Dangerous Addictions by Naomi Bellina
Amazon KDP, 2016
Nothing gets my juices flowing like a well-written dystopian novel. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I find perverse satisfaction in visions of how much worse the world could be than it actually is. I also appreciate the imagination required to convincingly take today’s trends to their awful extremes, or to create new threats and horrors. Then there’s the pleasure to be gained from watching characters deal with the negative forces in their world. This can be exciting, even inspiring.
Or maybe I’ve just read too much Philip K. Dick.
By the time I was a few pages into Dangerous Addictions, Naomi Bellina’s new scifi thriller, I was hooked. Welcome to the Secure States of America, where all citizens have been quarantined after a devastating terrorist bio-attack that killed millions and destroyed the cognitive capabilities of millions more. Since the emergency, prior to the start of the book, the government has consolidated its control over the remaining population. Everyone is micro-chipped for identification purposes. No one can leave the country, though travel within its borders has been made simple and free—to distract people from the fact that those borders are actually prison walls.
Riley wants out. A brilliant hacker with a criminal past, he’s consumed by the desire to defeat the surveillance apparatus of the SSA. When he develops a mysterious ability to control electric fields, he realizes this power could provide the wedge he’s been looking for. However, exercising his talent wreaks havoc with his body. He needs to know more: where the power comes from, how to control it, how to keep it from destroying him.
As the only member of her family undamaged by the Malik virus, Danika is overwhelmed with survivor’s guilt—guilt compounded by the belief that her own super power caused the accidental death of her fiancé. Danika can sense and control the muscles in other people’s bodies. Like Riley’s power, hers appeared suddenly a few years after The Annihilation. She wonders if she might be able to use her abilities to somehow heal the fractured minds of her mother and brother. That vision is what keeps her sane.
Riley’s and Danika’s paths cross as they are searching for others with similar unexplained powers. They join forces in an uneasy alliance, but there is little trust between them, as each one puts personal goals first. However, enemies are hot on the trail of the same information pursued by Riley and Danika, people and organizations who do not hesitate to use murder or torture to get what they want.
Dangerous Addictions is not a relaxing book. Ms. Bellina ramps up the tension, as Riley and Danika try to hide in a world where constant scrutiny by the authorities is the norm. The book moves quickly, from one crisis (and one city) to another. Pieces of the puzzle gradually fall into place, but I was a bit disappointed to discover that much remains unexplained by the end of the book, presumably because this is the first in a series.
Both protagonists are intriguing, multi-faceted characters. Danika’s impulsiveness gets her into trouble, but she’s rescued by her quick wit and a brazen willingness to do whatever needs to be done to survive. Riley’s brooding cynicism is offset by a streak of kindness that embarrasses him. There’s a spark of physical attraction between them from the start, but they don’t act on their impulses for a long time.
Most of what I’ve read by Ms. Bellina would be categorized as erotic romance. This book doesn’t fit neatly into that genre (or any single genre, really). When Riley and Danika finally get together, the sexual tension is resolved, but not the emotional conflicts. The treatment was far more realistic than in most romance.
Overall, I really enjoyed Dangerous Addictions, though I have to say, I’m not sure where the title comes from. The series title seems much more appropriate: “Messed-Up Heroes”. That describes both Riley and Danika pretty well.
(I freely chose to review this book, having read other work by the same author.)