KING MAKER: THE KNIGHTS OF BRETON COURT I by Maurice Broaddus (2010 Amgry Robot Books / 385 pp. / mmp)
I'm a SUCKER for gang-related tales, be it WEST SIDE STORY, THE WARRIORS (both Sol Yurick's grim 1965 novel as well as the campy 1979 film version) or 'hood-classics such as MENACE TO SOCIETY and COLORS. By taking something like MENACE TO SOCIETY and mixing it with the legend of King Arthur, Maurice Broaddus has delivered an addictive read that's all its own.
About 20 years after his father (Luther) is gunned down by neighborhood rivals, King James White comes on the scene in an ever-decaying, drug-ravaged Indianapolis. What makes King stand out from other street people is his desire to see his neighborhood come together, as well as his unusually mature demeanor. Guided by the mysterious, riddle-talking homeless man Merle (the same man who had been at Luther's ear during his reign), King's first story follows his struggle to see who can be trusted and who should be avoided. Broaddus has a large cast here, but as someone who grew up fascinated with Mario Puzo's over-stuffed GODFATHER novels, I became aquainted with the different crews and characters here quite quickly. And we get some real interesting hood-dwellers, especially as the supernatural elements unfold (one duo, Michaela and Marshall, often consume those who stand in their way, "DAWN OF THE DEAD" -style).
As the inner-city turmoil mounts, a nasty form of heroin hits the streets and leads to a climax that's as action packed as it is violently horrific. And while this is a gang-themed novel, the focus is on its individuals and how they react to what they see in their own groups as well as their enemies' (although I'm betting we'll see more from full gang-standpoints as the series continues).
As with any novel hosting a large cast, there's some characters introduced that I'd like to see more of: Detective Octavia Burke was raised in the 'hood, yet she's a street-smart, strong role model not only for the local women but to all who think there's no future. Hopefully we'll see a lot more of her (the manner in which she relates to her hard-headed, caucasian male partner provides some of the best and more thought-provoking dialogue in the book).
KING MAKER's strength is its ability to stay true-to-life even when the fantasy components come into play; the reader has enough time to get invested in the urban drama yet won't find anything goofy when dragons, cannibals, and mystics are hinted at and eventually encountered.
Needless to say, I'm looking forward to where Broaddus goes from here (this Angry Robot edition also features the first three chapters of the next novel, and promises the next 2 novels will be released in 2011). Highly recommended.