An overripe but still entertaining gay fantasia.

The Chronicles of Spartak


From the Chronicles of Spartak series

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.

Pub Date: May 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9966473-2-8

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Jubilation Media

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2016

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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