Blake Twenty-Three by Slade Grayson begins with a message the literary world needs to hear: “Just have fun.” We often forget reading and storytelling is supposed to be something we enjoy. Many of us get so stilted and wooden with our critical analysis and pushing our nerd glasses up on the bridges of our noses that we overlook an integral part of the reading experience: escape. If one-half of storytelling is information conveyance, the other half is signal quality. Maybe “integrity” is the right word there. I don’t know, but what it boils down to is a measure of enjoyment.
I’m not going to reiterate the plot in detail here. You can go read that elsewhere. But part of Blake Twenty-Three’s strength is its simplicity. Essentially, a guy gets suckered into working for a shadow organization that he’s pretty sure are the bad guys, and this particular mission could save the world. Or probably end it. Blake’s pretty sure it’s the latter, but there’s not much he can do except do his job.
Also, Blake is kind of a jerk. He’s not a jerk in a villainous way (although he does some pretty heinous things). He’s not quite a jerk in a way that you root for him to be a better bad guy. He’s not a jerk in a Walter White kind of way where you hope, one of these episodes, he’s going to turn it all around, but instead he keeps being the stupidest brilliant person on the planet.
No, the best way I can explain Blake is that he reads a little like I imagine a James Bond novel would read like if Quentin Tarantino wrote it. It is fast, fun, sarcastic, and stylized and never takes itself too seriously. It is also creative and meaningful.
It’s so honest. Beautifully honest and cynical in a fresh way. All of those pulp spy novels you think Blake Twenty-Three is, the ones that are over-the-top raunchy or hyperslick and dripping with the overflowing inkwells of noir? Blake scoffs at them because he just doesn’t care.
I hesitate to call it apathy, but Blake Twenty-Three unlocked a part of literature that’s been pent up in me for a long time. It realigns priorities. It doesn’t shake you and scream at you to pay attention. It frankly doesn’t care. The experience is almost autonomous, and you can follow along if you like. Or not. Again, Blake doesn’t care.
In a reverse psychology kind of way, it’s alluring. It doesn’t beckon you to come along on a ride. It shows you its back and walks away, and you’re left stunned on the sidewalk with nowhere to go but in the same direction Blake is going.
My final verdict is that Blake Twenty-Three is smart, fun, and ultimately impressive. In other words, inspiring. It may not be a novel that will change your life, but it’s a novel you need to read, if for nothing else, to remember why you started reading in the first place. I highly recommend it for anyone in the mood for a fast-reading spy thriller that will make you laugh out loud while launching you through tense action and conflict.