The Blueprint

My curiosity was piqued when I received the press release for this novel. However, I'm always afraid that such books will turn out to be anti-Trump/anti-GOP manifestos. Some people might be willing to dismiss such works out of hand, claiming that things could never get that bad. And yet, given the recent attack on the Capitol, the Black Lives Matter movement, the various acts of right-wing fucktardness across the country, and the anti-abortion movement in this post-Roe era, it's not difficult to believe that the USA depicted in so many dystopian tales could become a disturbing possibility.

Hence, it's with an open mind that one must tackle a book like Rae Gianna Rashad's The Blueprint. It's a beautifully written debut with many poignant scenes. The narrative sucks you into this story from the very first chapter and never lets go. Indeed, I brought this novel with me on vacation and went through it in only three sittings. Trouble is, the only way to enjoy this one is to take everything at face value. Truth suffers from too much analysis, or so the saying goes, and Rashad's plot totally unravels as soon as you begin to question any aspect of the worldbuilding and the storylines. As soon as you start to ask why this, why that, very little about this story makes sense.

Which is quite disappointing, for it feels as though the author didn't even try to make the worldbuilding ring true. The cover blurb and the press release both mention that The Blueprint is a novel akin to similar works written by Margaret Atwood and Octavia E. Butler. I beg to differ. In essence, perhaps, but Rashad's debut lacks the sort of depth and the scope of vision that characterize both aforementioned writers' books. Hard to put this novel in such lofty company when it doesn't really have a leg to stand on.

Here's the blurb:

In the vein of Octavia E. Butler and Margaret Atwood, a harrowing novel set in an alternate United States—a world of injustice and bondage in which a young Black woman becomes the concubine of a powerful white government official and must face the dangerous consequences.

Solenne Bonet lives in Texas where choice no longer exists. An algorithm determines a Black woman’s occupation, spouse, and residence. Solenne finds solace in penning the biography of Henriette, an ancestor who’d been an enslaved concubine to a wealthy planter in 1800s Louisiana. But history repeats itself when Solenne, lonely and naïve, finds herself entangled with Bastien Martin, a high-ranking government official. Solenne finds the psychological bond unbearable, so she considers alternatives. With Henriette as her guide, she must decide whether and how to leave behind all she knows.

Inspired by the lives of enslaved concubines to U.S. politicians and planters, The Blueprint unfolds over dual timelines to explore bodily autonomy, hypocrisy, and power imbalances through the lens of the nation’s most unprotected: a Black girl.

The worldbuilding, or lack thereof, is what ultimately sinks this book. At face value, the premise appears to be quite fascinating. As I said, perusing the press release immediately made me want to read The Blueprint. But faced with this new world order, as soon as you begin to question any facet of the plot, everything goes down the crapper. Early on, the Order seems to be comprised of the Bible Belt states and it does make sense. There is talk of a second Civil War, but we never truly discover what took place and why. Then we learn that the Order spans the entire USA, which makes you wonder how the more liberal states in the country ended up joining a far-right military government. What is this Code that replaced the US Constitution? Why would Black girls that are descendants of slavery would now become chattel? Why are young Black girls assigned to a white man to correct her behavior and then send her back to marry a Black army officier and have babies to become soldiers to send to protect their borders and fight wars in Yemen and elsewhere? Why would white men want such concubines? Back in the 1800s, officials and rich planters took advantage of their slaves. But in the 21st century, why would men who can get whatever they desire want such temporary courtesans? Why is Louisiana the only place where such girls can escape and achieve emancipation? What about the 49 other state? What about Canada and other Western countries? Speaking of the Order, on what principles was it founded? The bulk of the action takes place in Texas, yet there is no mention of religion anywhere in this book. In the heart of the Bible Belt, where every unthinkable act is seemingly always justified by faith, how can one explain the total absence of religion in The Blueprint? Why is the Order fighting all these wars in foreign lands? Why? Why? Why? The novel's entire backdrop breaks down as soon as you start asking such questions.

The blurb mentions that The Blueprint unfolds over dual timelines, yet there are actually three of them. The first one focuses on Henriette, the main protagonist's ancestor. The bulk of the story is told through Solenne Bonet's perspective, which is split into her past and present so that we can learn more about her upbringing and how she ended up as a concubine to a high-ranking member of the Order. Personally, I would have liked to get more chapters elaborating on Henriette's life. They are few and far between, and you wonder why they're even part of the tale until the very end. Though I enjoyed Solenne's POV, several sequences felt redundant, which is why I would have preferred to see Henriette more often, if only to provide a better balance between the timelines.

Given its size, what with the novel weighing in at less than 300 pages, there are no pacing issues. True, some of Solenne's scenes could maybe have been truncated or removed completely, especially around the middle when she's considering running away but always finding reasons not to. But other than that, the plot moves at a good clip throughout.

Rae Gianna Rashad's beautiful prose is a delight to read. Though the worldbuilding makes little sense, her narrative is thought-provoking as she explores themes such as freedom, self-worth, sense of self, racism, and sexism through the eyes of Solenne. Had the author worked a little harder to make the backdrop of her debut more believable, I feel that The Blueprint would have been one of the best genre fiction titles of 2024. As things stand, unless you can overlook its major flaws, it can't be anything but a disappointment.

I quickly realized that I needed to stop asking questions if I wanted to enjoy this book. Which I did and in the end I did enjoy it. Still, there's no denying that The Blueprint could have been a much better book. Your mileage will vary. . .

The final verdict: 7/10

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