Rating: 4.75 stars
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Patrick Henry thought that he had it made. He was tested by the Empath Center at New Las Vegas and now he was being promoted to Class One Empath. As a Class One Empath, Patrick will have all the stability and success he has wanted, an apartment, independence, and even a chance to partner and have a family. Patrick has come a long way from being a scavenger on the streets of Neverneverland on the outskirts of New Las Vegas and appreciates everything the Empath Center has done for him. So he is eager to succeed with his first assignment his Adjudicators give him.
The file reads Case #723, John Doe 439, and it is Patrick’s first solo assignment. His advisors have warned Patrick that the man has tried to commit suicide several times and is to remain heavily medicated for everyone’s safety, including his own. John Doe 439 was found tortured, raped, and unconscious outside the city and since he was brought inside the Empath Center, he has been mute and unmanageable except with drugs. Patrick’s assignment is to try and reach inside to see what is anything is left of the man they call 439.
What Patrick finds is a haunted, beaten, and abused man that he is not only attracted to, but also can actually reach. And the discoveries Patrick makes as he connects with John Doe shatter his notions of the society he lives in and the rules he has lived by. John Doe 439 is actually high-level Psychic Talent named Jac. And Jac’s talents have made him a wanted man. Soon Patrick must decide between the safe confines and regimented society of his world or help Jac flee to freedom in the outside, fighting the government forces every step of the way.
Freedom by Jay Kirkpatrick is on Goodreads list as a Best M/M Book by a Debut Author of 2013 and it certainly deserves that title and more. What an astounding debut novel. I kept returning to the author’s bio, sure to find previous works listed and finding none. It is rare that an author’s first novel packs the emotional punch this one delivers, along with just terrific world building (I can count those other authors with one hand), but Jay Kirkpatrick’s first novel is just amazing.
First of all, Freedom is set sometime in the future after some catastrophe has hit Earth. Whether the “Blast’s” origin was human or astronomical in nature is never stated but we see how the human societies have restructured themselves, the “civilized society” pulling back from the contaminated “outside,” where touch and the notion of romance is frowned upon and people are elevated by their “gifts” to a level where they are granted education, housing, safety and perhaps even a “partnership.” A white city peopled with those in white, all seemingly isolated by their very politeness and niceties, a very chilling place to be sure. Kirkpatrick does a remarkable job in letting us feel how safe and content Patrick is within these regimented walls while still portraying how stark and barren of life the Empath Center and the City really is. As Patrick meets John Doe 439 and we accompany Patrick through the halls and rooms that house John Doe and others, we start to get an uneasy feeling about the place and the rules Patrick has lived by, just as Patrick does. The author slowly builds our suspicions and unease with each chapter until we feel like screaming at Patrick to grab Jac and run. At that point, the reader is completely lost within the story and the plight of Patrick and Jac. A perfect blend of skillful world building, complex storyline and great characterizations.
I can tell you that Kirkpatrick had my stomach churning with apprehension, because the author had led me so skillfully to the point that I was so fearful for Patrick and Jac’s future. I was absolutely invested in these characters and others around them because they were 100 percent real to me at that moment. We watch Patrick evolve from a citizen complacent in his gilded cage he didn’t even know he was in, to one shattered by the truths he uncovers and the person who revealed them to him. A transformation made all the more believable because of Jac, the wounded, abused psychic Patrick heals and then loves. Jac is also a beautifully realized character. His abuse and the events that set off his broken mental state are shown to the reader in flashes, the worst of which occurs “off stage” as it were but the horrors inflicted upon Jac and others is still brought home to the reader and Patrick with skill and sensitivity. And the villains are made more chilling because of their absolute belief in the rightness of their actions.
This book is divided into two sections. The first called Confinement, taking place within the Empath Center and focusing on Patrick and Jac’s meeting and slowly building relationship. The second is called Escape where Patrick realizes his world and work are a sham and has to decide whether to stay or flee with Jac. That is all I will say but the focus does shift from the personal, intimate stage of Jac and Patrick to a much larger focus, with more characters introduced and a greater reveal of the world outside. I think Kirkpatrick handles the shift in focus smoothly and realistically. And while I do understand the direction the author took with the narrative, I might have preferred the focus to have stayed narrowed to Patrick and Jac, but that’s just my preference. Not all will feel like that.
The only quibble keeping me from a 5-star rating is a power one character demonstrates late in the book that had me wondering why it did not reveal itself before. Either I missed something or this new power came out of nowhere, giving me a “huh” moment at the end of the story. But that small quibble aside, the ending was everything I expected from this story and its author. Heartrending, satisfying, while still leaving room for more to come.
So run, don’t walk to the nearest eBook store and grab this up. What a remarkable debut, what a marvelous journey Jay Kirkpatrick takes us on. I can’t wait to see what Kirkpatrick will come up with next. This will be one of my top books of 2013.
Cover art by Anne Cain, just perfection in every way.