A multitalented, bisexual, teenage slave becomes a symbol of freedom in this debut sci-fi saga.
In the America of 2115, flying cars exist, society is divided between an elite of super-rich “barronials” and a seething mass of impoverished “downers,” the Supreme Court has ruled that parents can sell their children into slavery, 18th-century fashions have made a comeback, and, perhaps unlikeliest of all, “gymnastics outdraws football and sometimes rivals soccer” as a spectator sport. Spartak Jones’ talent in the latter, along with his long blond hair, gorgeous face and Olympian physique, has made the 16-year-old gymnastics prodigy a hero to his fellow downers. (He’s also a classical pianist and a math genius.) Spartak navigates between the San Francisco slums and the toney private school where he’s a scholarship student, bullied by mean rich kids; he also navigates the bedrooms of both sexes, but mainly those of other men. Eventually, he gets kidnapped and learns that his cash-strapped family was forced to sell him to the plutocratic McClain clan, who gift him to 18-year-old heir Zinc McClain as “a pretty bauble to enjoy and discard.” Spartak is initially upset by the annihilation of his autonomy and personhood and by the tracking device riveted to his ear; there are also many gratuitous scenes in which he’s ordered to undress while bystanders pretend not to ogle his chiseled abs and buttocks. However, he seems to thrive, even in slavery: he wears sumptuous robes and lambskin slippers, starts to find Zinc’s crooked features and shy stutter endearing as their romance blossoms, and gets invited onto talk shows to pontificate about his status as the first bought slave since the Civil War. Best of all, he gets a high-tech sword and a body stocking that confers super-strength, which he uses to slaughter the attacking minions of an anti-barronial Christian cult. Coulter’s LGBT-themed yarn reprises the ubiquitous YA-fiction notion of a world that oppresses teens by making them celebrities, while also giving this narcissistic theme a prurient gloss. His characters often get on soapboxes as they relate the evils of inequality and involuntary servitude, drawing them as extensions of present-day American dysfunctions. However, these politics mainly serve as a pretext for lubricious domination-submission vignettes and revenge fantasies. The narrative does move along at a brisk pace, though, with energetic action scenes and sharply drawn characters, and the result is a vigorous tale.
An overripe but still entertaining gay fantasia.