Buy Link: Counterpunch
Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Length: Novel

Rating: 5

Brooklyn Marshall is a boxer on the slave circuit.  Two years ago he was a freeman, but after being convicted of a violent crime he was sentenced to a life of slavery.  Brooklyn is one of the top boxers in the circuit and spends his days training at the gym and his nights fighting in matches and being sold out on “dates” to wealthy men and women.  Brooklyn is strong and incredibly tough in the ring, but powerless outside of it.  The memories of his old life and the knowledge that he can’t hope for more than his current existence cut him deeply.

One night after a match, Brooklyn is sent to spend the evening with Nathaniel Bishop.  Nathaniel is different than most of the people Brooklyn meets who just want to use him for their own pleasure and see him as nothing more than property. In fact, the first couple of times they meet, Nathaniel seems to want nothing other than seeing to Brooklyn’s enjoyment.  Nathaniel’s undemanding demeanor helps to ease some of Brooklyn’s anger and hostility, allowing him to relax a bit in ways he can’t with anyone else.  As the men continue to spend time with each other, a relationship builds as Brooklyn begins to let down his guard and Nathaniel continues to treat Brooklyn like a real person and not a slave when they are together.

Nathaniel is not nearly as docile as he seems, however. He is quite a powerful man and he knows how to get what he wants.  When he sets his mind on Brooklyn, he is willing to use his wealth and influence to make things happen.  I really loved this added dimension to Nathaniel’s character.  He is someone so strong that he doesn’t need to always show it. With Brooklyn he is willing to step back and allow the other man the control that he needs.  But when it comes time to make a move, Nathaniel is more powerful and strong than almost anyone in the story.

I found Counterpunch incredibly gripping and fascinating.  I loved the interaction between Brooklyn and Nathaniel and the way the relationship develops so slowly and gently between these two strong men.  Voinov gives such depth and nuance to each of their characters, there is so much to uncover as the story goes on.  From Nathaniel’s hidden power, to the inner pain Brooklyn experiences when he harms someone even accidentally, each character is rich and well developed.

I am not much of a boxing fan, and I’ll be honest that it put me off reading this for a while.  But please be reassured that this is so much more than a sports story.  The boxing scenes enhance the book wonderfully and really help us to get to know Brooklyn and what drives him.  But there is a lot more than just boxing going on here.  The are so many issues being explored and the power dynamics are just fascinating.  The books examines the role of physical power, of power and influence, and the loss of power that comes from being a slave.  So many things are intertwined in what becomes an incredibly rich and rewarding story.

My only complaint here is that I felt a bit disoriented in the world building. It took me most of the story to resolve whether this is a modern day alternate universe with slavery, or whether it is some sort of dystopian future (I settled on the former). I found myself occasionally pulled out of the story as I tried to figure it out.  I would also like to have received some sort of explanation of the slavery.  How did it start?  Is it worldwide?  How long has it been occurring?  To be honest, the story stands up incredibly well even without resolving these questions, but I do think it would have helped to touch on them a bit more.

Overall I can’t say enough good things about this book.  It is definitely not a light story, but despite Brooklyn’s often dire circumstances, I never felt it became depressing or overwhelming.  There is so much richness in Counterpunch and the characters are so wonderfully developed I was totally engrosssed throughout the book.  Definitely highly recommended.

Cover Review: Wow, so gorgeous!  I love this one and I think it really captures the book.

P.S. Normally I don’t give 5-star reviews to books when I have any specific issues with the story (such as the one above about the world building).  But honestly, this book is so good it really deserves the highest rating so I made an exception.

One more note: Counterpunch takes place in the same world as other stories in the Belonging universe, although I don’t believe there are any overlapping characters. I haven’t read them and had no problem jumping right into this story. But be sure to check out our reviews of Where He Belongs and Anchored, which we reviewed earlier today.

And still more: This review is for the original version of Counterpunch. It has since been rereleased by Riptide Publishing.