roan finally wakes up.

When Roan awakes, it is to a reality in which his virus has mutated once more.  The lion/virus has strengthened and Roan must fight against his belief that he is turning into a monster while holding on to what is left of his humanity as well as relationship with Dylan.  And as Roan struggles to deal with his new reality, new cases arrive needing his help.  It will take all of Roan’s emotional strength to adapt and continue on with his life, no matter how much the undertow threatens to pull him under.

Undertow is an astonishing addition to an outstanding series.  Really it is hard to know where to start with the acclamations.  In Roan McKichan, Andrea Speed has created one of  the most haunting and extraordinary superheroes in recent fiction.  A virus has swept the nation that forces people to regularly change into different species of big cat, a torturous transformation and one that shortens the infected persons life.  No one is sure of its origin in this world. All the reader knows is that one day it just appeared.  Unlike those who acquired the virus through unsafe sexual acts, dirty needles or blood transfer (just as the AIDS virus) Roan was born with it, a virus child.  The author has created Roan as a being set aside from both populations, giving him a unique status with an ever changing physicality to go along with a separate entity that shares his body.  And with each book, we watch as the virus mutates and changes Roan along with it.  Roan’s struggles to adjust to the changes in his body and the increasingly strong virus are Herculean, both for the character and the reader.  Roan’s transformation reaches into the most primal of questions about identity, self, and what it means to be human.  It asks what is more fundamental?  The inside you or your physical exterior? Or in Roan’s case, is who you are dependent upon what species you are, a question becoming more central to Roan emotional makeup by the day.  Roan was a remarkable character in the beginning, intelligent, wry, and so adaptable that he survived an abusive beginning as well as the loss of Paris, a man he continues to mourn even as he found another.  Roan has so many layers and facets to this personality that detailing them would take a book of its own at this rate, Andrea Speed’s Guide to Roan McKichan.

And Roan is surrounded by a cadre of characters almost his equal in complexity.  I have to admit that Holden is my favorite.  Holden is a lethal combination of charm, brains, survivability as well as a flimsy, flexible morality that makes him a perfect companion for Roan in his endeavors to help those who come to him in need.  But Fiona, Gray, Scott, Seb, and all the rest stand on the platform with them.  I often forget that these people and their situations aren’t real, so involved do I feel in their current situations and futures.  Really, its just a parade of people so indelible that they will leave their marks in your heart and memory long after this story and quite possibly the series is finished.

And the world in which Roan lives is equally astounding. Andrea Speed has created a universe so densely layered and elastic, that each book can continue to build on the foundations laid out at the beginning, and still expand, growing ever more complex along with the virus and Roan. We are hearing hints of concentration camps or bills in Congress meant to incarcerate infecteds to protect the public, specific overtones of WWII with the Japanese Internment camps in California and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.  At first it was mere whispers in the beginning books but the possibility has been increasing through each addition to the series as the public backlash grows against the infected population and Roan’s solidification as something so new, so extraordinary that those closest to him are having a hard time wrapping their brains around it. Of course, Holden is already aware of the ramifications to society and enjoying the heck out of it.  Undertow breaks out of the others books parameters as we really start to see the possibilities ahead for Roan and for all the infected populations.  It’s chilling, it’s exciting and it’s tantalizing in the hints laid out throughout the narrative.  I mean, there are parts here I kept rereading, not only for the power of the moment but also for the implications for the future.

Undertow has several threads running through it, just as the other books.  There are several mysteries to solve, including a woman haunted by the unsolved death of her mother, and a sordid fight ring to stop that uses infected as combatants.  As always the Church of the Divine Transformation is at the heart of at least one of Roan’s problems, an organization that never fails to live down to its reputation.  Several characters are undergoing transformative events in their lives to mirror on a lesser scale the major ones affecting Roan, which is perfection given that Roan is the central focus in each of their lives.

