Sunday, September 28, 2014


COUNTERPUNCH by Aleksandr Voinov

Pages: 200
Date: 28/09/2014
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 2 Belonging
           Received from Riptide Publishing
           Through NetGalley

The blurb:

“Brooklyn Marshall used to be a policeman in London, with a wife and a promising future ahead of him. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose father was a Member of Parliament and had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the overcrowded prison system, Brooklyn was sold into slavery rather than incarcerated. Now, he's the "Mean Machine", a boxer on the slave prizefighting circuit, pummelling other slaves for the entertainment of freemen and being rented out for the sexual service of his wealthier fans.

When Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn's services for a night, it seems like any other assignation. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it "love"—such things do not exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to help get Brooklyn's conviction overturned, he dares to hope. Then, an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he has worked so hard to achieve and sending him into the most important fight of all—the fight for freedom.”

My thoughts:

Anybody keeping an eye on my reviews may have noticed that I’m a fan of Aleksandr Voinov. He’s on that list of authors whose books I buy without second thought, even without reading the blurb in too much detail, secure in the knowledge that I’m going to love what I’ll find between the covers.

Counterpunch was no exception to that rule. And, up to a point, that’s surprising. I’m not a fan of boxing, to put it mildly. I actively avoid having to watch it and would, under most circumstances, stay away from it in my reading as well. But, just as Aleksandr could make me read about World War II when I’d sworn I’d leave that subject alone, he could make me read about boxing and enjoy the story.

Counterpoint contains a very nice mix between alternate universe circumstances and celebrities and situations we recognise from our own reality. Being able to recognise so much of the world Brooklyn and Nathaniel live in, made this story real and therefore more heart wrenching than it would have been in a outright fantastical setting. It didn’t take a huge imaginary leap to believe the slavery premise of the story. In fact, slavery is only taking community service combined with a security bracelet one step further, isn’t it? I mean we’ve all seen the protests where police forces are attacked by those marching. Accidents happen. A policeman killing one of the protesters has happened and is bound to happen again. In our world the guilty cop might not end up in slavery, boxing to stay alive, but he might well be ostracised and end up living a life he’d never imagined in his worst nightmares.

Because it was all too easy to read this story as if it were taking place in the world I live in, because it stayed close enough to reality to make me forget it was fiction on one or two occasions, Brooklyn’s story took a hold of my heart. I completely got the constant battle between anger and frustration. I understood how dangerous it was for him to hope or to trust his emotions when the merest slip could bring him face to face with torturous punishment.

The story is told from Brooklyn’s perspective which means that the reader is as much in the dark about Nathaniel’s motives and feelings as Brooklyn is. As readers we might be a bit more inclined to be optimistic about the eventual outcome than Brooklyn is, but Nathaniel’s actions were mysterious enough to keep me on my toes and racing through the words towards what I hoped would be a happy ending.

Aleksandr Voinov’s writing voice is one that appeals to me. I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is that works so well for me but every single book I’ve read by this author has drawn me in and captured me, regardless of the setting or subject matter. The books almost read themselves. All I have to do is show up and the stories take over, the characters come alive and I can hear their dialogue in my head. Aleksandr is one of a few authors I’ll be forever grateful I’ve found as well as one I’ll continue reading as long as there are new (to me) stories to be found.

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