Monday, September 22, 2014

ARC Review: Counterpunch by Aleksandr Voinov

Counterpunch (Belonging, #2)
From the blurb:

Fight like a man, or die like a slave.
Two years ago, Brooklyn Marshall was a happily married London policeman and amateur boxer with a promising future. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose powerful father had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the prison system, the state sold Brooklyn into slavery. Now he’s the “Mean Machine,” competing on the slave prizefighting circuit for the entertainment of freemen, and being rented out for sexual service to his wealthier fans.

When barrister Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn’s services for a night, Brooklyn braces himself for yet another round of humiliation and pain. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it love—such feelings can’t truly exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to get Brooklyn’s conviction overturned, Brooklyn dares to hope.

Until an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he’s worked so hard for. With the law on his tail and Nathaniel in his corner, he must prepare for the most important fight of his life: the fight for his freedom. 

Rosa's rating:

Congratulate me -- I'm no longer a Voinov virgin.

(I'm also no longer a penis pump virgin. That's right, a penis pump -- but that's an entirely different discussion.)

As my first Voinov, I'm not sure how it went. Judging from what I've read and heard about Special Forces (I know, I know, I have to read it -- I swear I will) and other reviews of this book I was expecting more violence. I expected to be wincing, holding my Kindle away from me while reading it out of the corner of my eye. That didn't happen and a lot of the violence is glossed over. We hear about it, but don't experience it. Why am I complaining? It's not like it would've been a good time. But since I was expecting physical brutality, the book seems rather tame.

What isn't tame is the brutal emotional and mental effects slavery has on Brooklyn. He went from a cop and husband to a piece of property with no more rights than a donkey. He's no longer human. The only moments of freedom he experiences is when he's boxing. When he's in the ring, he's in control.
Applauding a slave might be an indulgence--might be, in truth, nothing but scorn--but right now, it didn't matter that he wasn't one of them. He'd bet the women in the audience wanted him rather than the suit-and-tie-wearing sugar daddies they'd come with. And he knew the men all wanted to be him, even if they were pimps and CEOs and MPs and two-bit VIPs from Big Brother. Right now, they were off their fat arses and applauding him.
A slave.
Fuck them all.
Watching Brooklyn struggling to remain his own person in spite of a dehumanizing situation, against his own need to shut down mentally and emotionally as a way of survival, was brutal. It's very well done.

But I kept asking myself, why is this guy so special? Why is it so important he's freed? Nathan, a "toff" in his own words, comes along and wants to find a way to legally free Brooklyn. He believes Brooklyn's conviction for murder was wrong and that remaining a slave will kill him. Okay. Won't it kill other slaves as well? What about the slaves Nathan owns? Don't they deserve their freedom? Isn't it dehumanizing for them? If he objects to slavery why does own them? Maybe they were inherited, maybe he bought them himself, but it's never addressed.

Brooklyn also doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with slavery for others. He hates it but his attitude toward another slave is that he's been born into slavery so he's quite happy being a slave, unlike Brooklyn. Ugh. I understand that Nathan and Brooklyn have been raised in a world where slavery is a given and that their complicated views on slavery may add depth to their characters, but it didn't feel like that to me. It felt like hypocrisy. I didn't expect to read a book where slavery in a dystopian society is magically resolved, or a book where they band together and form an underground railroad, but I would've liked reading about Nathan's view of his slaves and Brooklyn's attitude towards slavery in general (whether it changed or not).

Other than those problems, it is a good book. The writing is smooth and the plotting tight and being an anglophile I love the setting. I appreciate that the romance isn't overwrought and I was moved by Brooklyn's feelings on the crime he committed. I look forward to reading other books by Voinov. But Brooklyn and Nathan's apparent unconcern for other slaves kept poking at me and ruined some of my enjoyment. I liked the book, I just didn't really like it.

**This is a review of the 2nd ed, published by Riptide. Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.**
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