Series: The Scorpius Syndrome

Storm Gathering by Rebecca Zanetti

Storm Gathering by Rebecca ZanettiStorm Gathering by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome #4
Published by RAZ INK LLC on September 19th 2017
Pages: 359
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three-stars

Even before surviving the Scorpius bacterium, Greyson Storm was a lone wolf navigating minefields. As a kid, he learned to take a hit and find safety. As an adult, he joined the military and quickly learned how to protect and defend. When the world ended, he created a mercenary camp with military precision, no entanglements, and a promise to avenge a fallen friend. As part of that vow, he kidnapped Maureen Shadow, but now that he has let her go, her blue eyes and intriguing mind keep haunting him…

As possibly the only Biotechnology Engineer still living, Maureen Shadow might be humanity’s one hope to survive the aftermath of Scorpius, making her frighteningly valuable to both allies and enemies. Even after sexual tension explodes with Greyson, she’s not sure which camp he belongs to—friend or foe? Worse yet, survival may mean thwarting his prime mission, putting her in even more peril. When danger and seduction collide, there is no safety in this new world.

The rough, primal dystopian society that Rebecca Zanetti has created after the Scorpius bacterium struck is an exciting one. Point is, there’s a rich complexity in this bleak world split into factions populated by interesting characters who can and do add value to the plot.

But a pattern for the Scorpius Syndrome series emerges after going through 4 books: there’s a pairing that shows much promise (I definitely fall for the hooks left in previous books), but the plot’s momentum is never allowed to become an unstoppable juggernaut because it gets choked by certain twists, turns and irrational character behaviour that turn my enthusiasm dial down. Zanetti chooses instead, to deal with certain tropes that could and should have been left by the wayside in this brave new world, particularly so in ’Storm Gathering’.

I do like the shift in the storytelling to the Mercenaries and I’ve wanted Greyson’s and Moe’s story for a long while after seeing their interactions, but it was disappointing with the way they’ve been developed and presented here. Not that I’d expected a straight-up enemies-to-lovers type of story, but so much of the first half is filled with squabbles between the Vanguard guys and the Mercs, with Maureen as a bartering object to be passed to and fro between both camps. It isn’t helpful that Moe herself can’t decide what to do or where to stay; nor can Greyson decide where his loyalties should lie.

Their holding pattern got frustrating after a while, especially since I was hankering after a more developed story arc that should have built towards a final confrontation between the Elite Forces and Vanguard/the Mercs but only came partially to fruition towards the end. Greyson instead, pursues his own agenda of revenge, allows this goal to drive his alliances and generally vacillates so much in his decision-making that I began to wonder if the narrative arc was indeed getting anywhere. The weird spurts of humour don’t help either (which I can appreciate but thought those came with bad timing), and made the ’Storm Gathering’ feel like a parody at times when I’d actually expected rising tension and several standoffs.

The stuttering pacing does pick up when an uneasy alliance is forged almost incidentally between Jax and Grey but the story ends just as it gets good. Objectively, it’s understandable why Zanetti chooses to deal with a nemesis at a time—the Pure Church appears to be next in the series with Damon’s story coming up—but just as I’ve been waiting for this entire series to culminate into something bigger, my enthusiasm is flagging here.

three-stars

Justice Ascending by Rebecca Zanetti

Justice Ascending by Rebecca ZanettiJustice Ascending by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome, #3
Published by Zebra on January 31st 2017
Pages: 400
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three-stars

Before surviving the Scorpius bacterium, Tace Justice was a good ole Texas cowboy who served his country and loved his mama. After Scorpius, the world became dark, dangerous, and deadly... and so did he. The Vanguard medic is stronger, faster, and smarter than before, but he's lost the line between right and wrong. His passion is absolute, and when he focuses it on one woman, there's no turning back for either of them.
Sami Steel has been fighting to survive right alongside Tace, convincing the Vanguard soldiers she's one of them. In truth, Sami is a former hacker turned government agent who worked at The Bunker, where scientists stored both contaminants and cures. Only she knows the location, and she's not telling. Yet when sexual fire explodes between her and Tace, she'll face even that hell again to save him.

