Broken Slateby Kelly Jennings Published 17 May 2019
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Taken from his family's merchant ship at the age of fourteen, Martin Eduardo endured years in the brutal contract labor system on the planet Julian. Now a contract rebellion brews.
The precarious and emotionally costly safety Martin had found with his seventh contract holder is put at risk by another holder, Jeno Lord Harper, who seeks to use Martin for his own aims. Years in the system have demonstrated what happens to contracts who fight back; Martin knows resistance will prove dangerous.
As the contract labor uprising gains momentum, and as he grows more acquainted with those involved in the rebellion, Martin begins to suspect that, although the consequences of disobedience are grim even fatal the consequences of obedience might be worse.
This deft dissection of a mind under siege from an oppressive social system is tense and compelling.
"Broken Slate" Reviews
What do the movies Requiem For a Dream, Unforgiven, and Saving Private Ryan all have in common? Give up? They are all movies that were brilliantly made which I recognize as exceptional movies, but that I never want to watch again. And the reason is simple. Each movie portrays a bleakness, a world where hope goes to die. And once transported to that place, shown what the film-makers want to show me, I find that seeing it once is enough.
Now, what does this have to do with Broken Slate by Kelly Jennings, you may ask. More than you would expect. Then again, it is written in the fine and honored tradition of Dystopian sci-fi. And Dystopian this is. Broken Slate takes place in a world called Julian centuries and some indeterminable distance removed from Ancient Earth. Julian is dependent upon Contract labor, essentially slaves, many of whom are put into the system at an early age through orphanages. If put in the system at a later age, like Martin, our tortured protagonist, it us usually for perceived criminal acts. Contracts, called “cots” for short, are second class citizens in every way. They own nothing except that which is provided by their Holders. Insubordination is not tolerated, and punishments are cruel in the extreme. A pair of young Contracts who attempt escape to a mythic rebellion in the hills are used to demonstrate this. The couple is dealt with by way of public execution and the burning of their corpses while all the Contracts in the town are forced to watch. The message is clear: “You live by our will alone.”
Martin’s Holder, Deja, is a more direct symbol of that oppression. He keeps Martin not for his practical skills as a secretary, but for his beauty, engaged in a dynamic of sexual control. Sometimes tender, often brutal, he is consumed by jealousy in insecurities. It is Martin who bears the brunt of his master’s rages, and because it is more personal and couched in the words of love, this is the perhaps the most damaging thing in Martin’s life.
Despite vastly superior numbers, fear of reprisal, of punishment, that they are truly alone keeps the Contract population in line. But fear has its limits, and gradually Martin undergoes a period of questioning. If his life is so bad, what is there to fear from trying to bring about change and failing? When a man truly has nothing left to lose, how much power does fear truly hold?
It’s might be difficult at times to read Broken Slate if you have even a rudimentary knowledge of slavery in our shared history. Likewise if you have an experience with abusive and dysfunctional relationships, this could be tough. That’s a good thing. Really. That is because the author clearly knows her way around the material and makes it breathe. And As painful as things get, Martin’s journey is not without hope of redemption. As rich as I found the descriptions of the physical environment, as detailed as the aches and pains of the abuses heaped upon Martin as he claws his way blindly towards his destiny, it is the emotional weight that put the hooks in me. While there were times I wondered exactly where the story was taking me, I never lost interest in the journey to get there. And I am pleased that my loyalty to the story was rewarded with an ending that, felt hard earned and strangely inevitable.
As an examination of the power dynamics and those who use fear to control people, Broken Slate is a thoughtful little gem of a sci-fi novel. The characters are rich, even if I didn’t always like them. If you’re a fan of Dystopian sci-fi, don’t mind reading about sex (most of it male/male) and sexual domination, then I suggest you give Broken Slate a read. You can find it here, and I strongly suggest you pick it up on release day, July 15th, if you have the opportunity.
First rating on Goodreads... I feel obligated to say something.
I debated how many stars to give this. The characterization is intense, the world-building is solid and the dialogue flows smoothly. And the text is clean, so far as grammar and typos -- something I've come to value a lot since I started reading free e-samples.
