Review | Radio – J. Rushing

About the Book

Amid the music, lights and energy of 1928’s Paris, something sinister pulses through the æther. The Radio of the Gods manipulates minds across the continent and its creator, the arrogant god Marduk, will sacrifice everything to keep his kind from perverting his masterpiece.

Attempted treason and bitter betrayal force Marduk to escape into a new, unknown body. Worse still, the previous owner, an opium-addicted jazz guitarist, is still inside.

Desperate, drug-addled and fighting for control, Marduk is forced to rely on the few friends he has left – and one terrifying enemy — to see his mission to fruition. If Marduk and company fail, the gods’ vain machinations will destroy everything they’ve built, including civilization itself, all made possible by his RADIO.

408 pages (Kindle)
Published on April 4, 2020
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I’ve wanted to read Radio for quite a while. You see, I have a huge soft spot for daring books that deal with fantasy in unique ways, and really, Radio fits the bill. There isn’t anything like it on the market, and that’s part of the appeal. It’s a sort of genre-straddler, which I also understand as that’s the kind of books I write. Is it historical? Is it fantasy? Is it historical fantasy? Who knows. Maybe it’s a bit of all of the above, and that’s part of its appeal. 

Radio tells the story of a group of gods who are creating a radio they plan to use to essentially get people to worship them again, all of this set against a backdrop of 1920s Paris. Marduk (M), is not keen on this idea and has some personal problems with it. Forced to vacate his preferred body, which is about to die, he ends up in the body of a passing stranger, an American opium addict named Del. Things do not happen the way he wants them to, and he ends up having to, in some ways, fly by the seat of his pants through this riotous early 20th century Paris while dealing with addiction and a bunch of gods after him. 

Now, if that doesn’t sell the book to you, I can’t help you. You are beyond saving. 

Radio was amazing. I was instantly entranced by the plot, the setting, and the characters. 1920s Paris is beautifully portrayed to readers. It’s a place steeped in jazz, and an influx of artists, opportunists and the like. People coming there from all over the world, and this really fascinating clash of cultures and thriving nightlife is one result. I really loved how Rushing never went overboard on his descriptions, but he always touched on things just enough for me to be able to “see” the setting and feel the realness in it. Furthermore, he added in small details here and there which not only showed his research, but also lent an air of realism to things. I was genuinely surprised by how much a street name thrown in here or there really helped cement the book in realism. 

M is a wonderful character. He’s arrogant and caustic, with some of that grim humor I truly love. He can’t trust anyone, and he’s in a body that’s addicted to opium. His one (sort of) confidant is someone he also can’t trust, so he has to rely on a bunch of monos (humans) to get by. He’s out of his comfort zone throughout the entire book, and I found it truly delightful to see how an arrogant god deals with something like having to (gasp) rely on us pesky humans to get by. 

I want to touch on the opium addiction a bit, because I was pretty nervous about how Rushing would handle something like that. It’s a serious, serious problem, and I didn’t want it to be brushed over or used as some campy plot device, especially because so many people all over the world suffer with such addictions. I will say, Rushing handled this element wonderfully, and with very real empathy. It wasn’t something that was brushed under the rug, but it was something that had to be dealt with throughout the book, and M, despite all of his flaws, handled powering an opium-addicted body quite well, and with understanding and genuine compassion that I truly admired. Yes, he could be caustic, and yes, he got fed up, but the way Rushing handled something like this impressed me. 

The plot itself moves at a fast clip. The book throws you into the deep end and by the end of chapter one, everything has changed and none of it is good. It took me a few chapters to really wrap my head around what was going on, but this didn’t bother me in the least because it was just so entertaining. After that warmup period where I was being introduced not only to the conflict, but to the idea of body hopping, and understanding the players in the game and what the game is, everything sort of clicked and the book itself was super easy to just sit back and enjoy. There is never a dull moment, from cover to cover, something is always happening somewhere, to someone, for some reason. Gods, as it turns out, do not play nice.

Rushing’s prose was wonderful. Descriptive without going overboard, emotional without really leaning into emotions too hard. The characters unfurled quite well, and were crafted with a healthy mix of realistic flaws. The ending was perfect for the tone of the book. I really found myself applauding his ability to just tell a really good story. Well written and carefully planned, Radio really exceeded my wildest expectations. 

Radio was a book I’d been looking forward to reading for a while now. A fellow SPFBO semi-finalist (we’ve got to stick together), I had my eye on it. I went into this book uncertain about what I expected and left it feeling like I just read the best genre-bending fantasy I’ve encountered in a while. Rushing is a huge talent, and I sincerely hope he continues exploring this world he’s crafted. I am anxious to revisit it. 

If you aren’t reading Radio, you really need to change that. Like, yesterday. This was the breath of fresh air I needed.

5/5 stars

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