Ok, so, as most of you know, I normally don’t do book reviews on this site. I’m breaking my own rule because I lost a bet to an author about who could run more during one specific weekend. 17 miles and some extra sprints later, she got .2 miles on me and here we are. And yes, if you’re wondering what nerds bet on, it’s doing reviews for each other’s books. Precisely on brand.
KR Paul’s Pantheon is a story that is part thriller, part romance, and part superhero, infused with military organization and underwritten with one very clear concept: justice. And it’s this aspect that I really want to focus on.
Because while the whole story is action-packed, edge-of-your-seat thriller material with a cast of varied characters who you can build connections with, the most profound aspect of this novel is the protagonist’s struggle with sexual assault. Valerie Hall is an Air Force captain who is assaulted on her first date following a devastating personal loss. Her assaulter, an Air Force major, is popular, handsome, and known to be very good at his job. Valerie’s reaction to his assault – which also includes a cathartic kicking of his ass – unlocks a hidden quality in herself that she had never dreamt of: the ability to teleport between terrestrial points.
While the focus of the novel is on her eventual recruitment by a US government-backed organization composed of individuals with the same skill, it is the assault – and everything that it symbolizes – that is the undercurrent of the work. The criminal case of prosecuting the attacker runs parallel to Valerie’s personal development in her new line of work. But no matter how powerful she becomes, how skilled she is, she is partly unable to shake off the emotional and psychological damage that the attack caused. From professional performance to personal relationships, she is again and again reminded of that traumatic incident. As she grows and develops, however, she realizes that until justice is done, she cannot achieve closure. She cannot move on with her life.
In the end, justice is done. The major is sentenced to life in prison, in a trial that is gut-wrenching in the sense of communal grievance at the harm that one individual could do, in uniform to his country, for so long, against so many women. There’s a palpable sense of satisfaction and relief at this. Valerie herself finds the closure she was searching for and, in a vindicating moment, breaks any remaining control that her attacker had over her. She is able to become fully herself again.
And yet, this does not always happen. Military sexual trauma often goes without justice, leaving the attacker at large to prey on others while the survivors try to put their lives back together in the wake of the assault. Some cannot, and end up taking their own lives – as the author notes in one particularly moving scene. It should not take a work of fiction for justice to be done – it should be the pledge of all those who wear the uniform of the United States of America. As the author notes in her moving dedication: “To my sisters in arms – we deserved justice.”
KR Paul does an excellent job of providing the logistical background for just exactly how the human body can deal with the metabolic demands of teleportation. She crafts realistic scenarios that are nevertheless filled with suspense. Her knowledge of Air Force technical jargon adds to the story rather than impeding it. And she somehow manages to compose a lip-biting bedroom scene without having anyone take their clothes off. Remarkable.
Pantheon is an enjoyable thriller that portends a lot more excellent work from this author. And I have to remember to never bet with her on anything ever again.
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