Book Title: Rarely Pure and Never Simple
Author: Angel Martinez
Publisher: Mischief Corner Books
Cover Artist: Natasha Snow
Release Date: June 28, 2022
Genres: Science Fiction, M/M Romance
Tropes: Enhanced Humans, Slow Burn Romance, Annoyances to Lovers
Themes: Minority oppression/exploitation, law vs. justice
Heat Rating: 3 flames
Length: 67 000 words
It is the first book in a new series and does not end on a cliffhanger.
@Archaeolibrary, @gaybookpromo, @AngelMartinezrr,
In his isolated cabin, variant Damien Hazelwood avoids human contact as much as possible to prevent attacks of blind berserker panic. But his rare talent as a locator makes him the go-to contractor for tricky missing person's cases and when agents bring him a troubling contract involving missing variant children, he finds it impossible to refuse. Licensed tracker Blaze Emerson can't help being irritated when he's expected to follow the strange, twitchy locator's lead on his latest case. He works alone, he's damn good, and as a variant sparker, he has both the fire and the firepower to take on anything out there. Though he has to admit there's something intriguing about a man who can find people with his brain. With vastly different temperaments and backgrounds, Damien and Blaze need to negotiate quickly how to work together if they're going to crack this case. Add in the sudden appearance of Blaze's outlaw ex, the perils of tracking in the wilds, and a maddening lack of discernible motive or method, and they soon find themselves in as much danger as the kids they're trying to rescue. Variant Configurations takes place in a future Earth where humanity is reclaiming its spot in a gradually healing world. This book contains mentions of past abuse, action-adventure style mayhem, and the beginning sparks of a slow burn, series-spanning relationship.
The ice around the weed bed glowed blue as first morning rays stretched tentative fingers across the lake. Even the sun was smart enough not to rush out of bed on a cold-as-a-penguin's-pecker Vermont morning. Damien, however, apparently suffered from some intellectual deficiency since he was out on the lake already with his ice chisel, chipping away at a likely spot for a fishing hole.
His breath ghosted in front of him, every gulp of air biting into his lungs. It wasn't that he liked the cold or enjoyed the self-sufficient, mountain-man lifestyle. He hated it. His hands always hurt. He was always hungry. It took him forever to warm his lonely bed at night no matter how many pairs of socks he put on, the frame rattling with his shaking for an hour or more.
Chip-chip-chip. The ice chisel on six-inch lake ice echoed back to him off his cabin in a strange, one-sided conversation.
The move wasn't for his health or even part of a dream of a better life. He had left Raleigh to escape. Yes, he could have taken it a step farther and vanished. Away from the coasts, out in the abandoned wilds to the west, he might have found somewhere to hole up. Much of the land surrounding the Mississippi was still poisoned, but farther out toward Kansas, the remains of chemical skirmishes diminished.
The life of a wilding was dangerous for a lone person, though, and the constant need to be on high alert against scavengers who roamed the wastelands would have worn him down to nothing within a few months. Here, he was close enough to civilization for relative safety, far enough away for some peace. He'd given a promise for a promise, after all—his promise to Dr. Parma that he would still take the jobs he was uniquely suited to and her promise that he would be a last resort.
Mostly, the arrangement worked.
Up here, they couldn't hound him so easily with every minute need. Up here, anyone seeking him out had to go to considerable trouble to reach him. They knew where he was, of course. The inconvenient locale enforced the mandate that they think long and hard before paying a call, and now they only showed up when they had exhausted other options.
So he pretended not to hear the crunch of the snow-crawler's treads as it trundled up the snow-crusted hill accompanied by the whisper-hum of its solar battery engine. Then he deluded himself a few more minutes with the fantasy of late-season sport fishermen. The voices, when they reached him, shattered his careful illusion.
Chip-chip-chip. If I ignore them this time, will they give up and go away? Probably not. Please go away.
"That's him? He's kinda puny," an unfamiliar voice rasped.
They hadn't sent Cummings? What idiot was in charge now? They'd sent some stranger as the messenger, someone who didn't understand him?
"Variants come in all the usual shapes and sizes, Wirth."
There was Cummings. Thank God for small favors.
"Is just one guy," Cummings snapped, obviously losing patience with what had to be a rookie.
Footsteps crunched through the snow toward him. Damien tried to block them out, but his muscles tensed. The terrible sensation of having someone walking up behind him crawled up his back on millipede legs.
"Wirth, hold up! You don't want—"
Something touched Damien's elbow. The millipede crawling up his spine leaped into his brain and exploded in a thousand spiny pieces. He whirled, snarling, and swept the ice chisel at whatever had put a hand on him without permission.
"Holy fuck!" A dark-haired man leaped back from the makeshift halberd. He fell on his ass and scrabbled backward on the ice, his eyes cow-patty huge in shock.
"I tried to warn you," Cummings said calmly from the bank. A squared-off man with salt-and-pepper hair, he was the perfect bland-faced federal agent. He stood with his hands in his trench-coat pockets, stance relaxed and nonthreatening. There was a reason they usually sent him alone instead of sending a team or someone from the Guild, as they'd done once or twice. Cummings didn't judge. Cummings understood Damien's boundaries. "Maybe you'll learn to listen now."
"He tried to fucking kill me!" The intrusive man, presumably Wirth, still scrambled backward as he failed to get his feet under him.
"No. You invaded his space without warning. You don't do that. I might kill you if you don't stop acting like a jackass," Cummings grated out, shaking his head. Then he gave a nod to Damien and said more evenly, "Hazelwood. Good to see you."
5 out of 5 (exceptional)
RARELY PURE AND NEVER SIMPLE is the first book in the Variant Configurations series and one I definitely want to return to.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world where variants are around but not classed as 'normal', Damien is a Locator, but a rare one as he can find people, not things. Blaze, on the other hand, is a Sparker, able to create and use fire. He also tracks people in the old-fashioned way. These two are thrown together to find a large number of missing children, learning to work together as they do so.
Both of these men are damaged in their own ways. They also have their own foibles which are introduced in such a way as to appear nothing out of the ordinary for each of them. My heart broke for Damien as I learnt more about his childhood, and I was so thankful Blaze was there for him.
This is a fast-paced story with brilliant characters, both main and supporting. I found the locations easy to see and accept due to the descriptions given. Going in, I knew it was a slow-burn AND the first in a series so I knew there wouldn't be a HEA in here. I did hope for a HFN though!
I am definitely left wanting more from this world, as well as Blaze and Damien. A fantastic read and highly recommended by me.
** same worded review will appear elsewhere **
* A copy of this book was provided to me with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read this book, and the comments here are my honest opinion. *
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Angel Martinez is the pen name of a writer of several genres who writes both kinds of queer fiction – Science Fiction and Fantasy. (What? There are others?) Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware, (and full time inside the author's head) Angel has one husband, one son, at least one cat at any given time, a changing variety of other furred and scaled companions, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.