The Butcher
by Alan S. Kessler
Black Rose Writing

"I killed them because I was stronger! I killed them because they would have killed me."

Right from the haunting haze of the book cover, Kessler makes his wizardry with sensory detail known, creating a world that is captivated by events such as the town party rally during their iconic holiday, Butcher Bargain Day. In fact, the opening line itself is an incredibly fitting tone-setter. This comes when one of the central characters, a dark-skinned youth named Mikkel, is given a sledgehammer by Otto, both his father and an esteemed Deputy to the Secretary of the Party. When Mikkel is unable to deliver the fatal blow to slaughter the pig, Otto utters words that resonate throughout the novel: “The weak die.”

Not only is Kessler’s command of syntax and structure stellar, but his ability to weave a story with substantial worldbuilding and character development that ultimately come together seamlessly is exemplary. Taken literally, the story focuses on a man named Butcher, who is no less than a god to his people in a post-apocalyptic world that features two seasons: summer and spring. He is alleged to have fought valiantly to separate his race of tall and blonde humans, which he perceives as the master race and the purebloods, from the lesser Burners and the pigs. Though Burners are just as human, the Butcher groups them with the pigs, and harbors a desire to send them to the same fate. This mindset clearly is a stark reminder that mankind is perennially divided, and the thinking that overtook Nazi Germany is still alive in various forms. There is a distinct hierarchy in the Butcher’s world, and his justification is dependent on an origin story, “The Great Struggle,” depicting the slaughter of the pigs and displacement of the Burner families as a “me or us” necessity.

Reiterating the visceral aspect of the novel, Kessler’s work makes the reader feel as though he is immersed and can feel, hear, and see what the characters can see. In one such example, the imagery of the pigs lining up and falling through the chute to be speared through the brain is especially mind-numbing. In many ways, it also provokes a more novel frame of thinking that is exhibited through Mikkel: must the weak die for the strong to be strong? The Burners, for example, are repeatedly ostracized for their religion, which revolves around the sun as their god. Moreover, as layer after layer of the narrative is peeled back, audiences will come to know that the Burners were not always the godforsaken, tribal species in search of a home.

Within the master race, factions such as the Scouts, a youth group, carry out the bidding of party leaders and the Butcher. Throughout, two distinct storylines run parallel: Mikkel’s call to action as he struggles with Ludolf, the Scout leader, to find his place despite his father’s high standing, and the Butcher’s endgame of creating a world where only the pure of blood survive. On a thematic level, Kessler seems to be nudging readers to consider numerous pertinent questions. For one, what is the catalyst that turns men into monsters? Is the Butcher’s primary motivation to create this super race, or are there underlying motivations that perhaps stem from experiences from his younger days as a starry-eyed, yellow-glass-hunting romantic?

Kessler is to be commended for his ability to deliver a riveting and thorough character arc; he leaves no stone unturned when it comes to piecing together character storylines and the motivating factors that spur them to act in the way they do. Nearly every character in this novel has a compelling backstory that speaks to the intestinal fortitude and resolve that they develop in making their choices. Apocalyptic, origin stories come in many forms. However, Kessler’s ability to transport readers into a world with characters and structure so complete and with such an abundance of sensory stimuli is what makes this book stand out.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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