Benton, Terry J. Prelude to an Empire. Create/Space, 2012/2014. $12.99. 350p. PB. 978-147834-960-0.
The novel opens with Russell, the twenty-three-year-old protagonist, in his car preparing to kill himself. He’s received bad news from the doctor and wonders to himself, “how the hell did I get to this point?”
Russell got to this point by surviving an abusive father, taking care of his devoted but burdened mother, and moving to Atlanta to attend college. His best friend Mercedes goes with him. But when Mercedes moves in with her abusive girlfriend, Russell struggles on his own to find friends, love, and to reconcile his desires for men with his Christian faith. It seems like Russell’s life is one tragedy after another–cheating boyfriends, inconsistent friends, and uncertainty about his identity–but he tries to remain optimistic and upbeat, even after two people close to him die young.
The writing style could have been smoother and more realistic, and at many points the character development is tricky to follow. Russell will often refer to an aspect of his life (i.e., a love of writing poetry or an identification with his astrological sign) as an established and developed narrative thread without having ever referred to or expanded upon it previously. For example, at one point he says, “I had written the most powerful poem! the words on the page illustrated my thoughts and feelings pertaining to the ramifications of not accepting who you are and what truly makes you happy.” However, the reader never gets to see an example of Russell’s poetry or any explanation of how he developed an interest in poetry, which would add some richness not only to the plot but also his character.
Much of Terry Benton’s debut novel Prelude to an Empire takes place in Georgia or at a college campus, but it still has appeal as a gay addition to the street lit genre. Language and sexual situations are fairly mild. The title is recommended for libraries with an established street lit section wishing to include LGBTQ books as well as libraries looking to develop a street lit collection diverse in scope and subject matter.
Reviewer: Kyle Lukoff