Patricia Marie Budd’s Hadrian’s Rage is a fascinating upside-down look at a country in the twenty-second century in part of what was Canada. In the country of Hadrian, homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is frowned upon and, until recently, illegal. Hadrian was named for the gay Roman emperor, and its goal is population control and restoration of the environment. Heterosexuals are blamed both for gay bashing and for overpopulating the earth, so scientists have genetically altered humans to make them homosexual, although some still have straight or bisexual tendencies. While it is not illegal to be straight, anyone caught having heterosexual sex is sentenced to death because of the danger that overpopulation poses to the country and the world.
However, those with straight tendencies do exist. Before the novel opens, Todd Middleton, a popular basketball player, was one of them. When he was caught having sex with his friend Crystal Albright, he was sent to a reeducation camp where the camp director used extreme measures to try to wipe away his heterosexual feelings, including raping him. In despair, Todd begged his best friend, Frank Hunter, to mercy kill him. Frank did so, and as a result, Frank is now serving a lifetime sentence in Hadrian’s army. (These events happened in Hadrian’s Lover, to which Hadrian’s Rage is a sequel, although it is also a standalone novel.)
Such is the situation when Hadrian’s Rage opens. Frank Hunter’s family has been torn apart-his fathers-Geoffrey and Dean-have split up because Dean, who also underwent reeducation in his youth-is now unwilling to deny his straight tendencies. Dean has become part of a Gay-Straight Alliance on a college campus. Meanwhile, one member of Hadrian’s media is no longer willing to promote gay propaganda against straights. Melissa Eagleton, head anchor of the national news, leaves her job when the station owner wants her to promote his agenda rather than let her report the truth. When Melissa sets up a rival station, new opinions begin to be expressed in Hadrian. Simultaneously, straight people are starting to appear in public, holding hands, and being attacked as a result. And then a young college student, Tara May Fowler, is brutally beaten to death after coming out as straight to two other girls whom she thought were her friends. Amid all this chaos, will Hadrian be able to survive, or will it fall apart and allow the hordes of straight people seeking to breach its walls to take over and destroy the earth?
Author Patricia Budd has done an amazing job of not only imagining a world of reverse discrimination, but in bringing home the fact that this world is a thin metaphor for our own. Throughout the novel, she provides footnotes referencing real-life events in recent years that are the basis for the novel’s scenes. For example, the death of Tara May Fowler is based on the brutal murder of Vladislav Tornovoi, who was raped with beer bottles, tortured, and murdered by two of his friends on Friday, May 10, 2013 in Volgograd, Russia after coming out to them as gay. The book is dedicated to Tornovoi’s memory.
Patricia Budd certainly knows how to create an intriguing fictional world. The reader watches how wrongly the people of Hadrian behave, despite their good intentions, and feels both saddened and shocked to think such things are happening in our own world at the present time. Budd’s pacing is fabulous, with short chapters and news reports to keep the reader constantly wondering what will come next. She also does an excellent job of juggling multiple plots and characters so that the reader never gets bored. Most importantly, she creates realistic and endearing characters who search their hearts for truth and then find the courage to act upon it. Readers will fall in love with Destiny Stuttgart, the last of the Founding Families of Hadrian, who stands up for what she believes is right, even when people say it goes against the country’s constitution and they dismiss her as old and senile. And then there are the characters whose hearts are conflicted, who want revenge but find themselves falling in love with their enemies. In the end, the novel offers a deep and moving expression of how overcoming prejudice and being open to forgiveness can change the world.
I thought Budd’s previous book, Hadrian’s Lover, a powerful and highly imaginative novel, but Budd has now superseded it. Hadrian’s Rage leaves me in awe. I don’t think anyone who reads this book will ever forget it, and hopefully, it will help to change the world, one heart at a time.