Chain-Gang All-Stars is the frankly staggering debut novel from Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of the phenomenal short story collection, Friday Black. 

Welcome to an America where prisoners are used for savage entertainment. CAPE (Criminal Action Penal Entertainment) is a fighting league, where the incarcerated are pitted against each other in a literal battle to the death. Tickets are sold, the rich become richer, the world becomes progressively worse. Our two heroines are Hurricane Staxx and Loretta Thurwar, women at the height of their power and top of their game. As they fight to stay alive, we follow their relationship, and anticipate a potentially devastating conclusion. We also meet the other characters of CAPE; other fighters, hosts, executives, and fans.

Chain-Gang All-Stars is one of the most exciting and devastating books I’ve ever read. Adjei-Brenyah has created a world that feels so real, and characters and situations that are so harrowing. The author’s occasional footnotes, which enhance the narrative with real statistics and facts, land like a gutpunch, and are a reminder that this fictional narrative is not too far from where we are as a society right now. But the writing is never didactic; it is already clear that these issues on race are real, and need to be urgently addressed. 

Here is the cycle I went around numerous times while reading:

“I hope this character wins”

“But they’re going to kill someone”

“But CAPE put them in this situation”

“So this person was a criminal to begin with”

“But are they really just a victim of a corrupt justice system?”

“Oh man, this is all so messed up.”

Nothing I say in this review can fully capture how important, thrilling, and heartbreaking this novel is; Adjei-Brenyah has created something truly incredible. In Chain-Gang All-Stars you will see yourself, you will see your friends, you will see an all-too-believable world of horror, and you will question yourself and your impact. 

Chain-Gang All-Stars will be available on May 2nd, 2023, but you should pre-order it right now.

Ridiculously huge thanks to Pantheon for the ARC of this book.

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