Post-apocalyptic life continues in the Vanguard camp as people adjust to this new reality, but Sami Steele’s past is coming back to haunt her especially when Tace Justice’s infection by the Scorpius bacterium shows lingering effects that only she can help solve. But along with that, there are threats from frenemies, other enemies as well as the number of zombie/rippers that still prowl around the deserted streets. In addition, there’s an elusive bunker which Vanguard thinks of as ‘paradise’ which could contain the cure to the infection—but according to what Sami actually has experienced, they don’t know the half of it.

There is such toughness in Sami that would certainly draw admiration from the most jaded of readers: her backstory is finally revealed and I liked how deeply it ties into the deepening plot of this whole series even as she tries to outrun her past to find belonging in Vanguard. On the other hand, it was way harder to like Tace, even if Zanetti provides an acceptable reason for the way he has been behaving: either the infection has loosed the darkness that has always been lurking in him, or it has given him a side that simply permits him to be an arse to people and to women. Obsessive, suddenly over-protective with mood swings that would most probably classify him as bipolar or schizophrenic, I felt rather uncomfortable with the way these changes are acted out as he later takes some of those parts of him out on Sami sexually.

But as much as Tace seems to be someone completely different from the person he used to be, I couldn’t quite get a grasp on why he seemed to regain his sense of smell—the full effects of the bacterium aren’t made clear to us—or his emotional feelings only when he seems to be near Sami, even if we’re told that he has been fighting off his attraction to her for months yet going at it with other women in the meantime because he’s insatiable. Why the sudden, inexplicable acting on the attraction to her after his hook-ups with other women? Or is this merely spurred on by the secrets he knows she has been keeping? Not having answers to these questions made it consequently harder to fully buy into this pairing, let alone get invested into the declarations of love when I couldn’t see their connection past Tace’s darker needs and how he thinks Sami fulfils them.

Definitely not a standalone, ‘Justice Ascending’ jumps straight into the already-convoluted plot but ends feeling very much unfinished, as the multiple, diverging subplots still stay dangling rather loosely in front of us even as Tace and Sami cuddle into their HEA. I was engrossed in the breathless action, the widening scope of this ruined world that Rebecca Zanetti has created and the interplay of allies and enemies as battle-lines are drawn and redrawn, but less than thrilled by a lukewarm pairing that didn’t seem to have any impetus apart from a sudden, developing lust and other darker emotions that the plague apparently helped manifest. There isn’t any indication that this series is going to go on but with so many loose threads, it’d be a shame if it didn’t, given all the potential pairings and plot-lines that Zanetti has already developed in this one.

three-stars

Shadow Falling by Rebecca Zanetti

Shadow Falling by Rebecca ZanettiShadow Falling by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome #2
Published by Zebra on August 30th 2016
Pages: 400
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four-stars

Before the Scorpius Syndrome tore through North America and nearly wiped out the population, Vivienne Kennedy was the FBI’s best profiler. The bacteria got her anyway. But she survived. She recovered. And when she woke up from a drug-nightmare of captivity, her skills as a hunter of men had gone from merely brilliant to full-on uncanny. Her mysterious rescuer wants her to put them to the test. But no matter how tempting he is, with his angel’s eyes and devil’s tongue, Vinnie knows she shouldn’t trust him.
If the FBI were still around they would rate Raze Shadow as one of the bad guys. His military training can’t wipe out his association with the Mercenaries, the most feared gang in a thousand miles. His loyalties are compromised. He won’t even tell Vinnie his real name. But there’s no FBI in the new America of fear and firepower, only instinct and risk.
And the way his arms wrap around Vinnie tells its own story. Whatever else Raze is concealing, he can’t hide his desire . . .

