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Broken Slate Paperback – April 6, 2011
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
"This deft dissection of a mind under siege from an oppressive social system is tense and compelling. I couldn't put it down till I hit the last page." --Cat Rambo, Endeavor Award-nominated author of EYES LIKE SKY AND COAL AND MOONLIGHT
"BROKEN SLATE is unexpectedly engrossing, with enough strength of character at its core to drag one along its richly carved path of violence, sex, submission, and rebellion. Martin is a compelling character, whose palpable determination not to be crushed by systemic cruelty and harsh circumstance leaves one looking forward to more of his story." --Camille Alexa, Endeavor Award-nominated author of PUSH OF THE SKY
"One of Jennings's strengths is the nuanced way she weaves her characters, not entirely noble but not entire villainous either. They are complex people who have both conscious and unconscious biases, which is important for a novel like BROKEN SLATE." --Author Charles Tan
About the Author
Kelly Jennings lives in Northwest Arkansas, where she is a member of the Boston Mountain Writers Group. She has had work appear in Crossed Genres, as well as in Louisiana Literature, The Future Fire, and Strange Horizons, among other venues. You can find out more at her personal blog, delagar (http://delagar.blogspot.com/), or the science fiction and fantasy group blog FanSci (http://www.fansci.org/), which she runs with the help of Marilou Goodwin and Barbara Ann Wright.
Top customer reviews
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I would actually give this book 3.5 stars but rounded up because of the strengths I will detail.
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.
Reflecting the status of our own times, Broken Slate looks into the heart of a character that moves from a sex object to a full revolutionary. In the tradition of Ursula K. Le Guin, and Robert Heinlein, Jennings creates a believable world troubled by its appetites, conflicted by its own moral code, and rife with violence. A great read for anyone who likes great writing, Broken Slate moves fast, but leaves you with a great impression. I hope that Kelly Jennings' other works get exposure like this first novel.
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.