FTC disclosure: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
Notes on Diversity:
So, one of the main characters mentions in passing that he’s slept with men and women both. Given that this character is from a different era, and given what I know of the men from his era, I’m honestly unsure as to whether he would accept the label of bisexuality, but there is a mention of queer sexual practice.1
The landlord of the two main characters is named Claire Kamal. She’s described as dark-skinned, brown-haired, and brown-eyed. Y’all, it seems pretty safe to say we have a canonically brown woman in the book. Very little is revealed about her other than this description; for instance I can’t tell you if she is Muslim or Hindu or anything else.2 Just that she is very probably brown.
It’s not a very diverse book. It’s the story, essentially, of how two white, cis (super)abled young men process very different kinds of masculinities in the frame of a friendship they both need. If you really don’t want to read a book about two white dudes palling around with superpowers and having friend-feelings they can’t hide from each other, then this is probably a pass for you. And that’s ok. That’s why I put the diversity thingie right up front.
But that’s not to say this is a bad book at all.
The world of Ben Berman Ghan’s Wychmen Road is like ours, except it has a secret. There is a hidden society of Thought Walkers who live among us: they can read our minds and change them. They don’t age, and they’re incredibly hard to kill. They are stronger than us, faster than us, telekinetic, and most of them no longer consider themselves bound by human law.
Joshua Jones is one such Thought Walker: a man who’s been using his abilities to slip along the fringes of regular human society unnoticed, using his compelling/persuasive power (think Kilgrave) to gently coax a bed for the night or a muffin from a coffee house when he needs it.
Peter Axelson starts the book as a normal kid, a teenager in Toronto about to embark on his senior year of high school. A celebratory night out on the town with his friends turns grisly when they cross paths the man hunting for Joshua Jones. The chance encounter leaves Peter’s friends dead and Peter with the same bizarre abilities as Joshua. Peter finds himself drawn to Joshua, and from there, the plot thickens.
On the surface, this is a story about how Joshua must come to a reckoning with his past and how Peter must come to a reckoning with his future. The abilities they both have come with a price: while incredible, the other Thought Walkers know about them. The Thought Walkers have their own code of conduct and honor (I’d love to see this built out more in the next installment) but its clear from Peter’s introduction that winding up on their radar is Bad News. The plot hinges on these choices: will Joshua succumb to the things he’s done in the past to survive? Are these things that Peter will have to do to survive himself?
But at a deeper level, I think, this book serves as an interesting exploration of male friendship. The central theme is not running, but staying. It’s a book about a creating a safe place and a home–the title refers to the street where they rent an apartment, something Peter insists on for stability’s sake, and something that Joshua hasn’t done for a long time. It’s a book about found family, and rooting yourself in people who accept you, and it does so very openly, and is about two men having Feelings On The Page in a way that is, frankly, refreshing.
Part of it is because they are mindreaders, sure. But a lot of this is because of the characters themselves. Peter is just a sweet, open guy. Joshua is not, at first, but he opens himself up to Peter bit by bit. I love books about immensely important friendships, and this book definitely qualifies.
Again, diversity is not the book’s strong suit. And the book is not particularly great with it’s woman characters, either. It features an event I would consider to be a fridging. Claire Kamal has some depth and shading, but honestly, a woman that clumsy probably has an inner-ear medical issue she probably would have gotten checked out by now. I was intrigued by Joshua’s paramour, Alice/Allison, but she was in and out of the book so fast that I didn’t know what to make of her. Here’s to getting more of a glimpse of her in the next book.
I’m hoping for better-defined woman characters in book 2 of the Wychmen Saga, but I’ll definitely be picking up book 2. Ghan may have put all his eggs into a relationship between two white men, but, hell, at least he made them care deeply about each other. And they let each other know that more than once. And that made me care about them, too.
1Good god that sounds clinical. Ok. What I mean to say is that Joshua, our lover-of-both-genders was born and came of age in the early 1900s. He’s been alive this whole time since, “dancing” (as he puts it) with his partners, but there’s no real guessing how he does or does not apply more modern queer lingo/labels to himself. I have SO MANY QUESTIONS about this (mostly because I just love queer characters so much). Like, did he not pursue men until after he got those weird powers and was talked into seeing himself as superhuman/above human morality? Or did it predate? We do see him on a date with a young woman before the powers thing, means it’s possible, but doesn’t confirm or deny anything, I guess. Anyway. All I’m saying is that without more in-text interrogation I’m really unsure about how Joshua would actually self-identify regardless of the glimpse of sexual history he’s disclosed to Peter. NO YOU ARE OVERTHINKING THIS.
2We learn a little about Claire’s relationship to her mother, but that doesn’t shed any light on this. And this doesn’t have to be important at all! Brown people are not defined by their religion, their parent’s religion, anything like that. But I am saying that for two mindreaders to live with Claire in a mostly white city and not accidentally eavesdrop on her experiencing any racial tension, or not to overhear any traces of, say a different culture she may have ties to, leaves me feeling very much that she is brown only skin deep. They are mindreaders who are literally messing around in her brainmeats. I don’t know a single brown person who doesn’t think about the fact that they are a brown person every day. They never heard anything?
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