Sacred Band, by Joseph D. Carriker jr.
Where to begin? I am emotionally compromised, that’s where.
My favourite thing about this novel is the characters. I’ve been thinking about how best to describe them, but then, describing people has never been my strong suit. I describe characters well enough, using the labels assigned to them: troubled, gentle, loving, queer, trans, motherly, a person of colour, powerful, traumatised.
I struggle with describing the powers at play in this book because they’re not characters. They’re people. They’re alive and delightfully complex, each one more than their assigned archetype, each one richly developed with backstories that are not laid bare and tossed in your face for easy consumption. They tell you as much as any person would, and in ways that people do: in action, in small talk, in expression and emotion. Their defining traits aren’t tossed and jumbled into a single paragraph early in the chapter. They’re complicated in the ways I am complicated, or you are, or the ways the people you love are. They’re messy. They grieve. They get scared. They can be irrational and clingy. They can project their insecurities onto others. They also love and feel in a very, very real way, and that is the core of what makes Sacred Band so brilliant. A superhero is a symbol, a representation of a concept, and it’s important that you understand the face beneath the mask before you can begin to grasp the hero. These people are heroes, and not because of the (overly tight) outfits.
My second favourite thing about this book is the sheer diversity of cast. Gender, sexuality, race, and background mix and merge to bring people from various walks of life- with respectful appreciation of the reality of their existence- into eachother’s company. Each has different strengths and different obstacles. Sometimes they chafe, sometimes they soothe. Difficult situations are dealt with in unexpected ways, and I’m not just talking about the fight scenes. A friend of mine uses the phrase ‘A balm to my soul’ and that’s exactly what this story has been for me. Familiar struggles (especially the queer kind) played out on these pages are mysteriously lacking in mass-produced media, and although that issue is slowly improving, the representation of queer culture in these pages is so much more satisfying to me than the token gay characters popping up in our standard superhero fare. Here queerness is written the way most of us experience it. It’s every day life. It has events that mark our history, and sometimes they can define our personal narrative, but for the most part it’s just part of who we are. For the characters in Sacred Band, it’s just part of who they are, but within that, they give voice and power to the inherent rage against inequality and oppression common in the queer community.
We’ve all heard about those who are not so lucky as to be born into a safe environment. Those who have been disowned, discarded, abused and tortured and even killed for who they are. The fact that the novel begins in Ukraine and mentions the unrest in Russia hits a nerve. The villains in Sacred Band are real. We’ve all felt their touch, one way or another. From those who fought hard in defence of DADT to those who beat frightened transfolk and post the videos to youtube, we know these villains. The pain and anger in Sacred Band is all too real.
This novel gifts us with the superheroes that Hollywood pretends could never be: the queer, the underfoot, the outcasts, doing what they always have. What we always have. Fighting for our own, for the lives of those like us.
When I first settled down to read, I had no idea how sorely I needed that.
So yeah, I’m emotionally compromised. Read the fucking book. It’s worth it.