Normally I like to add in a few quotes to give a feel for the author and characters involved but the Infected series almost defies me to do that.  Taken out of context removes some of their power and put into context, the quotes contain far too many spoilers.  The narrative is powerful, angst filled, humorous, wry and concise, even to the names of the chapters like Subterranean Homesick Alien, Tiny Violin, Pretty Nettles,and St. Matthew Returns To The Womb.  Just trust me on this, quotes aren’t needed for something this great.

Unlike Lesser Evils (Infected #6), this is a complete story, with no cliffhangers (as such) to worry about.  That’s on the surface, of course.  Because the underlying issues remain, lying just ahead like fissures in the ice, or an undertow in the ocean current, waiting to pull the unwary down.  That’s what makes Roan and this series so exciting, so compelling and ultimately so addictive.  I finish one and then keep thinking about all the possibilities that lie ahead for Roan, Holden and everyone involved, including humanity.  This series is at book 7 and gathering speed and strength. Where Andrea Speed will take Roan and us, I have no idea but I can’t wait for the next part of the journey to continue.

If you are new to Roan and the series, go back and start at the beginning.  These books must be read as part of a series in order to understand the characters and the events that occur.  Trust me when I  say there are NO stand alone books here.  Here they are in the order they were written and must be read:

Prey (Infected, #1)

Bloodlines (Infected, #2)

Life After Death (Infected, #3)

Freefall (Infected, #4)

Shift (Infected, #5)

Lesser Evils (Infected, #6)

Undertow (Infected #7)

Andrea Speed has also created an Infected Undertow soundtrack that can be found here.  There are over 28 tracks that you do not want to miss out on, including Wolf Like Me by TV on the Radio and so much more.

Cover art by Anne Cain.  This cover is outrageously splendid, one of the best of the year as far as I am concerned (and considering how good all the covers are for this series, that is saying something).  Visit Andrea Speed’s website and download the covers for your computer.

Book Details:

ebook, 344 pages
Published June 14th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781623805661
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3913
seriesInfected #7

Review of Infected: Shift by Andrea Speed

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Shift is the fifth book in Andrea Speed’s Infected series.  This is a tightly linked series and the books should be read in order.  This review may have some spoilers for previous books in the series.

It’s a typical day for Roan McKitchan in that there was nothing typical about it.  His new client is a wall of a man who just happens to be a hockey player with a 10 year old case involving a transgendered person’s suicide that just might be murder.  Roan’s relationship with his artist/bartender boyfriend, Dylan is especially rocky these days and all his friends seems to think that Roan is so depressed that he is seeking to die.  And then there is that little matter of another possible aneurysm next time he shifts.

When his partial transformation is caught on tape and uploaded to YouTube, the crazies start coming out of the woodwork with vicious attacks on himself and those close to him.  Everything about Roan’s world is in flux, his stress increasing, and yes, his depression is getting worse even as his virus mutates yet again. What is he to do when the shifters start to look to him for leadership just as he is  struggling to handle all the major shifts in his life?  Leader or vigilante? Life or death? Roan needs to find those answers himself and soon.

Shift picks up the story of Roan where Freefall left off as everyone around Roan is still reeling from the aftermath of Roan’s brain aneurysm.  The fact that Roan survived the unsurvivable for no discernable medical reason has left Roan, Dylan and his circle of friends on edge with Dylan especially fragile. Still sustaining himself on drugs and partial shifts, Roan McKitchan tries to continue business as usual.  But his reckless behavior and depression has seen his relationship with Dylan grow increasingly problematic as the daily stress that is Roan’s life and his precarious mental state leave Dylan’s composure in shreds.  What others see as his suicidal tendencies, Roan believes to be his normal state, at least for him. To Roan, his outlook and actions are in tune with someone uncertain of his humanity and life span.  And as we get pulled deeper into latest Infected novel, the story of Roan McKitchan and the cat virus continues to shift and evolve, turning into a series as unpredictable and infectious as the virus itself.

