Welcome, one and all, to another MDM Projects book review. Today, I’m looking at The Family: The Brotherhood, the debut novel from Donte McNeal. By way of disclosure, I did not request a review copy of this book, but picked up a copy myself on Kindle. I’ve spoken to Donte on social media before, and he’s been kind enough to not only review my own work but to interview me during the lead up to this book being released. So, how was Donte’s debut? Let’s find out.
Background: Donte is a Detroit native who, outside being the author of The Family: The Brotherhood, is also a freelance editor, beta reader, and lover of anime. Today’s book was published on 19th August 2016 and tells the story of Leone King, the leader of The Family, a gang born of good intentions. Here, they are pitted against their ruthless antithesis, The Brotherhood, who are themselves headed by Leone’s childhood friend Nicholas Black.
The Good: Stories can often live or die by their lead. A dull protagonist makes it difficult to wade through a book, even if the story itself is good. Leone King though, is far from dull. He is beautifully characterised as a young man who simply wants to do what’s right. His gang holds a great deal of power within the country of Levanna, and his own goals are grounded with noble intentions. To this end, he follows a strict no-violence policy and strives to ensure that his gang acts as their moniker: a family. But it’s not all plain sailing. As mentioned above, The Brotherhood are The Family’s opposites in every way. Where Leone rules with compassion, Nicholas rules with fear, and where Leone fights to avoid violence, Nicholas thrives in it. This sets up an interesting conflict for Leone as, as things escalate, he is faced with the hard truth that he and his cohorts will need to start crossing lines to bring about the peace that they’re aiming for. This flies in the face of what Leone believes in, and Donte does a wonderful job of showing his pains and struggles. It’s hard to be king.
On the other hand, Nicholas is as brutal as they come. For him, it’s less a case of it being hard to be king, and more a case of it being fun to flaunt to his power. He comes across as borderline psychotic at times, and is certainly ballsy (as is demonstrated when he walks in on a funeral for a member of The Family), but it’s not directionless. There is plenty of backstory to explore, and even if Nicholas is misguided in his actions, he certainly has enough justification to not have to worry about things like self-doubt in the way that Leone does. He’s vicious, but he’s also damaged, and that makes for a fiery combination in this case.
The gangs themselves are also interesting, with Donte clearly putting a great deal of thought into how the they operate and the hierarchical structure of each. Leone being the character that we spend most time with, we learn more about The Family in this respect, but that’s OK. They’re a good bunch of heroes to follow, and the way they interact comes across as very realistic. The little snippets we learn about the different characters as a result of this helps flesh out the supporting cast nicely and gives us some insight into what informs their actions. On top of that, the switches to POVs other than Leone’s all serve the purpose of advancing the story and the characters, and never fall foul of the risk of pulling you out of the story. That deserves some praise.
Oh, and while we’re talking it, the story itself is a well-crafted piece in general. From the setting to the way the tale advances, everything has clear rules in place that are designed to assist progression rather than hinder it. It’s also worth noting that things continue to escalate throughout the book, and build to a violent crescendo that is both a satisfying conclusion to this particular conflict and a nicely choregraphed set piece.
The Bad: As is often the case, what you consider to be good or bad will be highly subjective. As such, everything I say here will have different mileage for different people. The thing is, I don’t have any real complaints myself. The story is fun, the book is a breeze to read, and Leone is a great lead. There are two things that may cause issues for some readers though. The first is the violence. While not as graphic as watching a grindhouse movie, I know that people’s tolerance levels will vary. The blurb should make it clear that the book will not be plain sailing for the characters, but it’s worth being forewarned.
The second potential issue is the end of the book. Again, I enjoyed it, and felt that it not only brought this stage of the story to a decent conclusion, but also acted as a decent set up a sequel. The final twist does come out of the blue though. Unless I missed something, part of it seemed to appear out of nowhere, and this has the potential to throw some readers off. Of course, being the first book of a series, there’s every possibility that this will be explained in book two. Alternatively, I certainly could have just missed something subtle.
Final View: The action comes hard and fast, and we’re treated to a complex but sympathetic lead that takes us on a journey through a near future world marred with societal imperfections. Donte has crafted a great first adventure for Leone King, and if the sequel can maintain (or even exceed) this quality, the series will be well worth a look-in. This is an enjoyably quick read that tackles the blurred lines of good and bad, and I’d recommend for those that like their books easy to devour but with enough complexities to take them above being simple and straight forward tales.
Final Score: 4.5 / 5