Hi, Frumious Readers! I feel like I’ve been away foreeeever, but it’s been crunch time over at my other reading job with CriminalElement.com so my apologies for being infrequent over here. Anyway, with Doug away for a bit, I’m glad to be back with this really great new novel sent to me by our friends at Titan Press. It’s thrilling to be part of their blog tour for The Record Keeper, and do check out the other sites that are covering this book, as well.
In a post-apocalyptic world, the only surviving habitable land is a slice of the east coast of what was once North America. After years of bitter fighting along racial lines, the three surviving superpowers — the white English, the Asian Clayskin and the black Kongo — sign a treaty known as the Niagara compromise, which gives the three races separate but equal rights. Well, “equal” because we all know what that really means. The English are tasked with researching agricultural advances, while the Clayskin serve as merchants and tradesman. The Kongo themselves form the bulk of the agricultural labor, though stratify themselves further with the ranks of First Brother and Second Brother, along the lines of physical characteristics. The First Brothers include Record Keepers like our heroine, Arika of House Cobane, who live lives of relative privilege. They’re supposed to look after and champion their field hand brethren, the Second Brothers, but — at the risk of repeating myself — we all know how that works.
Arika studies at the Schoolhouse run by the sadistic Englishwoman Jones (she has a first name but I couldn’t be arsed to look for it because she is the poster girl for white feminism and, obviously, sucks.) Arika’s overweening ambition is to graduate as valedictorian so she can become a Senator, thereby escaping the arbitrary racial rules of the nation and securing herself an unassailable position from where she can truly advocate for her race, First and Second Brothers alike. She clings to logic and order without realizing that both have been framed for her by a society that wants to keep her docile and conforming. When a new student comes to the Schoolhouse and jeopardizes her standing, she begins to realize that there’s more to the world than she’d accounted for, inspiring the spirit that Jones had tried to break so long ago to unbend itself anew.
Okay, first let’s talk about this novel’s few but unignorable flaws. First, it is desperately underwritten. This is Agnes Gomillion’s first book, and she will look back on it in the future with a wince, not because it’s bad (it’s actually really good) but because she’ll know where she should have done better, taking more time to elaborate on plot points and interior lives and emotions instead of rushing from one cool idea to another. I absolutely understand the excitement to get this rich, vivid world out of one’s brain and on to the page, but there are a ton of what feel like missed moments that should have been dwelled upon instead of quickly presented then moved away from. This could easily have been a book twice its size that I would still have devoured with glee.
The second comes at the end of the book, and involves torturing an unconscious person. Yes, that person absolutely sucks, and yes, I believe that revenge isn’t necessarily evil or unwarranted, but come on. I don’t go for the honor card often, but it’s not heroic to inflict pain for the sake of inflicting pain, and it’s cowardly to do that when the other person can’t fight back at all.
Anyway, those aside, this is a fascinating dystopian take on the rule of divide and conquer perpetrated historically by white Europeans and perpetuated by their minority subjects upon their own bodies. It’s got excellent historical chops as well as sci-fi bonafides: I loved the idea of the Helix and the fangirl references to Frederick Douglass. I’m very interested in seeing where Ms Gomillion goes with this next, as I’m intrigued by the whole Obi Solomon thing as well as by the forces that seemingly lie coiled in Arika’s breast. Sequel please, and soon!