Title: Counterpunch (Belonging #3)
Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Characters: Brooklyn Marshall, Nathaniel Bishop
POV: 3rd Person
Sub-Genre: Alt. U/Fantasy
Fight like a man, or die like a slave.
Brooklyn Marshall used to be a policeman in London, with a wife and a promising future ahead of him. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose father was a Member of Parliament and had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the overcrowded prison system, Brooklyn was sold into slavery rather than incarcerated. Now, he’s the “Mean Machine”, a boxer on the slave prizefighting circuit, pummelling other slaves for the entertainment of freemen and being rented out for the sexual service of his wealthier fans.
When Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn’s services for a night, it seems like any other assignation. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it “love”—such things do not exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to help get Brooklyn’s conviction overturned, he dares to hope. Then, an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he has worked so hard to achieve and sending him into the most important fight of all—the fight for freedom.
Aleksandr Voinov slips seamlessly into Rachel Haimowitz’s Belonging world with Counterpunch, the story of a man whose life is ravaged by a single, tragic moment, an event so life altering that it strips him of everything he’d once accepted as the inalienable rights of his status as a freeman. Brooklyn Marshall transforms from a man sworn to protect and to serve to a man who is sentenced to persevere and submit, a punishment that creates a man who must fight for every scrap of dignity he can win, though each small victory is laced with the ugly truth that he is a slave and his life is no longer his own.
This is the story of a man who is two years into a life sentence, if life is a word that can be used to describe passing days not doing what you choose to do but what others force you to do because choice is not an option. Brooklyn is a commodity, his success in the boxing ring a means of lining the pockets of the men who own him. All the aggression and anger at the injustice of his circumstances, toward slavery as a whole, is meted out as punishment of his opponents; it is the one place where, for a brief time, Brooklyn is permitted to be the master of his own fate, though the satisfaction of those moments of victory are tinged by the bitterness of guilt, the sting of betrayal, and the helplessness of his circumstances.
True to form, Aleksandr Voinov pulls no punches in this novel. A sense of desperation blends perfectly with the oppressive rage of a man who is shackled by the tangible and intangible bonds of a society that once defined him as free but snatched it away as punishment in a bid for retribution.
The story is not a romance yet perfectly expresses Brooklyn’s deep sense of desire for a connection, a desire that is blunted by past betrayal, abandonment, distrust, and captivity at the hands of the freemen who control his every move and response. It’s a perfect juxtaposition to his relationship with Nathaniel Bishop, the man who challenges Brooklyn and makes him want things he can’t allow himself to hope for. Nathaniel is a man with secrets, a man with connections both personal and professional that will shake the uncertain foundation on which Brooklyn exists.
Counterpunch doesn’t promise happily-ever-after, but what it does do successfully is make the reader hope that Brooklyn and Nathaniel can forge a bit of happiness for themselves from a future that holds more promise than the past.