Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Cover Artist: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
But Link: Amazon.com
Genre: Urban Fantasy/ M/M/M, Interracial, Diverse
Length: Novel/96K words/320 PDF pages
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
Review Summary: Three men unite to fight corporate greed in an alternate universe New York where the residents seemed to have gone mad and anarchy reigned.
Imagine a world without hunger. In 1960, a superfood was invented that made starvation a thing of the past. Manna, the cheaply manufactured staple food, is now as ubiquitous as salt in the world’s cupboards, pantries and larders.
Nelson Oliver knows plenty about manna. He’s a food scientist—according to his diploma, that is. Lately, he’s been running the register at the local video rental dive to scrape together the cash for his exorbitantly priced migraine medication.
In a job fair gone bad, Nelson hooks up with copywriter Javier and his computer-geek pal Tim, who whisks them away from the worst of the fiasco in his repurposed moving truck. At least, Nelson thinks those two are acquainted, but they’re acting so evasive about it, he’s not sure how they know each other, exactly. Javier is impervious to Nelson’s flirting, and Tim’s name could appear in the dictionary under the entry for “awkward.” And with a riot raging through Manhattan and yet another headache coming on, it doesn’t seem like Nelson will get an answer anytime soon. One thing’s for sure, the tension between the three of them is thick enough to cut with a knife…even one of those dull plastic dealies that come in the package with Mannariffic EZ-Mealz.
I have always liked the way Jordan Castillo Price’s mind works because her stories are never about what they appear to be on the surface. Her plots are extremely complex and always seem to run on adrenalin as everything around the characters is falling apart. The Starving Years is another example of how this author drags her readers through hell on a wild ride where there are no stop signs and all the barriers are blowing up in their faces. This is a classic high octane adventure that goes from high to higher and just when you think things couldn’t possibly get worse for our heroes it peaks.
Javier and Nelson met when they attended a job fair sponsored by the makers of a food staple called manna that was in every person’s home in New York. Manna had replaced other food items; no longer were people buying fish, meat and fresh fruit at the supermarket, everyone ate manna which was cheap and filling – maybe too filling.
Nelson was attracted to the inscrutable Javier as soon as he saw him but Javier was not interested because he thought Nelson was immature. The boring food fair came to an abrupt end as the city of New York erupted in a riot and everyone had to run for their lives. Javier saved Nelson and two supporting characters, Randy and Marianne, by directing them to a van where Tim, someone he had met online, was waiting. The ride to Tim’s apartment was a scene out of hell as the streets of Manhattan became like the days of the wild, wild west where violence and guns were the only language spoken. Javier and Tim didn’t seem surprised by the riot, and a blogger who used the pseudonym Voice of Reason inferred that it was staged by Canaan, the company that produced manna.
It soon became clear that Javier and Tim had their own agenda which was to find incriminating evidence against Canaan so that their toxic food would be exposed to the world and hopefully the principals of the company would be convicted and sent to jail for their crimes. But getting the goods on Canaan would take more than insider help; it would involve guts and time, and time was in very short supply. Complicating everything, New York was basically in a state of lock down as road closures were everywhere, phone lines were down and the Internet was sporadic at best and to make matters worse Nelson, who suffered from debilitating migraines, was in the throes of one that made him useless during most of the crisis.
On the surface Nelson seemed to be the typical man whore but was he the loser he appeared to be? I thought he was the most three dimensional and likeable character in the story as his glib approach to sex hid his kind heart, years of hurt and his vulnerability. He worked at a dead end job at a video store despite his impressive professional credentials and only attended the job fair as a last resort to see if he could get a better paying position at Canaan, but once there he seemed disinterested.
Every main character was flawed but they had so many appealing human qualities it was difficult not to like them. Javier lost the sight of one eye several years ago and was very sensitive about others seeing it and the way his face was disfigured by his injury. He was also still smarting about being dumped by his boyfriend while he was recovering in hospital, as well as the fact that his father who could more than afford to pay for the surgery to repair the damage to his face refused to do so. In addition he was sensitive about being Hispanic and initially thought that Tim wasn’t attracted to him for that reason. Life had dealt him so many blows his trust level was zero and it wasn’t until much later he realized that trust was a two way street. Computer expert Tim was innocent and shy in many ways which endeared him to me, and he was also the most trusting character even though he had everything to lose, including his freedom.
The pacing was unbelievably frenetic and the characters were tossed from one untenable situation to the next without taking a breath. The main plot of Canaan being complicit in the violent behaviour exploding all over New York seemed like a fitting background for Tim’s crazy driving. All the pieces of the puzzle were integrated seamlessly to make this a truly engrossing story, from the first meeting to the characters’ stumbling attempts at being supportive to each other despite some major trust issues. Marianne and Randy also got their turn in the spotlight as the action heated up and they came into their own.
Amidst all of the human trauma and tragedy was the sweetest romance between three very damaged individuals, each of whom had been beaten down by life and the people they trusted, so finding not one but two men to love was like a gift.
The story switches POVs between the three main characters and we experience their emotions and understand what drives them. Each character’s back story was absorbing and fully fleshed out and at times so stark it was as if they were naked. It never ceases to amaze me that with all of her skillful worldbuilding Jordan’s characters are always what move me most about her stories.
The Starving Years is not a warm and fuzzy book – it’s gritty and teems with drama, betrayal and violence yet it manages in the end to be a story about trust and love.
NOTE: Some of the scenes in the book may be difficult for those readers sensitive to violence especially against children.