Desert Isle Keeper
I looked up through my tears to see the flight attendant holding a packet of tissues and looking concerned. “Yes?” I sniffed.
“Are you okay? It’s just that you’re clearly crying very hard.”
I tried to smile. “Oh, I’m fine. It’s just my book.”
She smiled knowingly and put the tissues down on my tray table. A few minutes later, she was back with cookies and a refill of my drink. Clearly, she’s a book person.
I have been waiting for this book for nearly three years. I have journeyed with Jack and Caroline through thousands of pages, buckets of tears, flying fists of my own fury into my pillow, and five previous books (one of which, Rhapsody, I reviewed previously at AAR). I was craving this conclusion since the original set-up of the series and, y’all, it didn’t disappoint me at all.
For anyone who has not been subjected to my evangelism of this series, The Bellator Saga is a (now) six-part series written by Cecilia London which takes place in a dystopian America. We open the first book in the snowy woods, somewhere in northern New York with a man and a woman arguing. The woman, Caroline, has been injured and is potentially near death. She is demanding that her husband, Jack, leave her so that he can ensure the flash drive he’s carrying makes it with him to Canada.
Jack makes the excruciating decision to leave his wife in order to protect the data – upon which we’re told the fate of America rests – and we then follow Caroline for the rest of the book. Told in flashbacks and present time, the label of ‘saga’ is not a misnomer. This is an epic story of both a marriage and a country, about hope and justice, about motherhood, and the importance of good shoes, and dictatorships, and the very nature of the American experiment.
In the present-time of this story, the United States is being ruled (not governed, but ruled) by a megalomaniac named President Santos. He has cut off diplomatic ties with the rest of the world, and both Texas and California have seceded from the union. As Santos rose to power, Jack was the (republican) governor of Pennsylvania and Caroline was serving as First Lady of PA. Prior to that, however, she was an elected official herself and had become quite the darling of the Democratic party. Known for being fair, tough, and having a top-notch brain, Caroline is a potential Mary Sue in the best way – I want to desperately be her when I grow up. Prior to meeting Caroline, Jack was the worst kind of dude – the kind who used his good-looks and charm for evil. Caroline reformed him, accidentally, when he realized he had to be worthy of her and cleaned up his own act. Their brains together are unstoppable, but it’s their covenant with each other that fuels the story. These two souls were knitted together before the dawn of time for this moment in human history and what a moment it is. Once Santos took power, they transitioned from elected officials to resistance leaders to revolutionaries, and we’re along for the ride.
If you’re spoiler-averse on every single level, and think you’re in with what I said above, stop reading here and go purchase this book – or, indeed, Dissident, the first in the series – immediately. I’ve been recommending this thing for years and have yet to have someone come back to me and tell me it was a waste of their time.
The basic arc of the series is this: Caroline is found in the woods by the régime and is taken to a government torture chamber, The Fed. She is rescued by a motley crew and taken away to recover. She, Jack and her rescuers know they have to get to California, where the head of the resistance has its base. The end of the first trilogy (Sojourn) ends with their arrival in CA. The second trilogy is two-pronged. It’s the story of Caroline coming back to herself after enduring the unimaginable and it is a brutal but beautiful read; but it’s also the story of the mounting resistance to Santos and the coming confrontation to demand the restoration of power to the American people.
The series has gotten increasingly harder to review the longer it goes on as the process of keeping plot details under wraps so that readers can experience it fully is more and more challenging. This one, however, is in some ways the easiest. The happily-ever-afters we’ve been promised? They happen here, both inside and outside of the bedroom.
What is beautiful about Triumph, though, is the acknowledgement that happily-ever-afters often come with scars. Caroline carries physical ones, and so do those around her. As she’s chosen healing over wallowing, she’s also inflicted scars on those she loves and this book brings her to terms with that. It’s full of passionate prose about the very definition of patriotism, as well as vulnerable conversations that demonstrate how being gentle with oneself and having empathy others is actually the bedrock of our society.
I put Rhapsody on my Best of 2016 list and I’ll probably end up putting this series on my ‘Best of the Decade’ list at the end of it. I recommend it because it’s so rare in our world of contemporary fiction – an engrossing story that’s prophetic, powerful, and raw, that celebrates women but doesn’t disparage men, that shows both the beauty and gut-wrenching awful natures of this life. Ms. London knows her readers are adults and treats us like them.
For the record, my sobfest occurred at the letter to the Globe and Mail and generally continued on-and-off for the rest of the book. Thanks for these people, Ms. London. I will hold them in my heart for a long while yet.