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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review: January Black by Wendy S Russo

January Black
Wendy S. Russo
Published: January 15, 2013
Publisher: Crescent Moon Press
Length 336 pages:
Genre: Young Adult/New Adult but I’m not telling you more!
Edition: print and ebook
Source: Author in exchange for an honest review

Sixteen-year-old genius Matty Ducayn has never fit in on The Hill, an ordered place seriously lacking a sense of humor. After his school’s headmaster expels him for a small act of mischief, Matty’s future looks grim until King Hadrian comes to his rescue with a challenge: answer a question for a master’s diploma.

More than a second chance, this means freedom. Masters can choose where they work, a rarity among Regents, and the question is simple.

What was January Black?

It’s a ship. Everyone knows that. Hadrian rejects that answer, though, and Matty becomes compelled by curiosity and pride to solve the puzzle. When his search for an answer turns up long-buried state secrets, Matty’s journey becomes a collision course with a deadly royal decree. He's been set up to fail, which forces him to choose. Run for his life with the challenge lost...or call the king’s bluff?

A_TiffyFit’s Review:
January Black just leapt to one of my favorite reads of the year.  I am ready to sit down right now and re-read it, to see what I may have missed the first time around. I requested a copy from the author during a Read to Review offer and was granted it. I began reading June 10th and then book blog commitments kept me away from Matty & Iris for a month. I was itching to get back to it and was finally able to yesterday. 

This book was not what I expected. The synopsis is apt, but it does nothing to describe the depth of this book, its thought-provoking nature, the mystery that keeps you turning the page, the heartache you feel on different levels for different characters and circumstances. 

The central idea in this book centers around an adult concept and that makes me struggle with classifying it as young adult, or even new adult. And by adult, I do not mean the common inference of sex. This is a clean read. The strongest language is the word “shit” and a couple references to Matty’s teenage hormonal body reacting to his girlfriend. And that’s how it’s phrased (more or less). There is no in-your-face crudity regarding his erection or desire for his girlfriend. It IS brought up and, frankly, it should be. What teenager do you know who isn’t affected by hormones? I digress, but you should know that sex in this book is acknowledged but left private. 

No, the adult concept I’m talking about is a philosophical one dear to (or should be) the hearts of U.S. citizens. Wendy Russo masterfully weaves in bits of US History from Patrick Henry speeches to references to C.S. Lewis, civil discourse, corrupt government and government manipulation, duplicity in order to survive and push forward one’s agenda, science and technology, references to world history, specifically Churchill’s declaration that history is written by the victors. 

Despite my thoughts on genre/age categorization, the fact remains that the main protagonist, Matty Ducayn, is only 17 years old, and therefore this is a young adult/new adult novel.  Russo’s ability to weave a tale so intricate and so compelling is amazing. I simply had to turn the page, I had to see how it was unfurling, I had to keep guessing. Is this a fantasy novel? Are we going to have bits of magic flung about? All this technology is amazing; is it a science fiction novel? What IS January Black? 

“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me. ---C.S. Lewis” Loc 1260---kindle copy

This quote from Libertea is incredibly appropriate for reading January Black. The world is well-constructed, the characters incredibly well-developed, the plot intriguing. The ideas of what education is, what education is not, word play (semantics), interactions between government and its people, and the idea of freedom and what it means are …damn, I keep saying it, but nothing else comes to mind, MASTERFULLY interwoven into this book. It’s not a lecture. It’s not detracting from the plot. It’s an integral part of this story and yet it teaches, it provokes thought, it is so relevant to today and today’s culture. (Obviously, I’m not a writer as I can’t come up with another word for “masterfully” :P )

“Books had become decorations for many people in recent years. It was such a shame.” Loc 1276 --- kindle copy

As we follow Matty on his journey to answer Hadrian’s question, we also follow him as he stumbles upon the path of love. His journey leads him to discover the difference between what was taught in school and what it means to be well-learned. From Iris’ favorite book, comes a line Matty discusses with his mother: 

“…the journey prints itself indelibly on the seeker.” Loc 1988 --- kindle copy

His mother talks about love and journeys. Matty, the seeker in this novel, is not only learning that it applies to love, but also to his sense of self, his sense of the world around him, and the people in his life.  Matty notices this later as his relationship with Iris develops further:

“It wasn’t just that the world was a different place, as his mother said that morning. He was different. The day before, Matty’s brain had been a jumbled mess of numbers, symbols, and anxiety. Iris’ kiss blew it all away.” Loca 2912 ---kindle copy

As Matty is discovering bits and pieces of lost history, it shapes how he sees the king, his parents, society, Iris. Iris helps with this, too, telling him to “watch the news.” 

The mystery, the puzzle, the Seven we get glimpses of, the entire book is one incredibly intricate chess match and it’s amazing to behold it as it’s revealed move by move. I truly loved this book. I will re-read it as I’m sure I missed many subtleties. I will recommend it as I want more and more people to think about the meaning of freedom. Unfortunately, it’s those who don’t read who fail to comprehend  things fully, but maybe, just maybe, they will read this wonderful tale of the kingdom of Columbia and discover for themselves what is January Black.

I had another quote from the book for you, but I think to include it will/could ruin the book for you. So I am going to just leave the kindle location that I highlighted while reading

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