But the plot. It moves at a rather glacial pace. At the end, it feels like this has all been set-up for the next part of the story. Which I would not mind seeing, by the way, dear author...
I read the free sample, which was a generous first half of the book, and at the end of the sample I could not have told you what Martin's goal was, aside from physical survival (which should not be under-rated, admittedly.) Yet I bought the second half, and I don't have much of a book budget these days.
No regrets. As I said, the characterization is intense. So I'm giving this four stars and hoping to see more from Ms. Jennings.
I received this book from Library things early reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.
I would actually give this book 3.5 stars but rounded down because I didn't actually like the novel.
However, the book does have several good things about it. It's well written. I never once remembered that the author was a woman. I definitely felt that the protagonist was a man the entire time. This may seem like a silly observation, but I've noticed that a lot of authors usually have problems when they write from the perspective of the opposite sex. This was not a problem with this novel; the viewpoint was very realistic.
The opening of the novel caught me. It was dark, and revealed a world naturally, instead of assuming the reader was stupid (another problem with a lot of books). I liked that I had to figure out what certain words meant. I thought the portrayal of the world was nicely done.
However, it's as the book went on that was the problem. I don't mind dark novels, in fact, I embrace them because it's a risky move and one that many times pays off. Instead, the book just sort of plodded along in the dark for the majority of the book. I know that Martin has had the most awful life, and entered it unfairly, etc etc. That definitely needed to be set up. But he remained almost at a stasis for 80% of the book, whining and talking back, then getting beaten/raped. Repeat process. There were points in the book that I thought it would be salvaged. For example, Deja's daughter is a bright spot in the book. She flits in and out and then there is a moment in the second half of the book where they finally connect. But then she disappears for the remainder of the book, and in fact, you guessed it, caused more misery for Martin.
Part of the problem is Martin is too secretive, even to the reader. We are told over and over that cots lie. Martin lies to us as the reader, not revealing how his thoughts are changing until the "big reveal" when he confronts Lord Harper. It seems abrupt, and even more abrupt is when we skip in time to the ending of the book after he has been involved with Harper for a while and starts his own "revolution."
I would have liked to see more development of the interactions between Martin and Harper. An actual educational conversation would have been nice. I didn't understand Martin's reserve against Harper, who was trying to teach him (and actually his mode of teaching is no different than to a medical student or medical resident or any Asian kid that grows up taught in the old ways), and yet compares that to being just as awful as his relationship with Deja.
And about Deja-- I understand the very explicit sex used in the novel-- it definitely shows what kind of life Martin is living, but again, it focused on this for 80% of the novel, when we could have gotten to know other characters better, ones that we are more interested in learning about.
I thought this book started out very promising and in the end, disappointed me. I'm not sure if the way this was dragged out was to make sure this would end up as a trilogy (I have a personal pet peeve about this as well-- if you don't have enough to say, don't write three books about it!!!) but in any case, didn't deliver.
Update: thinking more about this, it was very cleanly written as another reviewer mentioned. I still stick by my 3.5 stars, but rounded up because I want to reward how well written it is.
On a planet where slavery is legal, violence and conflict are to be expected, and this is the world in which Martin lives – a slave, a “contract” as they are called – trying to survive to the next day, not an easy fit when you have no rights and punishment is everyday fare.
Martin is a great character. Brave but also driven by fear and a traumatic past, sensible but also quick to answer and get into trouble, he is vivid and real, as are the characters around him, not only the other slaves but also the masters and their children. Glimpses into Martin’s past through dreams and memories are intriguing and sound terrifying. I loved how bits and pieces of his past were revealed throughout the story.
The author takes the time to explore the society and its norms and laws, its inner conflicts and prejudices. I loved how she gets into people’s heads and shows us how slavery can bend and crush people’s minds, making an uprising a faraway dream. Fear, hunger, pain – all are weapons wielded by the masters to keep the slaves in check until the day when they can’t stand it any longer. But this first book in a series mainly explores the ‘before’, the society before a revolution. It describes the humiliation and pain suffered by Martin and the conflict inside him, because he wants to break free but doesn’t believe he can. All this was masterfully done and I never doubted for a second that Martin was doing his best to survive and to find a better future.
