Cat and Jax are private investigators, bad-ass martial artists, and exes. Though their marriage failed because of their inability to cope with their traumatic pasts, they still work beautifully together and have sizzling sexual chemistry. When they get hired to investigate the leaders of a cult - former conjoined twins Tomo and Joy, who have poorly defined psychic powers that may involve ectoplasmic tentacles - they must go undercover in the cult's sexual healing workshop for distressed couples!

Portions of this novel are just as excellent as it sounds. I am a total sucker for the "undercover at a leather bar/sex club/sexual healing retreat" scenario, and also love stories about bad-ass partners. And hey, not just psychic kids, but psychic conjoined twins! Steven Barnes, you just go on exploring your id - I will always be along for the ride.

Unfortunately, it's also sprawling and messy, often dissolving into overheated and hard-to-follow descriptions of sex and psychic experiences. It reads much like an early attempt at the much more successful Charisma (and has a cool link with the also more successful Blood Brothers.) I wouldn't recommend this to start with, but if you already like Barnes, it's worth a read.

Warning for violence, sexual abuse, racial slurs, and a brief but memorable instance of anal tentacle rape.
A group of at-risk kids are the unknowing subjects of an experiment intended to maximize their potential. But the experiment goes horribly wrong, as such experiments inevitably do. One daycare center becomes the subject of a notorious trial when all its kids start having violent and sexual nightmares; none of them recall any actual abuse, but the center goes under anyway. Journalist Renny Sand covers the trial, and is surprised by the wise-beyond-their-years self-possession of all the child witnesses.

Years later, someone is methodically murdering the children involved in the experiment. Renny starts researching, and finds that the entire story leads back to Alexander Marcus, an African-American legend who might have become President, but was mysteriously assassinated long ago.

The middle is a bit draggy and also features a scene so homophobic that I almost threw the book across the room. (Dude! Just because they’re gay bodybuilding thugs does not mean they are rapist gay bodybuilding thugs!) However, after that moment of massive fail, the scattered narrative threads start twining together in such a compelling manner that book-throwing became impossible, at least for me. If the homophobia isn’t a dealbreaker, I recommend this for its extremely suspenseful climax, a cool and original twist on the old “build a better human” idea, a very believable sixty-eight-year-old action heroine (former Secret Service), and, of course, my favorite thing, (almost) psychic kids. The prose is much better than in Blood Brothers, too.

One of the central plotlines, which I won’t get into too much detail on due to spoilers but which becomes clear in general terms early on, is that the dead hero Marcus might have had a very nasty secret. This is one case in which the author’s race did affect my reading of the book: if Barnes was not black, it would have been hard not to read this as “of course the African-American heroic legend is really [something awful].” But since Barnes himself is African-American and can be presumed to be conscious of those sorts of stereotypes, I read it as a take on the classic nightmare of any member of an oppressed minority: that the person held up as the great hero of your race will turn out to have feet of clay, and then, because you don’t have the privilege of being judged individually, everyone else will take that as a commentary on your entire race.

Like Woody Allen’s “Jew eat?” bit in Annie Hall (a joke about seeing anti-Semitism everywhere, even in the inquiry "Did you eat?"), which is self-deprecating humor coming from a Jew that would be plain deprecating coming from a gentile, some things come across differently depending on who’s saying them – if for no other reason than the presumption that at least the author is aware of what the stereotypes are, and so is presumably deliberately trying to do something with them. Though, of course, intent is not a guarantee of success, unconscious stereotyping can affect anyone, and I’m sure some Jews did find “Jew eat? No? Did’jew?” offensive regardless of the author. Anyway, that was my take on Marcus; yours may be different.

I note with regret but without surprise that there are no black people on the cover, just a pair of disembodied eyes.

Click here to buy it from Amazon: Charisma
AWESOMESAUCE.

I have reproduced the back cover copy once more, but this time with corrections and additions. Original copy in italics.

Austin Tucker was a Green Beret, a man with lightning reflexes and the training to use them. He also benefits from magically enhanced senses and speed - something his father taught him and said runs in the family. But his life was shattered one Thanksgiving night when strangers invaded his home and killed his son, his daughter, and his wife. Actually, it's his daughter who cries out a strange warning and them spontaneously combusts. The heartbroken Tucker is arrested, convicted, and sent to jail, where he becomes so depressed that he starts hanging out with white supremacists, all the time impotently longing for revenge on the killers of his family.

Derek Waites was once an outlaw computer hacker, the infamous Captain Africa. Now he designs computer games. Someone has just tried to kidnap his son, while his daughter cried a strange warning and burst into flames. This is wrong. Her hair starts smoking, but because she inherited her great-great-great grandmother's magic nightgown with hair woven into it, she was able to get under a cold shower in time.

The two men have nothing in common - Tucker is a white man from the suburbs. Waites is a black street hustler trying to go straight. Terrible description of Derek - he comes from an upper-middle-class background, his hacking is limited to pranks and one illegal act of somewhat justified revenge-via-theft, and there is no street hustling involved.

But they are brothers in the same cause. If Tucker and Waites can resolve their differences long enough to work together, they can defeat an ancient evil. Between them they have the skills and the knowledge to break an ancient cycle of supernatural predation, and save the lives of a generation of children.

That part is all true. And just as fun as it sounds! Barnes' writing style matches his pulp action plot, though luckily it either gets less clunky as he goes along or else I got used to the clunking. But the energy, fast pace, likable characters, touching family relationships, sometimes dark humor, blessedly accurate portrayal of Los Angeles, and thoroughly cracktastic plot elements make this book quite a treat, if you like this sort of thing. I know I do! Especially when it involves both martial arts and psychic kids.

There are some serious elements - slave history and the Rodney King riots are an integral part of the story - but they give the story depth rather than weighing it down. I also liked that Barnes' characters appreciate physically strong women. At one point the omniscient narration admiringly compares Derek's ex-wife's body to that of a "talented semi-pro bodybuilder." I almost never see that sort of appreciation in print, and I like it. Though the women and girls are supporting characters rather than leads, there's a lot of them, they're important, and their moral dilemmas and courage are highlighted.

I could have done without the only Indian character being a villain and frequently called "the Indian," and with another villain being referred to as "The African." But the overall tone of the book was so humane and inclusive that those seemed more like accidental relics from the writing style of older pulp novels than meant to express any opinions of the author.

Direct link to buy it from Amazon:

Blood Brothers
I hereby reproduce the complete text of the back cover of Steven Barnes' Blood Brother. If the novel is one-tenth as awesome as the description, it will be pretty damn awesome:

Austin Tucker was a Green Beret, a man with lightning reflexes and the training to use them. But his life was shattered one Thanksgiving night when strangers invaded his home and killed his son, his daughter, and his wife.

Derek Waites was once an outlaw computer hacker, the infamous Captain Africa. Now he designs computer games. Someone has just tried to kidnap his son, while his daughter cried a strange warning and burst into flames.

The two men have nothing in common - Tucker is a white man from the suburbs. Waites is a black street hustler trying to go straight. But they are brothers in the same cause. If Tucker and Waites can resolve their differences long enough to work together, they can defeat an ancient evil. Between them they have the skills and the knowledge to break an ancient cycle of supernatural predation, and save the lives of a generation of children.
.

Profile

rachelmanija: (Default)
rachelmanija

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags