Deal With the Devil
Post-apocalyptic adventures? With librarians? Sign me up. Ever since I heard about the new Mercenary Librarians series, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. And with 2020 being, well, 2020, post-apocalyptic fiction felt very on point for me right now. While not perfect, Deal With the Devil is a strong series opener and I already know I want to read book two.
As this one opens, we learn that the power grid has collapsed and what was once the United States has descended into chaos. The few well-heeled and well-connected live in protected communities, while life for everyone else tends to be dangerous and full of deprivation in a world dominated by corporate interests that appear bent on protecting the few at the expense of the many.
In this environment, we see bands of mercenaries as well as grassroots groups of neighbors looking out for one another. Given current events, it’s a thought-provoking backdrop. So, what brings Knox and Nina together? Well, Knox is a genetically altered supersoldier who has escaped his corporate overlords. Unlike many in his situation, he and his friends still have a conscience. Their big drawback? Their genetic alterations come with kill switches that need constant hacking and tinkering to keep them from destroying these men from the inside out.
Knox’s trusted hacker has been captured and held for ransom. The price? Knox must find and produce Nina. Nina, for her part, lives with her friends and serves as something of a librarian, sharing her knowledge with her neighbors. However, her real money comes from getting her hands of caches of data and artefacts from before the world descended into chaos. When Knox encounters Nina, he waves the idea of a Library of Congress stash in front of her. Getting her hands on this information would be valuable in many ways, so while Nina is wary by nature, she and her friends reluctantly join forces with Knox, not knowing they are being led into betrayal.
Having a hero who is out to betray the heroine from the get-go is obviously a tough sell. The plotline worked for me because the author does a good job of showing the reader Knox’s conscience, and we see him weighing his actions as well as considering and reconsidering his choices. As the book moves along, one can tell that Knox is trapped in an untenable situation and that he is trying to find a way out of it.
Nina is a strong heroine, and much easier to like from the start. Though Knox doesn’t know it, Nina did not start out as a librarian, and she has one heck of a big secret. She’s a clone. She, too, has fled an evil corporation; in this case, it’s one that cloned humans such as Nina and her now-dead sisters. Nina is smart and despite being conditioned to do otherwise, she cares about those around her. Her ability to care and to maintain hope despite the situations in which she has been placed made me gravitate to her as a reader, and one could clearly see how it would draw Knox as well.
I love a good road romance and since much of this novel unfolds over the course of the trip to betray Nina/find the LoC hiding place, I got sucked right into Knox and Nina’s travels and their world. Each comes accompanied by a group of trusted friends and the various personalities of the group are well developed over the course of the story. I liked seeing the various players bond as a found family, and I want to revisit their world.
My biggest quibble with this book is that we’re constantly told how central Nina is to her neighborhood and we see the neighbors’ loyalty to her and her friends, but we see little of her in action as an information broker there. Mention is made of it, but often in passing, and I would have liked to see more of the information sharing side of the librarians in action. Likewise, we hear about the Rogue Library of Congress (RLoC) at the beginning of the story, but since so little is made of the librarian and information broker side of the Mercenary Librarians, it’s easy to forget about it in the midst of the other action and then be surprised when discussion of the RLoC cache pops up again near the end of the book. On the other hand, given the amount of worldbuilding in this first volume of the series, I did come away wondering if all these caches of information would play a larger role in future books.
This book is full of thrilling action, satisfying romance, and moral questions that will keep a thoughtful reader pondering. If post-apocalyptic romance strikes your fancy, definitely pick up Deal With the Devil.
Note: This book contains discussion of past memories of abuse/trauma