Monday, November 5, 2018

Sacred Band

Joseph D. Carriker Jr.
Completed 11/01/2018, Reviewed 11/02/2018
4 stars

This book is an interesting take on the superhero trope.  It’s set in a world after superheroes have had their heyday.  Now they are not vigilantes making things right.  In fact, they’re trained by the government to control their gifts and live normal lives, having them redirect their gifts towards being productive members of society.  Of course, this doesn’t last long when LGBTQ and other disenfranchised youth start disappearing around the world and nobody else is helping to look for them.  This is a really good first novel by a local Portland author.  Though I thought the writing was a bit weak and some of the dialogue a little hokey, the plot and the humanity of the characters really made up for it. 

The story introduces us to Rusty, a young gay man living in Portland who has a superpower of sensing and manipulating magnetic fields.  He’s called an Echo, someone who has found themselves with a superpower after a strange natural event.  There are lots of Echoes, as strange natural events keep happening around the world.  They are normal like everyone else except for this one power.  Rusty’s best friend is Deosil (pronounced JESH-il), a transgendered woman who has the power to channel the earth’s energy.

There are also Originals, the first twenty-two people with superpowers.  They have multiple powers and are more like Superman.  The last group are the Empowered, people whom the government turned into superheroes.

Everything is basically going fine for Rusty until he realizes that a Facebook friend in the Ukraine has gone missing.  He believes that some terrible fate has befallen him because the Ukraine has been recriminalizing homosexuality and not pursuing the perpetrators of hate crimes.  Rusty enlists the help of Sentinel, a retired Original who also happens to be gay to go clandestinely to the Ukraine to find out what happened to his friend.  What they uncover is far more nefarious and leads to an ultimate showdown of good versus evil. 

What I liked best about the book was the portrayal of the characters.  They were all very human even though they have special powers.  They were all on the LGBTQ spectrum and all had struggled with coming out in some form or another.  Most of them were reluctant heroes as well, not really wanting to be in the spotlight, and certainly not intending to be role models for LGBTQ youth, but ending up that way.  I particularly could identify with Sentinel, whose real name is Mitch.  He’s came out in the eighties when his partner Radiant, another one of the Originals, was killed by an evil Original.  After a terrible media storm, he goes into seclusion trying to live his life as a normal human, until Rusty calls on him to help him in his quest to find the missing Ukrainian man. 

I liked the plot.  It’s very comic-bookish, with lots of action.  You can easily see this being translated into a graphic novel or a film.  But there’s also a lot of world-building and character development.  The first chapter was a little difficult, with a detailed explanation of the origins of the Originals, Empowered, and Echoes.  That’s followed by a fairly long buildup introducing Rusty and Deosil.  But it all works well and is highly readable.  That said, I thought the writing was a little lacking.  The prose was a little too basic, with no real style per se.  It’s told in third person omniscient following Rusty, but it could have been a little tighter with better word choices. 

I give the book four stars out of five.  I had a lot of fun with the book.  The entertainment value helped me forgive the weak prose.  It doesn’t have a tight ending, leaving it open for a sequel, which I would definitely read.

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