cover image Chain-Gang All-Stars

Chain-Gang All-Stars

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Pantheon, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-31733-4

Bestseller Adjei-Brenyah sets his breathtaking and pulse-pounding debut novel (after the short story collection Friday Black) in a dystopian alternate U.S. where people incarcerated in an expansive private prison system have the option to fight for their freedom in gladiator-style death matches. Fighters who partake in the Chain-Gang All-Stars operation can rise to fame and notoriety, a crucial profit-driving component for those who control CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment. Among these superstars are fighters Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker, who have made names for themselves as undefeated champions and “Links,” or teammates in a Chain-Gang. As Thurwar takes a step closer to freedom one match at a time, however, she begins to worry about leaving Hamara and her other Links behind. Through this brutal, fight-scene-studded story, the author delivers insightful critiques of the prison-industrial complex, capitalism, and the ways in which Hollywood and celebrity culture exploit Black talent. Both the political allegory and the edge-of-your-seat action work beautifully. Readers will be wowed. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, Gernert Co. (May)