Time has a way of blurring my memories of books that I should remember better, but it’s always a feat to be pulled back into a series that’s been left by the wayside for a while. ‘Shadow Falling’ is a breathtaking return to Rebecca Zanetti’s vision of a post-apocalyptic world wrecked by the Scorpius virus and a brilliant one at that, unravelling the breadth and depth of the ruinous landscape, its core players and the divided camps where sides must be taken.

It’s part-movie and part-gamer’s paradise, thoroughly absorbing yet still expanding richly with every story – rightfully so – while guaranteeing a HEA for each featured couple per book. It’s Vinnie’s and Raze’s turn here, a setup cleverly written into the first book and so impactfully scored in the first chapter of this one that made me bait on Zanetti’s enticing hooks.

I found Raze a more believable – albeit typical – hero than Vinnie as a female lead whose constant babbling and juvenile actions made her sometimes annoying and way below her station. More’s the pity because a greater explication of her backstory and a comparison of how much she’s changed for instance post Scorpius, really could have shaped her into a more convincing character than what we know of her current (and sometimes flighty self) right now. Raze/Vinnie is a pairing that, while more than decently written, somehow took a back seat to the world-building and the potential pairings Zanetti has already put in motion for her sequels (and it’d better not end with the third book). For all the steamy scenes and the conflict, Vinnie and Raze’s relationship just didn’t quite rock me to the core, despite the feral, neanderthal element infused in Zanetti’s alpha heroes given the context and circumstance and the steamy scenes that were nothing short of explosive. In the scramble for a new pecking order, Raze and Vinnie are simply another couple who struggle for belonging.

What I thought missing was a fuller picture of the Scorpius bacterium’s destruction, the actual effects it had on our lead characters rather than glossed over speculations and conclusions that didn’t quite satisfy. But maybe that’s the bigger draw of post-apocalyptic stories as well beyond its characters that I was feeling which reading the story: the violent, brutal state of chaos where alliances and relationships needed to be forged anew in the very recent detritus of the collapse of the world we’re intimately familiar with. And that’s what I want more of here. But then, with Sami/Tace and possibly Moe/Grey on the way, I want a lot more of that too.

four-stars

Mercury Striking by Rebecca Zanetti

Mercury Striking by Rebecca ZanettiMercury Striking by Rebecca Zanetti
Series: The Scorpius Syndrome #1
Published by Zebra on January 26th 2016
Pages: 384
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four-stars

With nothing but rumors to lead her, Lynn Harmony has trekked across a nightmare landscape to find one man—a mysterious, damaged legend who protects the weak and leads the strong. He’s more than muscle and firepower—and in post-plague L.A., he’s her only hope. As the one woman who could cure the disease, Lynn is the single most volatile—and vulnerable—creature in this new and ruthless world. But face to face with Jax Mercury…
Danger has never looked quite so delicious…

A meteorite from space was all it took to change the world that we know. Ravaged by a hardy strain of bacterium called Scorpius, humanity now lives in fear and in clusters of zombies (the infected, a.k.a. Rippers) and humans (yet untouched). Months after the plague, Lynne Harmony comes in search of Jax Mercury, the hard soldier who has secured territory of his own – for protection and a kill, in exchange for vital information that could very well change the tide of war.

While I wasn’t entirely enthused by the relationship developing between Jax and Lynne – there were near-schizophrenic moments of fiery accusations, shades of dominance/submission, campy lines, spanking and sex – I did like Rebecca Zanetti’s world building of a post-apocalyptic future peppered with flesh-eating zombies that I could see myself getting lost in. There’s a backstory that’s still unfolding, villains who are on the run and cliffhangers moments waiting to happen, all of which are hallmarks of a potentially good series – and these are nothing less that what I would expect from good post-apocalyptic fiction that pushes human nature and desires to the extreme. I wasn’t entire convinced that ‘Mercury Striking’ was sufficiently thought-provoking, but it definitely provided hours of entertainment and time in a ravaged world that Zanetti has brought to life. Already, there’s a good setup for the mysterious Raze’s own book, which is way too long in coming.

four-stars