Andrea Speed’s spectacular talent ensures that we are able to absolutely understand and empathize with Roan, one of the most unique characters I have come across.  A virus child who lives and thrives against all odds and laws of nature, Roan’s “fuck you’ attitude is at odds with his bruised romantic soul.  Roan constantly lives with the truth that he is mutating along with the virus and we feel his terror and pain as the virus mutates and shifts his view of himself from human to monster.  One of the threads that keeps him tethered to his human status are his boyfriend/husbands as Dylan continues to anchor him in the present as Paris’ ghost visits his dreams to comfort and annoy. Roan’s such a complicated character as one would expect of a man bedeviled by his abusive past and mutating physique.  One can be reading along, laughing out loud as Roan muses on the state of music, societal goings on, whatever grabs his attention and then suddenly plunges us into tears with remembrances of Paris, the victims that cross Roan’s path, and Roan’s very real fears for his future.  From his music to his t-shirts and books, Roan is a character so remarkable in dimension that  finding words to do him justice is confounding at times. I may not be able to explain satisfactorily explain the beauty that is Roan but it is clear from book one that he is one that will always stay with you.

Dylan is another unexpected character who continues to grow with the series.  As the boyfriend with the unenviable task of  following in the footsteps of Roan’s soulmate, Paris, it would be as easy to dismiss him as other characters in the book do.  A Zen Buddhist, his calm outlook is constantly under attack by his role in Roan’s life,  and by Roan himself as his infected status throws them all into daily turbulence.  Dylan has always seemed to accept his secondary place with Roan, but that starts to change here as the doubts creep in.  I found this so authentic and wonder where Andrea Speed will take this romance.  It is Roan’s nature to be a monogamist but there is more to be considered here.  The lion’s needs must be brought into the equation as well and here the relationship with Dylan seems less certain.  The lion clearly loved Paris, a tiger shifter who was Roan’s equal if not more in so many ways. And as I watched Roan and Dylan struggle to maintain and strengthen their relationship, the thought remained in the back of my mind “what does the lion think of Dylan as a mate?” Can a lion accept a lesser human?  And for me their future together got blurry. And that just points up the strength of Andrea Speed’s writing.  She has the reader constantly thinking about the events and relationships in the story, nothing is concrete, everything is constantly shifting, including our perceptions.

Shift is divided into two stories as is typical of this series. The first is Shift. It is in this section that a wonderful group of characters is introduced, the Seattle Falcons, minor league hockey team.  While Roan has always had a small group of friends, with the addition of Grey, Scott, Tank and others, a  wonderfully crazy element of support for Roan has been met.  All strong, with a love for a fight, these modern warriors have depth beneath the hockey player stereotypes that made them instant favorites of mine, especially Grey.  I hope to see them often along with Holden, Dr. Rosenberg, Dee, Fiona and the rest of the circle that revolves around Roan.  The case Grey brings Roan is heartbreaking in content and conclusion.  Bloodbath is the second story in the novel and aptly named as the blood flows through all the events in this tale of vengeance and vigilante justice.  There is a common link of attacks between the two stories that  remains unsettled at the end as does so much else here.

The virus remains a phenomenal character all it own, as it’s continuing mutations bring new challenges, questions, and pain to Roan, Dylan and everyone else around him.  Andrea Speed has sprinkled some truly tantalizing notions throughout the novel, a sentence here, a snippet there, that had the ability to bring me to an absolute standstill when I extrapolated them out in my mind.  One involves a painting Dylan had in mind when thinking of Roan and wondering if it could happen.  Where that thought took me made me breathless with anticipation for Roan and his future.

So this rollercoaster called Infected has come down from the stratosphere, depositing me earthbound once more, leaving me with more questions,more stymied and with more anticipation than ever before. What a magnificent job Andrea Speed has done with Shift.  I can’t wait to see where she takes Roan next.  I will be sure to follow.

Cover:  These Infected covers are fantastic.  Art work by Anne Cain, design by Mara McKinnon.  Dynamic in graphics and design, I just love them.  They are available also as wallpaper on Andrea Speed’s website.

The Infected series in order they should be read to fully understand the characters, their backgrounds and storylines:

Infected Prey

Infected Bloodlines

Infected Life After Death

Infected Freefall

Infected Shift