I’m now a book reviewer at Reedsy Discovery, a site that allows me to read and review books that haven’t been released yet, and this is one of the first books I’ve been able to read early in exchange for an honest review. Not only am I very thankful to those who gave me the opportunity, but I’m thankful one of my first reads could be this, a book that masterfully captures the evil of the pitch-perfect and the fear of modern citizens, especially teens who grow up feeling like adults are smashing their future.
So, to give a synopsis, let’s start with the silver plates, shall we? A boot that looks like it’s worn by the military. A church with a rooftop peak higher than probably every other building around it. A guillotine, right next to the one of said church. A baseball bat. A doll that could be a baby’s best friend or cursed doll Annabelle’s sister, and both are unsettling. A gun. Yeah. In the decaying city of New Bethlehem, Colt Jenkins is going through life now used to hearing explosions, and would not be surprised if one day he woke up buried under the rubble of his house, unable to breathe and hearing the mocking laughs from the private army that terrorizes and blames others for when things turn drastic. After a contentious presidential election, this one either worse than in 2016 or a different timeline where it was 2016, first the city was able to eliminate all homosexuals, and they’re still working out the kinks with Muslims and the general bogeymen that are crafted by racist Caucasians who hide behind dominating Christian faith when they are as far from what it really stands for as humanly possible.
Colton’s family is in complete disarray, and they try to keep to the rules that prevent them from being shot but so much seems to change every day, especially grounds for being sniped. Every day Colt is grateful to survive, especially when he says a phrase in public so diminishing of the lord himself that he’s subject to lashings that sometimes kill. He doesn’t know what’s to happen to him, but one thing he’s sure of is he doesn’t want to go down without a fight.
So Colton Jenkins is the main character, but the true star of this first book in the New America series is the middle-aged Katharine Shay, who is one of the most effective antagonists I’ve read in years. She uses her intellect of a long-time cherished and feared deity to force her will on the city in “his” name, and she uses this power to indirectly threaten anyone who could dare oppose her. With death. With usually-fatal public beatings.
She’s the perfect personification of evil and hypocrisy from system abuse. Let me put it this way. Most cars run on gas because there are gas stations everywhere. No less-convenient charging stations. Heterosexuals, Caucasians and Christians are protected and loved by a variety of economic systems, especially the media who often try not to antagonize them, because they have high power of influence, and pin the blame elsewhere. When a system is comfortable even if it’s problematic, and there’s no demand for change, the high-ups on the chain can become authoritarians. With Katharine, her bible, and her sadistic bodyguards, I rest my case.
This sort of corruption is abundant around a book that is quite well-paced because it knows its situation and knows how to make us care about it. We’re immediately thrown into an Orwellian world where you’d think Colt or someone in the family should just get some guns and masks and let Katharine see how she likes it already (which sounds extreme, but read the book and you’ll be on board too). But Colt has a family. Colt’s parents have kids to protect. They’d have to leave their jobs and their steady incomes and run away with a sick child (Eliza) alongside them. They’d be giving the authorities permission to shoot them on sight if they couldn’t escape New Bethlehem, more prison than city. So a strategy of the family is to wait out the horrors, kidding themselves as they see if someone else will come and liberate their lives. I cared about Colt and his friends and family, and I was scared when they had to go into danger.
There’s romance, and not only is it not heavy-handed, I had no idea who it would be. I had to keep guessing between Joey and Jenny, and there’s room for more exploration of this in the future. I was grateful the romance was in a back seat in this sort of instance, because I feel Colt and the situations he and his friends were in prevented him from thinking about it too much. It would’ve been a cart-before-the-horse instance.
Now, the climax involves planning a peeing schedule which feels faulty, irrelevant and unfittingly humorous. But everything else really hit the mark. I am flattered and grateful that Tyler referenced my Reedsy Discovery review for his book. He deserves the praise and attention, and I can’t wait to hear when the second book is loaded up with the safety off.