Overall I thought this was a very enjoyable sci-fi/dystopian romance about two very different “variant” men whose powers, personalities, and histories often keep them very separated from others, but who end up fitting very well with each other.
What I liked:
- I’ve only read one other work by Martinez, the sci-fi epic adventure Gravitational Attraction, which I also enjoyed. I like Martinez’s style. She packs in a lot of action and activity without overwhelming the story too much, and she moves in directions that are not easy to forecast ahead of time, which means lots of interesting surprises story-wise. (Gravitational Attraction is a great example of this. That story goes way beyond its blurb.)
Rarely Pure and Never Simple shares that trait. The story starts off far in the future, where our world has been darkened by pandemics and other events, and where “variants” (people with special abilities, kind of like mutants in X-Men) have been born and are now living amongst “normal” humans, although they have to deal with discrimination and fear from the majority.
Cranky, abrasive Blaze, who is a “sparker” (can create fire with his hands) is brought in as the muscle to protect Damien, a “locator” who has the ability to find people, and who has been tasked with finding a group of missing variant children. What makes Damien a little different from the variant norm that Blaze usually deals with is his extreme anxiety that causes a lot of OCD patterns and makes him afraid of dealing with most people. Fortunately for Damien, Blaze has a keen understanding of what he needs to work, and gives him the space he needs without judgment.
The story moves on from there, and Martinez kept things up at a quick clip as the plot shifted from the school where the kids had studied to an extremist compound to a hidden sanctuary and so on. Damien is following the threads that he innately feels inside of him, leading him to find out what happened to the kids, and Blaze is right there with him, trying his best to protect a man who sometimes will run out of the car without notice, fueled by the intense need to find, and blind to the dangers that might be around him. Martinez’s ability to keep the plot shifting along meant that I was often (happily) surprised in how the story moved, and it really kept my interest.
- The main characters were great, sympathetic and appealing. It’s easy to fall for Damien, who was abused as a child, and who falls back on his OCD patterns to maintain control and feel safe. Blaze comes off as a bit of hardheaded jackass at first, but he quickly grows on you, especially as he realizes what things Damien needs, and responds accordingly without being condescending.
That was actually one of my favorite things about the story. Both Damien and Blaze had things that others might have seen as abnormal (or kinky, in regards to Blaze’s love of fun underwear), but they made efforts to understand and accept each other rather than trying to change or “fix.” Blaze gave Damien the space he needed, even if that meant extra time as Damien packed and repacked the car in the morning, and Damien found Blaze’s collection of lacey and outrageous undergarments as quite entrancing and sexy.
Big A+ points for not involving “healing sex” to fix Damien’s tics and fears. His anxiety does not go away through the story, but he does learn to be more comfortable and intimate with the one person who makes him feel safe.
So, really the characters and their developing relationship and how they worked and accepted each other were definitely my favorite parts. (I thought Blaze’s understanding of Damien’s anxiety issues was very refreshing and SEXY.)
- Speaking of sexy, this book is low on sexy times, but not sexy tension. There are a couple intimate scenes, but they do not overshadow the story. I actually appreciated that because it meant that Martinez wasn’t artificially trying to insert sexy times in between action set-pieces. (So no awkward instances of “We’re running from bad guys, so let’s have sex!” or “You’re terribly injured and tired, so let’s have sex!”) The few scenes she has make sense for the story and what was going on.
I also thought it was refreshing because what intimacy was there didn’t focus on specific sexual dynamics. Blaze might be a big strong guy, but he does like lacey thongs. Damien might be shorter and “pretty” to some, but he doesn’t get relegated immediately into the “bottom” drawer. I liked how Martinez steered away from some well-used patterns here, mostly by avoiding the issue of penetrative sex, which is fine. It’s one of those things that’s not necessary to reveal developing intimacy between characters.
What was a little harder:
- At around 58,000 words, it’s a good-sized novel, but I wished it was longer. Not just because I’d liked to read more about the characters (which I do; I like them a lot.), but also there’s a lot going on in the story, and a lot going on in the background of this future world (roving gangs, wildlings, government discrimination of variants, potential corruption in the variant superhero group The Guild, etc.) I wouldn’t have minded if it the story was given some more space to flesh out some of the scenes and background conflicts. (There’s a climactic-ish scene around the third quarter that moves quickly, but I wouldn’t have minded if that scene was a little longer and had some more conflict.)
- There’s not a Big Baddie here, and I don’t think it’s necessary to have a Big Baddie, but I missed some of the tension that a Big Baddie or something like that can bring to a story. There’s a lot of movement in the story, which is great for quick pacing, but I wished there was a little more tension. The baddies are kind of in the background more, and that dulled the edge of the last quarter, rather than have a ramp up.
- There’s a little bit of a love triangle. Not too much really, because the reader really knows what’s going on, but the MCs don’t. I liked the side character, but the fear over the potential love triangle felt a little inserted to add some angst and to create the reason why our heroes would eventually separate (but not for too long, so no worries there.)
- I love Damien, but for those who like a little hurt/comfort, he’s a little bit of woobie character that could fall into the broken man trope. It’s not too bad though. Martinez didn’t delve into deep h/c territory, which I appreciated, but he’s definitely a character that has some issues, and has people worrying about him on-page a lot, which if you’re an h/c fan, you’ll be good, but if you’re not at all, you might find it a little off-putting. (Again, I do appreciate that Martinez didn’t focus on “fixing” Damien though. That was a nice change of pace.)
Even with my few caveats, I really enjoyed the story, and I really liked the main characters, their relationship, and how they bounced off each other and fit together. I think Martinez is good at creating really appealing characters, very fast-paced, plot-driven stories, and very interesting sci-fi worlds.
I’m very happy I read it, and I’m definitely on board if there will be more stories with Blaze and Damien. (Their story has a nice ending here, but I would definitely line up to read more adventures with them. Plus, we’d get to see more of Blaze’s underwear choices!)
Originally reviewed for: