“Rising Son” by Steven A. Coulter
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: The Chronicles of Spartak #1
THE POVERTY gap is great in futuristic USA, and as a poor–but gifted–student, Spartak does all he can to keep his family alive and healthy. Though he is talented in the arts and athletics, and goes to a special school on a government grant, he knows the horrendously rich control his destiny. When politics take a turn for the worst, and the government makes it legal for the upper class to own the poor class as slaves for “their own good”, Spartak is the first person to be forcibly taken, have his family threatened with capitulation, and be thrust into slavery. Those he could trust can no longer be trusted, but in his new life he finds friends in unexpected places, and with his natural charm and perseverance, he fights for his rights to be his own man.
First let me explain my ambiguous genre classing. This book is listed as LGBT Young Adult Science Fiction, but in my opinion, it wasn’t young adult at all. When Spartak is sold as a slave, he’s sold as a sex slave to a young baron. Not only is the content graphic, but the idea itself strays outside of the YA boundary a bit, especially considering Spartak is sixteen years old. But because he was sixteen, I hesitated putting the M/M tag on it, though it gave me more of that feel, with the very present slave-to-lover trope. I didn’t even put LGBT on it, even though yes, technically Spartak is bisexual, because… his sexuality didn’t seem to be as much of an issue to the worldbuilding, as the fact he was raped constantly since he was a boy because he was poor.
Despite his difficulties, Spartak is quite a special sixteen-year old. Not only is he mentally and physically gifted, but he’s completely selfless. He protects his poor family to his own detriment, including being raped by the authorities while he tries to smuggle clothing and food into the projects. His parents lived in an abandoned mini golf course, or something similar, which gave the world an interesting apocalyptic carnival feel–very The Hunger Games. And even when Spartak is a slave, and essentially powerless, he draws allies to him and constantly fights for other people’s rights. It’s more than generous to say he’s a Mary Sue, or Gary Stu, and the abuse he endures is unending. Because of this Gary Stu wish fulfillment, even though he suffers greatly, and surely deserves a happy ending, when he is victorious it feels a bit tired.
I’m not going to say you shouldn’t read this if you are under the age of sixteen, because frankly I was reading books with graphic violence and sexual acts when I was younger than thirteen, but I will say this didn’t strike me as YA, with its more adult themes. If you love The Hunger Games, and you want a bit more of a gritty and adult feel, you may love Rising Son.
This Review Originally Posted to Queer Sci Fi: