Verdict: A post-Recession thriller slash morality tale that provokes and entertains.
“Join the Ring of Monarchs.” With that first line, Alex Chu invites you to keep reading. Like discouraged furniture salesman Logan Weidman, who finds these words in his Gmail inbox, you immediately want to know more. What you and Logan discover is at once disturbing and exciting. The Monarchs promise “wealth and status beyond your wildest dreams” and only recruit those who “show great promise and ambition in life.” Membership is free. The only catch? You must be willing to perform a human sacrifice.
MONARCHS is based on an email Chu actually received, and the author was right to see in it a seed that would germinate a fruitful story. Many readers can no doubt relate to Logan, who is bright and ambitious but struggling to move beyond his boring job, long commute, and student loan debt. Chu describes the tedium of Logan’s current life so well that you are tricked into half-wanting Logan to accept the invitation. Yeah, murder is bad, but who wants to read a whole book about someone stuck in a cubical cold-calling customers? Chu skillfully uses a suspenseful narrative to make the reader examine how far he or she would go to escape the doldrums of American working life, if given a chance.
While the writing is effective overall, there are some clichéd metaphors and over-the-top descriptions that distract from the narrative. Logan bounds for the train “like a cheetah;” a character’s “sapphire eyes shone even in the dim light of the pub.” This is too bad because Chu’s more straightforward descriptions are very effective. When Logan visits his mother, and the suburban home he worked so hard to leave, Chu writes, “Large brown spots pocked the carpet from spilled coffee and soda.” That sentence alone lets you know exactly why he wanted out.
Still, MONARCHS is entertaining and thought-provoking, though Chu could have delved deeper into the moral issues raised by the book’s premise. Logan is portrayed as someone with the ability to succeed without resorting to murder. The story therefore sets up an opposition between ill-gotten wealth and power and wealth and power earned through hard work, but it never questions wealth and power themselves as goals. Despite the bleakness of its descriptions of middle-class life, MONARCHS sometimes seems naïve to the difficulties of upward-mobility in 21st Century America. It would have been a more complex story if it had dealt with those difficulties and asked its protagonist, and, by extension, its readers, what they would live for if they could not “have it all.”
~Olivia Rosane for IndieReader