Sunday, February 21, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Every Kingdom Divided / Stephen Kozeniewski

TITLE: Every Kingdom Divided
AUTHOR: Stephen Kozeniewski
PUBLISHER: Mirror Matter Press


Science Fiction -- Dystopian


The year is 2035, and the once United States of America have fractured after the 2nd American Civil War. When Jack Pasternak, a doctor living in California, receives a distress call from his fiancee in Maryland, he knows he has to come to her aid. One problem: While California and Maryland are Blue States, the territory in between belongs to the enemy, Red America. Undaunted, Jack sets off on a cross-country trip and finds himself accompanied by an unlikely companion: the intrepid barista Haley, who, it turns out, is more than she appears to be. Further complicating matters, a third force, the Mexican Reconquista, is marching on Los Angeles. Jack soon finds himself at the heart of a vicious three-way war... and his actions may have more impact on the fate of the nation than he anticipated.

Every Kingdom Divided begins at the end: with Jack facing the business end of a firing squad. Having made it to Blue Pennsylvania, he's accused of being a traitor and a Red spy. But, in the style of Scheherazade, he's able to stall his execution by telling his story, revealing details of his journey bit by bit. Meanwhile, the enemy forces are closing in on the base... and Jack winds up in the thick of the situation. The book alternates between the "present" and the "past" in two parallel plot lines that eventually tie together in crucial ways.

Cynical and smart-mouthed, Jack is the type of character who smirks in the face of danger. He's joined by a colorful cast of supporting characters, each of whom crackles with his or her own style and wit. Also, a heroic cat who actually plays a critical role in the plot. Full of snappy dialogue, thrilling action, tight pacing, and unique worldbuilding, Every Kingdom Divided is easily binge-readable (and binge-read it I did). The gritty, dystopian world it takes place in feels raw, lived-in, and believable... Familiar enough that it all feels real sprinkled with low-key sci-fi technology that place in the not-so-distant future. I've read all of Kozeniewski's published full-length novels to date, and one of his greatest strengths as a writer is his dry sense of humor--it's what brings each of his stories to life and makes them fun and entertaining even as the characters face terrible circumstances.

But this book isn't all fun and games. Far from it. The fractured nation that once was the United States of America, with zealots and blind partisanship on both sides, is a scathing critique of today's political atmosphere and, to some extent, a cautionary tale. It's a dystopian satire that both mocks and reflects, with an intelligently written and well thought-out point-of-view lurking beneath the adventure-tale surface. I was seriously impressed by how this book managed to be both a fast-paced dystopian thrill-ride and a biting political commentary at the same time. Yet it's got hopeful undertones, and it all leads to an immensely satisfying ending.

Mr. Kozeniewski, I doff my sparkly sequined cap to you.


Stephen Kozeniewski lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. He was born to the soothing strains of “Boogie With Stu” even though The Who are far superior to Zep, for reasons that he doesn’t even really want to get into right now.

During his time as a Field Artillery officer he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where, due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. The depiction of addiction in his fiction is strongly informed by the three years he spent working at a substance abuse clinic, an experience which also ensures that he employs strict moderation when enjoying the occasional highball of Old Crow. 

He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s is in German.

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