Rating: 5 out of 5 for the series (so far)
In the 1960's a virus was loosed that killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. A vaccine was created, but the vaccine had...side effects. For those "infected" with the virus, five days out of every month they transform into a feral feline - cougar, lion, leopard, panther, or tiger. This is not a neat transformation, either: it can take an hour or more, and is excruciatingly painful as all of the bones break, the body is re-formed, and mass is redistributed. The bigger the feline, the greater the toll it takes on the body, so while there are many cougars, tigers have a diminishingly short lifespan.
Roan McKichan is an oddity. Where almost all other infecteds caught the virus later in life, he was born with the virus and somehow lived when all other virus children usually die shortly after birth. A former cop and now a private detective, he is coming to an understanding with the lion inside him and becoming something the world has never seen before.
To say these books blew me away would be an understatement. Andrea Speed has created a world that is mesmerizing, and populated by unforgettable characters. Roan, first and foremost, is an utter smartass to anyone and everyone, with a history that explains why he must put up a tough-guy image to shelter his more caring and thoughtful self.
His boyfriend Paris, a tiger strain, is wonderful as well. He is cheerfully manipulative, taking advantage of his good looks and charisma any way that he can. Now, though, he has turned his life around and is, as they say, using his powers for good. The banter between these two is a joy to read, as they fall in love and quickly establish a cozy relationship both at work and at home. The side characters can be a little stereotypical (Roan's gruff cop friend for instance), but that is easily overlooked.
I read these books slightly out of order (Prey, Paris, Bloodlines) and I think that that is probably a good way to do it. Prey is actually two novellas put together, though they complement each other well. It is a great introduction to the world of Infected, and the reader quickly gets a feel for the flow Speed's writing. If I had one complaint it would be the sudden changes in point of view in the narration, jumping from Roan to Paris and back (and in one chapter to a tertiary character altogether!).
Paris is a prequel to Prey, showing how Paris and Roan met and fell in love. It provides great backstory for the two, and really allows you to become invested in the characters. The downside to this is when you get to Bloodlines. Here, the tiger strain is catching up to Paris, and even as Roan tries to maintain normalcy and carry on their lives, there is no denying that Paris is dying. I won't kid you - there is no happy ending here. Even so, it's some of the most powerful writing I've come across lately. Yes, I was a weeping mess, and yet the trip was utterly worth it.
I take heart that this is just the start to the Infected series. There are six more books, plus various novellas and short stories. Normally I would look at such a sprawling series in askance and wonder if the author is diluting the stories as they go, but from what I have read I have every faith that all of these will be excellent and enjoyable reads.Finally, one last note: Although I came by these books through the M/M Romance genre, they are so much more than that. This is Urban Fantasy where the characters happen to be gay and have gay relationships. The bedroom door is closed in this series, which is to say that any sexytime takes place off-page. If the idea of romances has ever put anyone off, this is a great place to start to see what you’ve been missing!