However, I wasn’t overly fond of the ending. I felt it was rushed, many new characters are suddenly introduced and we lose the perfect connection to Martin we had throughout the novel. I understand the need to introduce Martin’s change and his new friends, but I think that should have taken place at the pace set out in the rest of the book, giving us the time to see this clearly and meet the new characters.
That was my only complaint. I honestly loved this book, I was glued to my ereader from page one to the end and didn’t want it to finish. In fact, as soon as it was over, I emailed the author to ask when the next book would be out.
Broken Slate is a character-driven sci-fi, geared toward a mature young adult or adult public. Be warned: it contains mature themes, including slavery, rape, same sex relationships, adult situations and language, and several forms of physical and psychological violence. However, no sex is portrayed on page and its young protagonist, along with themes like coming of age, sexuality, bullying and reaction to violence, and problems with authority make it a good candidate for mature YA readers.
To sum up, I adored this book and highly recommend it to lovers of character-driven, compelling science fiction set in a richly described world.
I was utterly impressed with this story. I finished it a few days ago but it's stayed with me since then, refusing to let go. The blurb talks about "a mind under siege" and that's a pretty accurate description. Hell, I felt under siege myself reading this. The entire story is permeated by a kind of subtle terror, a sense of oppression that gets increasingly more and more unbearable as the reader gets to know and understand the protagonist, the oppressive society of the book's universe, and its devastating psychological consequences.
Many stories dealing with fictional (sexual) slavery and abuse tend to be heavily romanticised bodice ripper fantasies, which isn't really my cup of tea.
This isn't that kind of book, and it's definitely not a romance .
I admit, I bought this aiming to satisfy my darker fetishes, but instead ended up feeling strangely guilty over that fact. And I've read a lot of twisted shit, stories where abuse is piled on top of abuse, and more often than not that kind of stuff ends up being ridiculously over the top or just plain boring. This story isn't even that graphic. But it really got under my skin.
I honestly wasn't prepared for the non-stop psychological (and physical) horror of this book. Seeing the protagonist dealing with the casual violence inherent in the system, trying, and failing, to keep up with the unpredictability and whims of those in power, the sheer despair of the situation, the sometimes almost Kafka-esque situations where everything you do will be used against you. The author does a good job of putting you right there in the protagonist's shoes. I was exhausted. I was frightened. I was angry as hell. I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted vengeance.
Finally, I know it's been said, but a book this good deserves a better cover.
This novel is about a brutal, planet-wide system of slavery. It's also about one person's attempt to push back.
Martin Eduardo was taken off his family's merchant spaceship in his mid-teens. He was put into the contract labor system on the planet Julian, where he has spent the other half of his life (perhaps "contract labor" sounds a little less awful than "slave," but it amounts to the same thing). Among the first things a contract laborer, or "cot," learns is Do Not Fight Back. Any attempt at talking back to your contract holder, or trying to stand up for yourself, leads to an automatic beating. Any attempt to run away is complicated by the computer chip implanted in each cot's shoulder bone, which makes tracking easy. It also leads to a very public murder, in front of the other cots. Also, all cots are assumed to be lazy and lying, even when they are telling the truth.
Martin's contract has been sold six times in the past. He has a decent, but very precarious, relationship with Lord Strauss, his seventh Holder. Strauss is a lecturer at the local university, and finds that Martin actually has a brain, and knows how to use it. A number of times, Martin has sat outside classrooms, listening to the lectures. Strauss has Martin run some of his classes, which does not go over well with the other students. Martin is also kept around for other tasks, which take place in the bedroom, and behind closed doors.
A cot rebellion is brewing in the hills, but it's only a little more than rumors. As it begins to gain monentum, Martin has some serious deciding to do. He is very aware of the penalty for disobedience, but the penalty for obedience may be even higher. Does Martin get his chip removed, and join the rebellion?
This is a really good story about an oppressive social system. The author has also left room for a sequel. It will keep the reader interested, and, yes, it is well worth reading.