The Voices of Martyrs
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I received a free e-book of this title from Rosarium Publishing through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It is a short story collection, with several stronger than others of course. There were a few problems with formatting issues, which has happened with files from other publishers too. In one instance I am sure the last page or so of one story was out of order, coming at the end of another. There were also places where quite a few words were mashed together, withnospacesinbetweenthem. [PLEASE NOTE: Bill Campbell of Rosarium assures me that is a problem with the way NetGalley converts the PDF file to Kindle (.mobi) format.] I am interested in purchasing this due to the strength of the stories, but will probably wait for the paperback. All the stories but one were compelling and worth reading. Several have a fantasy or science fiction element, but not all.
Dealing with a full range of Black experiences, the stories are divided into three sections; Past, Present, and Futures. The first is one of my favorites. The "Warrior of the Sunrise" is a strong female fighter exiled from her tribe (and her son) because she will not identify the father. Two different time periods are covered, and I might have had a difficult time keeping them separate except the flashback sequences were in italics. It has a slight fantasy feel to it, with a shaman who tells the warrior about her future, as well as an evil warlord who creates grotesque creatures by way of torture and vivisection of captives. The next three deal with slavery and its aftermath. "Rite of Passage" is set in 1651 on a slave ship, and concerns the struggle of a White man trying to reconcile his actions with his Christian faith. He fails. "A Soldier's Story" jumps to Parsons, Indiana in 1895. One character might be a vampire, or a werewolf-like creature, whose killing of a man is blamed on a Black man in nearby Scott Settlement. That community of former slaves is burned, with several of the men lynched. "Ah Been Buked" has a Black woman in 1935 telling the story of how she killed her master when she was a teenager. All of these feature brutal imagery which might upset some readers, but they are stories of events that should never be forgotten. The final story of the past is "Shadow Boxing," about a Black fighter trying to break into the big time against White boxers. At first I thought the shadow that Stagger Jackson saw in the crowd was a good omen for him, but later events seemed to indicate it might be the opposite, merely taunting him. He does win several bouts, but promoters want him to take a fall in his final match. He refuses, but the Shadow is now his nemesis and proves too strong to defeat. He had bet on himself in previous fights, but against himself in the last one, so maybe things worked out for him anyway.
The first story in the Present section is "The Ave," which is a nickname for the Allisonville Correctional Facility. Prisoner #935579 is Ashanti Tannehill, whose cellmate is lifer Wintabi Freeman. Tannehill's dreams are filled with images which might have been experienced by one of his ancestors, captured in Africa and sold into slavery. "Family Business" sees Nathan Bratton return to the family home in Jamaica after his grandfather dies. He suspects his aunt's new husband is an obeah, a sorcerer who may have killed his grandfather in order to take over the family's sugar cane farm. "Read Me Up" also deals with Jamaican obeah myths, but with characters now living in America. Earl and Von are a couple in an uneasy relationship, under even more strain when her mother comes for a surprise visit with her new husband. Isabelle tells the story of when she was younger and an obeah cast her fortune, telling her she would be cursed unto the third generation. Von has not yet told Earl she is pregnant, and worries her child will be the cursed third generation. "Cerulean Memories" is about a man who starts a collection of objects connected to death, beginning with the sofa on which his father died. Another in his collection is his wife, whom he tries to preserve as much like a mummy as possible. The final Past story is "The Volunteer", but it probably should be in the Futures section. It's about a vampire named N'Kya, handicapped before she was turned, and still in a wheelchair. She is of one group of vampires, but there are other species, and it appears they have integrated into human society. The "volunteer" is a young human male whom she recruits.
"Pimp My Airship" is set in either a future dystopia or an alternate steampunk universe. In either case, the United States is now part of the Albion Empire, but no details are given as to whether that was the result of a home-grown coup, an invasion from another country, or possibly by aliens. The airship of the title, called the Bop Gun, has been commandeered by anarchist revolutionaries Knowledge Allah and Deaconess Blues, who have recruited Hubert "Sleepy" Nixon to help in rescuing The Star Child from The Ave, the prison from the earlier story. That is a fictitious institution, but identified in this story as being in or near Indianapolis. The next story, "The Electric Spanking of the War Babies" was co-written with Kyle Johnson. It's the only one I didn't care for, mainly because I couldn't figure out what was happening, where it was occuring, or why. It's possible it's only part of a drug induced hallucination. The Star Child is mentioned again, as another off-screen character, as well as a bop gun, but in this case it is an actual weapon. Or maybe it's all a dream, I don't know. The final two stories seem to be set in the same milieu, although "The Valkyrie" is set on Earth, while "Voice of the Martyrs" is on another planet. Both involve members of a military unit from the Evangelical States of America, which has control of most of the Western Hemisphere as well as parts of Africa and Asia. By the time of the last story they may have been successful in conquering all of Earth, and are now colonizing and spreading their gospel to other planets. It is set on a moon of a gas giant, which has a very primitive indigenous population. Later it is discovered that a virus entity from the gas giant has infected the natives in order to spark rapid mutations.
Other than the one story I've already said I didn't like, the only complaint I have is they are all too short, ending when it feels there is a lot more story to tell. That includes the one I think was a mixup in the Kindle file I received. At the end of "Pimp My Airship" there is a page or two I feel belonged with "The Volunteer," because all of a sudden N'Kya appears, as well as Kwame, who was a member of one of the other vampire species. Even then, that segment didn't seem to complete that story, and I'm convinced parts of "Pimp My Airship" were missing. I'm writing this on Monday, February 6, and the Kindle version should be available from Amazon tomorrow, and that might be the case for the Nook, or Kobo, or other e-readers. If the info at Amazon is correct, the paperback won't be out until the end of the month, the 28th. I liked this enough I will eventually buy one of those, and if so I will return to this page to add comments concerning these seeming errors.
I'll admit there were some turns of phrase, colloquialisms, with which I wasn't familiar. I had to search for the terms obeah and griot (pronounced gree-oh, meaning a traveling storyteller or musician), both of which are from the Caribbean. Broaddus was born in London, his mother from Jamaica, where many of his relatives still live, and raised in Indianapolis, so he has had many influences for story ideas and style. His characters are very distinctive, and his words paint vivid imagery of setting and mood. I'm looking forward to reading this again, and will be on the lookout for more of his work. Recommended.
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