In Rise of the Gorgon, author Tanai Walker peels back fabricated reality to delve into a world that unveils the truth behind conspiracy theories. Elle Pharell is a journalist with a skin thick enough to repel the verbal bullets that conservative pundits throw at her and her mentor/business partner, Anne Humphries, on a daily basis. No amount of grit, however, could shield Elle from witnessing the suicide of her friend Rob Loera, an army veteran with severe PTSD. Elle travels to Kuwait City in search of the private security firm that Rob worked for after several tour of duties, a firm that may have contributed to Rob’s mental health struggles and death. Elle is aided by Cassandra Hunt (a skilled translator) and ex-military men who know the lay of the land.
Elle had no idea her search would land her in a secret world filled with assassins, hordes of possessed/zombie-like people, and operatives that hold the keys to biochemical warfare and mind control. Cassandra protects Elle at every turn— even after her cover is blown and it’s revealed that her original mission was to kill Elle. Cassandra finds herself torn between duty and Elle, a woman who captured her interest upon first meeting. Elle is smitten, too. She can’t deny the immediate attraction they share, and she trusts Cassandra to deliver her to safe ground. In the end, Elle’s journey to Kuwait City is bittersweet.
Elle’s drive to vindicate Rob interested me, and the author drew curiosities from both Elle and Cassandra’s perspectives. But, I found myself lost about the roles of the secret factions that popped up throughout Elle’s run for safety; I never understood whether there was a difference between Olympus and Olympicorp.
As the title suggests, Cassandra is a Gorgon, which references a mythical creature from Greek mythology. She possesses extraordinary abilities that her enemies should fear. Initially, she’s a mindless weapon that leads a life with no substance; therefore, her attraction to Elle made sense to me. Elle’s attraction to Cassandra didn’t. She quickly abandoned her resolve for a stranger; they didn’t share a brief history or any commonalities or personal interests. Because there was no context to their relationship, the romantic element undermined the author’s strengths in weaving a thriller— a thriller lead by a Black lesbian character.
Moreover, Elle was initially presented as an intelligent journalist who should have maintained enough professional integrity to curb the personal while in Kuwait. The overall premise was sensible; however, during rising danger and tension, Elle dismissed strategy for a string of f-bombs.
To end, the plot events shaped a forward moving and twisting narrative, but I wish the plot could have been simplified a little so that it didn’t overrun the story or the potential for Elle to be more than a flat character. I wanted Elle to have a deeper emotional journey. After all, the author shares on her website that she created Elle “in honor of black women struggling to just be seen and heard in a culture that does not necessarily value pursuits that don’t involve athletics, dancing or singing.” I appreciate this observation and understanding that we deserve narratives beyond the superficial, and that our pursuits are highly diverse— as evidenced in part of Elle’s characterization.
Reviewed by: Lauren Cherelle
Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, The Dawn of Nia (Resolute Publishing, 2016). Outside of reading and writing, she enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter, www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.