#LGBT Speculative Fiction Review: THE BACKUP by Erica Kudisch

The BackupThe Backup by Erica Kudisch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel was so utterly mesmerizing that once I started it I couldn’t put it down. I probably should have been horrified by the events that took place, but there was a dreamlike quality to the narrative that most of my attention was focused on trying to figure out what was real and whether the narrator could be trusted.

The narrator Anthony graduated with a PhD in Musicology that is virtually worthless because he can’t get a job in academia. His uncle, who represents musicians, offers him a job as a personal assistant to an artist. Anthony feels that he doesn’t have a choice so he agrees to work for Nik, a rock god, who might actually be a god.

Nik’s music is so dangerous that concertgoers have to sign liability waivers. His concerts incite violence and orgies, and some of his fans have even committed suicide. Anthony thinks his job is to keep Nik under control, so that people won’t be hurt. But he can’t prevent a young woman from committing suicide at a concert and a security guard from being so enthralled by Nik’s music that he neglects his job. Anthony gets into a fight with the security guard, and while trying to protect himself ends up nearly killing the man.

Soon, the FBI is investigating Nik for criminal activity and trying to determine if Anthony is an accomplice. The FBI has no way of proving that Nik is responsible for these deaths, because Nik has an incomprehensible power that can’t be explained in the material world. Anthony has to decide whether he’s going to cover for Nik or help the FBI’s investigation.

It’s a difficult decision because Anthony both hates and lusts for Nik, who binds Anthony to him with the power of a song-a song Anthony can’t stop hearing. It’s a discordant song that Nik initially uses to get Anthony to sleep with him. Once that song is in Anthony’s head, he can’t decide if he really wants to get away from Nik.

What’s so good about this book is its ambiguity. I couldn’t help but want a happy ending for these characters, even though Nik’s morality was in question. I wanted Nik to be redeemed in the end. I wanted their crazy relationship to win. I wanted good to vanquish evil. I wanted Anthony to change Nik. I wanted to believe in Nik.

I wanted to believe that Nik cared for Anthony. That Nik’s ambiguous gestures and seeming concern for Anthony’s safety, his wanting for Anthony, and his admission that Anthony had the power to hurt him meant that Anthony was special to him. But this isn’t a romance novel. There is sex and a relationship, but there’s also codependency and abuse, and in the end it’s Anthony who changes.

I don’t read speculative fiction a lot, but I enjoyed this one immensely. I liked that most of the characters were LGBT. I liked that the main character Anthony was black and self-aware. The author’s inventive writing style really drew me in. I want to read more books like this.

*ARC received from NetGalley for an honest review.

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