When I first considered starting a blog, I was incredibly insecure about it. Actually, I almost didn’t even do it. I had so many doubts, so many niggling insecurities. What if nobody reads it? What if nobody likes the books I like to read? Should I really let the world know that I prefer Terry Pratchett over Dostoyevski or Cornelia Funke over Hemingway? But then I had a revelation: Who cares about any of that? I like good stories, and I like talking about good stories. And maybe, if I put my thoughts about books I like on the internet, somebody eventually will start talking to me about them! So, ultimately, I’m hoping this blog will start up a dialogue.
The dubious honour of being the first book I write about goes to Radio: A Novel written by J. Rushing. Set in Paris in the roaring Twenties, Radio revolves around selfish, arrogant God Marduk (or M, as his friends call him). He’s built a Radio, a device that helps him and his fellow Gods to influence the minds of humans all over Europe. While he intends to keep out of the limelight and continue their game of subtle manipulation, the other Gods have different plans. The novel starts with a betrayal of his closest allies, and M, now on the run, must make some desperate calls to save his precious Radio.
Here’s the synopsis:
“Amid the music, lights and energy of 1928’s Paris, something sinister pulses through the æther. The Radio of the Gods manipulates minds across the continent and its creator, the arrogant god Marduk, will sacrifice everything to keep his kind from perverting his masterpiece. Attempted treason and bitter betrayal force Marduk to escape into a new, unknown body. Worse still, the previous owner, an opium-addicted jazz guitarist, is still inside. Desperate, drug-addled and fighting for control, Marduk is forced to rely on the few friends he has left – and one terrifying enemy — to see his mission to fruition. If Marduk and company fail, the gods’ vain machinations will destroy everything they’ve built, including civilization itself, all made possible by his RADIO.”
The World of Radio
Needless to say, the world of Radio absolutely and utterly reeled me in from the first page. The sense of place and time is so strong, that I felt as if I really was in Paris – and not the cliché idea of Paris you know from romantic movies, but Paris as a real, gritty, dirty, but yet somehow beautiful metropolis. And of course, I wasn’t alive during the 1920s, but never once did the novel feel forcedly old-timey – the characters and places felt real, as opposed to bedazzled caricatures that you often get in media set in that period.
But it’s not only the real that Rushing pulled off phenomenally: It’s also his worldbuilding that stands out. In Radio, humanity is split into different categories based on their psychic ability. Your bog-standard, every day humans are called Monos, named after their ability to control only one mind – their own. Monos are blissfully unaware that not everybody is like them.
Next on the ladder are Multis. These are your mediums or spiritualists. They can read other people’s minds, but not control them. Then, we have people like M. People, who have made themselves gods. They are called Broadcasters, due to their ability to take control of other minds, to make them see things that aren’t there. And they can transfer their own mind into a different body, making them immortal. These gods have formed an organisation called The Mentium, which subtly manipulates the minds of Monos all over the world to their benefit. The fourth, most elusive category are the Spectres, beings so powerful that even the Broadcasters are afraid of them. But they’ve been eradicated, and there’s definitely none of them left. Definitely.
Now, everyone who knows me can testify that I absolutely adore Mythology. If a book has ancient pantheons in it, no matter of which civilisation or culture, I will read it, and I’ll probably enjoy it. Radio, however, did something most books featuring ancient deities cannot pull off anymore: It surprised me. Rushing’s take on godhood is incredibly unique, and it works incredibly well. He took the one thing that I find most appealing about ancient deities – their humanity – and he ran with it. In the world of Radio, gods are incredibly human – because they are literally just humans with special powers.
Radio is written from M’s perspective, in first person. So naturally, the entire world and its cast is presented through his lens. And that is done incredibly well. M, to me, was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the novel. Not to give too much of his journey away, but if you – like me – are a sucker for a good redemption arc, M is your guy. He starts out as an arrogant, unlikeable antihero, who is only focused on his own interests. Sure, he does the right thing, but he does it despite himself, not because that’s what he wants to do. But then, he loses his position, his wealth, and his precious radio and finds himself in the body of an unfit, weak jazz musician who’s also addicted to Opium. Watching him slowly come to terms with his new environment and the people around him is not only incredibly entertaining, but also the start of a realisation for M: Everybody else is people, too.
His slow-burn friendship with the other characters is incredibly well done. Rushing manages to make the reader realise what M is feeling, even if the character himself has not quite realised his change of heart just yet. Subtle mentions of body language or the wording of certain thoughts give away how M slowly warms up to his Mono companions, even when he still clings to his ideas of grandiose superiority. This skill also translates into scenes of extreme emotion. You feel with M – even root for him – especially in moments when you know he is about to do something incredibly stupid out of anger, frustration or fear.
Through M’s eyes, we also get to know the rest of the characters: Del, the original “host” of the body he resides in – a drug-addled musician, kind at heart but beaten down by life. Del’s best friend and roommate, Bernard, who always looks out for his buddy. M’s best friend Viv, a Multi, who is the Madame of a brothel. And, maybe most importantly, M’s great love Lilith, who has been at his side for Millenia, but is now hunting for him.
This is the part where I voice the only critique I have for this novel: All characters M encounters are incredibly well fleshed out, and he (as well as Rushing) devotes a great deal of care to analyse them thoroughly, painting a round picture through the details. All characters, except for Lilith, that is. Despite their romance spanning literal centuries (if not millennia), Lilith remains painted with only one brush: She is a Femme Fatale, and not much more. Sometimes she’s for you, sometimes she’s against you, but she’s always sexily ruthless and ruthlessly sexy. I just expected M to have a more three-dimensional view of a woman that he has known and loved for such a long time.
I want to be clear: I do not think this is a gender thing. There are a variety of other, well rounded female characters in Radio. Lilith, however, is maybe the most important one for M, and I believe her being like that is a byproduct of trying to describe a relationship between two incredibly powerful, immortal characters, who are both always lusting for more power. M clearly loves her, but his inability to trust anybody shines through even in his most intimate relationship. It’s just unfortunate that Lilith’s character description suffers for it.
Radio is an incredibly original, exciting story, that I devoured as soon as I got my hands on it. I heartily recommend giving it a read, especially if you love Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Historical Fiction. Its worldbuilding is phenomenal, the plot is fast-paced and well crafted, and I literally could not put it down. I’m really looking forward to what else J Rushing has in store for us in the future!