Title: Moral Authority
Author: Jacob Z. Flores
Cover Art: Wilde City Press
Publisher: Wilde City Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Moral Authority, Publisher
Genre: Gay fiction/Speculative fiction/Dystopian
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Review summary: A good read with some flaws. Be warned – there’s no happy ending and the novel ends with a cliffhanger.
Blurb: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are prescribed ideals in America of 2050. The Moral Authority, the nation’s newest branch of government, has virtually eliminated crime, poverty, and most social ills, but it also rules the land with a tyrannical fist, championing ignorance and brandishing fear.
Mark Bryan is a gay man whose existence brands him an outlaw; Isaac Montoya is a charming stranger, who entices Mark to defy moral law; and Samuel Pleasant runs the Moral Authority and plans to punish moral offenders and a rebellious uprising—no matter the cost.
Will liberty and justice return for all?
Do you want to live in a world free of crime and racial prejudices where people are always smiling at each other? You do? Welcome to the world of Moral Authority. Unfortunately, this is also the world where a branch of government controls every aspect of American life, including intake of calories, the way you walk down the street and talk, things you watch and read. America is separated from the rest of the world by two large walls, traveling is severely limited and borders are closed to all non-Americans. Homosexuality is outlawed and one of the greatest offenses to the nation’s morals. Your parents, you neighbors, strangers on the streets, anyone really, could turn you in to the Moral Authority on suspicion only. If your offense is severe enough, you would be apprehended by their police/military force known as K3s (you have one guess how they got that name). The only ones opposing this situation are the members of the Human Rights Campaign.
The story of 2050 America is told through three points of view. The first one is our protagonist Mark Bryan, a graduate student of journalism, estranged from his family, with only one true friend. Mark is kindhearted, naïve and idealistic, especially when it comes to his plans to better the situation in the country through his work. He struggles with intrusive moral laws and not just because he is gay. There is a really powerful scene at the beginning of the novel. Mark walks towards Starbucks searching for a cup of coffee (his only luxury) and a bit of haven. As he walks, the overpowering presence of Moral Authority is revealed to the reader through numerous Uncle Sam posters. He smiles at passersby because he is afraid not to, due to the presence of moral officers. Unfortunately for Mark, he falls for the wrong guy at the worst possible moment – just when MA had decided to revoke all human rights to HRC members and sympathizers. He ends up in a detention camp, which is pretty much a mixture of Guantanamo and Auschwitz.
The POV of Samuel Pleasant is a counterpoint to Mark’s. He is head of Moral Authority and de facto ruler of the country. At first, he comes across as someone who truly believes in MA values due to an unfortunate family history. In and of itself that is chilling, but, as the story progresses, he transforms into a megalomaniac whose actions grow progressively hectic and monstrous. The way he treats a man whom he calls his best friend is probably the most telling thing about him. Well, that and what he calls “rehabilitation”.
The final POV is that of Isaac Montoya, former moral offender and now undercover moral officer which is basically a whore for the moral police. His story is one of redemption, but also of courage. Because there is much more to Montoya than meets the eye and it takes a tremendous courage to do some of the things he did for the sake of a bigger goal. He can be a bit of an arrogant prick, but out of three POV characters he is my favorite. Probably because he comes across as an actual human and I can identify with him, while Mark and Pleasant seem more like types. While you feel compassion for Mark because of all the horrible things he’s going through in the camp and you love to hate Pleasant, they are like two sides of the same coin – absolute good and absolute evil – and hard to identify with.
This is a second edition of author’s debut novel and as such Moral Authority is outstanding. There were, however, some issues I’d like to address. The author often recounts conversations and events instead of showing them. For example, we just hear about Mark’s best friend, the only one who knows he’s gay, we hear she offered him encouragement an advice, but we never actually see it. The same goes for his distant, cold mother. Basically, the author limits his characters to their lives in this story; we experience very little about their lives outside of it. This is one of the reasons why it’s sometimes hard to see them as actual, three-dimensional humans. Additionally, when the author attempts it, the foreshadowing doesn’t always work (for example, I immediately knew who would be Pleasant’s downfall). It is a shame because it would add so much to the books atmosphere. Finally, I have to talk about the ending. Cliffhanger is not my preferred type of ending, but regardless – when it works, it really works. I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it leaves you mystified. Throughout the novel you are fed these little tidbits that lead you to believe you know the truth about Mark’s parentage. But, out of left field, comes the epilogue that negates all we have previously read. On the other hand, the profession of the character that appears in this scene just may give us some hope in the sequel.
My complaints aside, the writing is fluid and on occasion beautifully dreamy, especially when Mark uses his imagination to rise above the horrible situation he found himself in. The horror of Flores’s world is palpable and, while some things were over the top, the others, unfortunately, seemed more than possible. The violence is present and the casual way the bad guys are dishing it out is sometimes shocking, but, for those who worry about such things, it’s not as graphic as in the last dystopian book I’ve reviewed. Some of the secondary characters (Buddy) will break your heart. While the novel ends without the happy ending for our protagonist, it still gives you hope for the future. I hope the author will give us the sequel soon. Until then, Moral Authority is recommended with some reservations.