Starving Review: Savagery and Saviors by Ken Hollern

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Savagery and Saviors by Ken Hollern (Amazon, Goodreads)

You have to respect chefs who have the tenacity to focus on real-world problems with their literary cuisine.  Savagery loads up this recipe, though, with the genocide in Darfur combined with child kidnapping, sex slavery, and human trafficking from the United States.  Are these spices too heavy and too far apart to mix well or do they blend together nicely?

Before we find out, let us cry out the Starving Review creed from the highest mountain:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible

I have to admit, when I first whipped out the utensils to start this meal, I was a bit confused.  You see, Savagery early on bakes up two very distinct story layers to its cake.  One is the child kidnapping tale, told on the high seas from California to Singapore and centered on two of our three main protagonists, and the other is focused on the violence in Darfur with the last protagonist.  These two independent plots continue on their merry way, with very different flavors and spices, for a good two-thirds of the meal.

My confusion turned to interest as it carried on.  The two layers, though each certainly describing tragedy, had very distinct flavors.  Our boat-bound pair’s plot tasted more like a romantic thriller, with the distinct spices of a romance novel between our male and female leads and action more like a crime thriller.  Our Darfur story was grim, emotional, and gritty, pulling no punches when it came to the tale our our third young protagonist’s village and people.  Was the chef going to bind these tales, so different in tone and flavor and a world apart geographically, in some masterful thematic way?

Unfortunately, no.  While it didn’t move in a horrible path, both layers wound up mixed thoroughly together.  It wasn’t horribly done, but the two layers remained vaguely chunky, never smoothly mixed, and joined by startling coincidence.  It isn’t horrible, let me be clear, but it’s just a bit awkward and ill-fitting.  I think the meal would have been tastier if the chef had concentrated on one of the two stories, maybe then tackling the other in another book.  Or maybe in a longer book, each layer could have more space to breathe and then been more smoothly blended.

On other technical fonts, Savagery is put together with skill and polish.  The writing style is breezy and easy, if a little sparse in some of the dialogue.  Our three main characters are fairly straight-forward and developed enough, though I feel that the young African protagonist doesn’t get enough real closure at the end of the tale.  The antagonists, though, while not unrealistic, are quite cardboard, but they are serviceable for their purpose in the overall story.  The pace is fairly relentless without being too crushing.  Overall quite solid.

To bring it all together, Savagery and Saviors tries to layer two intriguing layers of story, but winds up lessening both of them in the process.  Still, it isn’t a total loss, and if someone is interested in a thriller with some political and ethical elements mixed in, it wouldn’t make for a bad meal.  Still, the mixed up layers and uneven blending leave it short of the potential that I think it could live up to.

FINAL VERDICT: *** (A meal that tries to layer two intriguing layers of story, but winds up lessening both of them in the process!)

 

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