There is a world teeming with life, love, and equality and it’s literally a spin away—or at least that was how Sam wound up in Gairyland where there truly is equality for all sexual orientations and identities. What’s more, those who take the Spectrum test can learn super powers. The man who saved Sam from a succubus, for example, is a guardian. His new friends include an empath, a fire-wielder, and a werewolf. And Sam himself…well, he’s got the same ability as the Queen of the Witches: Blank Slate.
There’s more to Gairyland that simply reveling in being totally free and enjoying awesome powers. The Queen has spent her days crafting a way to take the Gairyland’s concept of equality back to Sam’s old world—one where moral crusaders are slow to change their tune. Every gay, lesbian, and trans who suffers at the hands of these oppressors is a target for the Queen. She feels the gay liberation movement has stagnated and seeks to force equality now, but is smart enough to know she’ll need help spinning the message the right way. That’s where Sam and his friends come in. As the Queen’s army of Renegayds fight against the homophobic Mission Morality organization, she sets up Sam and his friends as the Scales of Justice. Their job is simple: make sure Renegayd does more good than bad.
For Sam, however, he can’t quite see the world in the black and white terms the Queen does. Homophobia, transphobia, violence against the gender fluid, all of that is wrong and Sam knows that. At the same time, he’s not convinced that outright killing the homophobic is the answer to the problem. As he works to maintain balance between the actions the Queen asks of Renegayd and his own sense of morality, both sides of the battle grow in size and ferocity. Desperate to seek another way out, Sam pairs up with far less extreme organization and makes a desperate play to prevent outright murder on both sides—but his newfound force of fighters is pitifully small and the hate and bloodlust on both sides is immeasurable.
Okay, I have to mention this because it really affected how I understood the story: the book is presented in the advance review copy as a nonlinear telling—but I don’t know if that is intentional or not because the chapters were numbered, but they were not in number order. It’s probably just an editing thing, but when I was about 20% through the book and suddenly landed on chapter 18, I had to stop reading and check all the chapter headings to confirm they were out of order. I could tell by the way the action kept jumping around that the story telling was nonlinear, but the chapter numbers made me question if I didn’t some how get a corrupted copy or something.
I do want to discuss this nonlinear quality. Generally, I’m a fan of this kind of story telling. I like how it kept me on edge in this story, always waiting for the details to be filled in. In this particular book, the big “what happened?!” for me centered on the Sam/Brun-Brun relationship. The first chapter introduced us to Sam as being split up from Brun-Brun; the next chapter flashed back to when they first met; the third chapter shows how obviously Sam is pining for Brun-Brun; the fourth chapter shows them getting to know each other—and on and on for the first half of the book or so. It’s like building a puzzle from the outside in. As conceptually entertaining as this was, once the two timelines meet up towards the middle of the book and we shifted into linear story telling, it’s clear that the plot is going to dominate the action moreso than any interpersonal relationships. There’s a bit of romance and a lot of pining, but it’s pretty tame and not very well substantiated considering all the build up I thought we got. Personally, I rather liked how the Sam/Brun-Brun ship sailed off into the sunset—but it’s not a HEA or even a HFN ending in the romance department, so be forewarned (but, er, no one dies or ends up hating anyone else, either, so there’s that—it is, in short, the kind of ambiguous “end” that flames the fires of fan fiction).
So this plot. It’s temping to say it’s just a “good” versus “evil” kind of plot, but it’s really not. The evil side is so overtly evil, it’s not even worth talking about other than to say this evil side is a caricature and a foil for the real discussion: the “good” side, the Queen’s side. We get sucked into this fabulous exploration of what it means to be on the “equality now” side. Watching the action unfold through Sam’s eyes was great, too, because he’s got all his hang ups from the not-Gairyland world pitted against all the potential that is represented by Gairyland itself. He’s pretty susceptible to suggestion and joins right up with the Queen’s idea about liberating all the gays—that’s a great cause, no doubt. But as the strong march on, we see that there are shades to how this can happen. Sam eventually gets put into a position to act as the tempering force to the Queen’s forceful action and ultimately has to act as the voice of reason. The big argument centers around how fast change needs to happen, how fast change has been happening, and what to do about any of it.
Underneath this fantastical backdrop of a secret world of total equality, the battle between the lovers and the haters, Sam’s mixed reaction to shades of good, and the on-again/off-again feeling I got for the Sam/Brun-Brun relationship is someone else’s coming out story. This is the story that, we find out, drove all the action, created all the drama, that Sam and the rest of the cast get caught in the middle of. This story gets about one chapter, yet puts things in a terribly sympathetic light—and it is told right after the epic battle scene. It is the Queen’s story and whatever else you might feel about magic-wielding LGBT runaways in a secret world of their own, her story made the book dimensional for me in a way not even conflicted Sam could. If nothing else, I think Renegayd deserves a read for the intimate look into the makings of the Queen of the Witches.
On the whole, I rather enjoyed this challenging read. I would have loved more time and attention paid to the Sam/Brun-Brun relationship because despite their obvious attraction and romance and lovers spats, it felt more like being told these qualities than seeing them unfold on the page. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a book that explores notions of good and evil, that is wildly creative with a veneer of the bizarre, and includes some wonderfully conflicted characters, this would be a great read for you.