Quite often, when you meet an old friend after an extended gap, you are quickly reminded of those good times you’ve had together. Despite this, however, they are not the exact person you once knew. Sometimes, this is because they’ve changed, and you just don’t feel that connection. Other times, upon seeing them, you see how they have grown. They have matured, and while they are still that old friend, they have grown into the person they were destined to be. In the case of Dixon Reuel’s Blood Brute series, this ‘extended gap’ may only be about three and a half months (although it is longer than the mere days in between my readings of those first three books), but since reading those books, I have become reacquainted with this dear friend. And this dear friend has indeed matured in some beautiful ways.
While the title Strain of Four no doubt gives it away, this fourth entry in the Blood Brute series (following Rise of One, Fall of Two and Ebb of Three; be sure to click those links to read my reviews) continues the series’ trend of continuous improvement. Strain of Four is the most evocative book of this series to date, an emotional outing about loss, mourning and grief, about reminiscence of happier times, and about the question of whether it is time to move forward in your life (or, more accurately, in the case of the saga’s protagonist, Rise, your afterlife).
In my reviews for the previous entries, I have commented on the parallels to Covid-19 and the various lockdowns the world was subjected to (Reuel even dedicated Rise of One to 2020—a tradition she carries through to Strain of Four’s dedication). Thematically, this latest entry feels like the characters coming out of lockdown into a world that, while still full of danger, is trying to move past it. While the plot itself doesn’t feel entirely allegorical to our pandemic, the sense of parallels to the remaining anxiety of a “post-pandemic” world feel clear.
As Strain of Four continues from the events that took place in Ebb of Three, it is less concerned than its predecessors in getting the reader immediately caught up on previous events. While assuming that by this point in the series, you have likely read the first three, the story stands well enough alone that if you haven’t read these, you will be able to follow along. Strain of Four’s story and emotional crux are intrinsically linked to past events, and while this will resonate further with readers who have read along with Rise’s previous adventures, throughout, the story adds enough context that you will be aware of why the characters are acting and feeling the way they are. In fact, if this is indeed your first Blood Brute book, you will likely want to go back and read the first three (and then re-read this for the full emotional impact).
Strain of Four is an introspective story that will pull on the reader’s heartstrings. While a lot of its success is due to the previous books’ events (which I’m working to avoid spoiling in this review), it is a testament to Reuel’s writing throughout as to how well it brings up memories of those books and meditates on them. This wouldn’t be as successful as it is if it weren’t for beautifully written characters, both old and new, in particular Rise, and his point of view.
While I have spent a good portion of this review discussing Strain of Four’s emotional resonance, this book remains a book about the vampire/zombie apocalypse. At its core, vampires and zombies are rooted in horror, and while written more as an urban fantasy, this series includes various horror hallmarks, which it continues throughout. The pacing is methodical and deliberate as it builds suspense as well as a sense of mystery. There are many moving parts within Strain of Four, all of them great, and they coalesce beautifully, creating something even greater than the sum of its already wonderful parts.
At an estimated 241 pages on your favourite eReader (I don’t have an exact page count for the paperback and hardcover versions, but these are expected to be about 200 pages), Strain of Four is the shortest Blood Brute entry to date. Yet, despite a slightly shorter length, it brings an added sense of complexity to it as it moves its plot forward and tells the most emotionally mature story of the series. As the saga has continued, the author has improved upon her prose, and is making more economical use of her space.
The dialogue, too, is strong throughout. The characters all sound unique, and while the dialogue didn’t completely resonate with me in the earliest entries, which I attributed to stylistic decisions, the dialogue balances this style in a way that it feels entirely natural.
Despite being the fourth part in a series and the book not holding new readers’ hands, Strain of Four stands on its own as a complete experience. If you’re wary of books in a series feeling incomplete, requiring the entire collection to enjoy them, this is not a concern. As I mentioned, it does work best in context of the entire Blood Brute saga, but holds its ground as a standalone novel.
Without getting into detail, if this was the final Blood Brute novel, it would feel fitting, but I note the next entry, Myth of Five is due out by the end of the year. In no way does its continuation feel excessive; instead, I am excited to see where Reuel takes the series next. Strain of Four is Blood Brute’s finest achievement yet, the latest in a line of books that continually improve. If you’re a fan of either urban fantasy, horror, mysteries, or thrillers, if you enjoy vampires and/or zombies, or if you simply appreciate intimate character studies, you will find so very much to love here.
“Aye,” Rise admitted. He couldn’t summon a single ounce of panic or concern for people stuck in that mine. The crisp leaves that were left shushed and sighed about the oncoming winter; a good sound, a relaxing sound. Rise closed his eyes. Such deep exhaustion pulled on his every thread. He couldn’t muster concern for anything, not even himself, as exhaustion engulfed him, a barrier weakening and giving out within him, spilling that tiny casket of energy—the last gasp of vigor—that all people held onto greedily within themselves.Strain of Four Blood Brute, Book Four, Part 3 – “Winter,” Chapter 16: “If the Last Gasp Takes You”
Strain of Four: Blood Brute, Book Four was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Strain of Four is available in eBook, with paperback and hardcover versions to follow shortly, from retailers, including—but not limited to—Amazon.
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Interested in purchasing Strain of Four?
Why not get it from Amazon, via the handy link below? Please note, not only will you be supporting the author, you may also be supporting me by way of a small commission from any items purchased (and no, it won’t cost you anything extra!).Strain of Four: A Vampire / Zombie Apocalypse Novel (Blood Brute Book 4)