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REVIEW: Dry Run – Lolly Walter

Dry Run

Genre: LGBT Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic

LGBTQ+ Category: Bi, Gay

Reviewer: H.L.

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About The Book

In climate-ravaged Texas Territory, kids don’t live long enough to become adults. Joe has beaten the odds — at the price of his body and soul. For years, the smart, resourceful nineteen-year-old has been the star runner at sex tourism hotspot Flights of Fantasy. But he dreams of leaving Texas — and everyone in it — far behind.

Then a blue-eyed, blond-haired teenager wanders into Joe’s world and challenges him at every turn. Sheltered, lonely Devin didn’t know his whiteness made him rare. He ventured into the city to escape starvation, but he never imagined he’d have to depend on a guy like Joe.

As Joe trains and protects Devin, their tentative steps toward friendship leave Joe questioning his priorities. Hounded by a cruel employer and vengeful co-workers, concerned for Devin’s innocence, Joe struggles to maintain the carefully crafted illusion he’s built for himself.

When tragedy strikes and a young life hangs in the balance, Joe and Devin are forced to decide once and for all the kind of men they want to be.

The Review

Dry Run is an action/dystopia, set in a bleak climate-changed future where racial tensions have fractured America. How this happened and when it happened are left ambiguous, and the revelation of this small snap-shot of the world’s state is handled very well through steady revelations weaved naturally into the narrative.

We’re first introduced to Joe, the top runner and prostitute at Flights of Fantasy, a sex tourism company. Joe is only nineteen, but this isn’t a YA novel – as a young man who had spent years on the streets and has been exposed to the worst humanity has to offer, Joe is no innocent. He has made himself the most exclusive service on offer to the tourists, but this has come at the cost of sacrificing himself to the cruel and despicable boss, Boggs. Joe is determined to escape this life one day, to go north and find his father – and he sees his chance to do so when a new employee, Devin, is brought on board.

Joe is the voice and driving force of the book. Already fast-paced, with action and characters well-built into the plot, Joe’s third-person narration is deeply engaging and makes for a compelling read.

He’s a layered protagonist with understandable motives. He is both selfless and, in a brave choice by the author, incredibly selfish; early in the book, he ruthlessly ditches his running partner Bea, whose circumstances I couldn’t help but ache for. Bea is a superb side-character; her pain and her anger was visceral and understandable, and I wished we’d seen far more of her. It would have been easy to hate Joe for his decision and the fallout of it, but the author still manages to make me care about Joe despite his actions. And oh, boy, are there consequences for his actions.

Devin, Joe’s love interest, is a decent character as well, though I felt was less developed than Joe. A sheltered white boy with internalised homophobia, Devin undergoes his own arc, which despite me finding it a little too easy (particularly the swift build of Joe’s and Devin’s relationship from work partners to friends to lovers) was still well-written and made me care for him as well.

The book deals with racial conflicts and issues that will no doubt make some readers uncomfortable. Whiteness is valued as a selling point for the prostitutes, who are sold to the rich white New American tourists from the north. Only Devin, and the company’s boss Boggs, are white, and the book seems to use the set-up as a commentary on the harmful nature of white nationalism and white beauty standards.

While interesting, I did not feel that this commentary was a strength of the book, but rather a distraction from the characters and plot.

I also struggled to wrap my head around the structure of the company Flights of Fantasy and why such a niche in kinks was such a draw for sex tourism – but sometimes, one just has to suspend their disbelief to sit back and enjoy the narrative. 

Dry Run is only the first book in Joe’s and Devin’s story. Despite my issues with the worldbuilding and the sidelining of female characters, and the fact that almost every character is in love with Joe (he’s great, but come on!), Dry Run is a satisfying read on its own. There is plenty left ambiguous for the challenging journey ahead of Joe and Devin, which will no doubt be explored in the sequel, Flanked. If you are looking for a fast-paced m/m romance set in a dystopian world with compelling characters, give Dry Run a go.

The Reviewer

H. L. is a Australian writer of LGBT+ fiction. She holds a Master of Arts in International Relations (2015) and a Bachelor of Media in Communications and Journalism (2012), both from the University of New South Wales.

She is a lesbian of Jewish and of Middle Eastern (Egyptian) heritage and is an #OwnVoices writer. She has been writing stories since she was old enough to hold a pen. She is the author of M/M fantasy romance novels Heart Of Dust and Soul Of Ash, Books 1 & 2 of the Death’s Embrace series.

She has had two speculative short stories published: “The Collector” in the 2014 Future Times Award Collection A Tick Tock Heart, and “Entente” in the 2020 Twisted Stories Award Collection Just Alice.  

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