Extrapolating tomorrow’s horrors is the bread and butter of apocalypse fiction, and this fast-paced thriller with an Orwellian scenario fills the bill. Speculative fiction writer Costi Gurgu’s novel Servitude imagines that corporations have discovered a lucrative new source of income: legalized slavery.
It’s a world crippled by eco disasters, nuclear wars, economic collapse and the disintegration of most recognizable political institutions—except for America’s fascist dictatorship ruled by Republicans. Our entry into this lurid nightmare is OCD-afflicted NYC cop Blake Frye, newly arrived in London under false pretenses for a clandestine meeting. Accompanying him is his pregnant wife Isabella, an investigative journalist whose work has enraged powerful U.S. billionaire William Wilmot, who hopes to corner the market on America’s emerging slave trade.
Blake’s mandate from his FBI handlers is to gain access and gather intel on Wilmot’s machinations, starting with poncy, powerful Englishman Samuel Brit. But it’s a dangerous game. In addition to a long-corrupted Homeland Security and European intelligence operatives, the players include gun-for-hire Nigel Blakesley, whose motivations are complicated at best; Senator Norman Chadwick, one of the last honest men in Congress; and Blake’s brother Corbin, another journalist so deep undercover that he’s romancing Wilmot’s daughter Gabriela, a vicious sadist poised to inherit her father’s evil empire.
As the Fryes return home, Wilmot has Isabella kidnapped, and the chase is on for Blake to save her before the Wilmots disappear her into the slave market for good.
The novel’s structure is tricky to navigate, not only because almost everyone is duplicitous but also because it intersperses contemporary action with month-by-month flashbacks— e.g. “One year earlier”— showing how everyone got into this mess. These issues are compounded by some fanciful Matrix-y science fiction elements that could have been better explained.
Ultimately, though, these are minor distractions. Overall, unusual, distinctive characters, the book’s intriguing scenario and big cinematic set pieces buoy an energetic, paranoid thriller that lives somewhere between 1984 and a James Bond movie.