Chimera by Rob Thurman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I picked up an urban fantasy novel by this author called Nightlife, I had no idea then how big a fan I would become of her writing. Since then, she’s been an autobuy for me, because of my love for Cal and Nik Leandros, and how Ms. Thurman managed to show the depths and the power of the relationship between siblings. With Chimera, she does it yet again. One might be encouraged to dismiss this book about a man’s quest to find his brother who was stolen from his family ten years ago a rehash, but it truly is not. Because there are so many stories of siblings to be told. No two brothers have the same relationship, and in this story, she has conveyed a completely different relationship between Stefan and Lukas/Michael-- with depths that are equally fathomless, but one that is utterly distinct from the brotherhood between Cal and Nik.
Stefan Korsak is a young man who has lived for one thing for the past ten years, to find his younger brother, and bring him home. He has literally given what was left of his soul to this quest. He has even entered the family business. Stefan’s father is a big Russian Mafiya boss, and now Stefan works for one of his dad’s ‘friends’ as a byk, a bodyguard. He doesn’t do the enforcer dirty work, much, other than having to beat people up occasionally. But he’s a lethal guy all the same. He has acquired lots of skills that will help him in his quest to find his brother. When his source for information on his brother, Saul, finds out that there was a boy in a field trip at the mall matching Stefan’s brother’s description, Stefan gets a ray of hope for the first time in ten years. With Saul’s help, he breaks his brother out of the strangely prison-like medical facility that his brother has been living. But that’s only the beginning. He has to keep himself and his brother safe from a very scary man who runs the facility, the mob faction that are on the hunt for Stefan, and convince Michael that he is his long-lost sibling.
I can easily visualize this as a movie. It has that feel, with clear images and a story that draws the eye and the focus of the reader. Stefan is damaged, fascinating; a character who inspired a lot of loyalty and devotion in this reader. In his mind, he doesn’t think much of himself. He feels that his potential for a good life is over, since he failed to protect his brother so many years ago, and has sold his soul in the family business. But he’d do just about anything to give his brother a second chance. This book reminded me very strongly of the TV show Supernatural, with the relationship between Dean and Sam. Dean is much like Stefan. He has little self-worth, and all his love is for his brother. He was raised from a very young kid to always watch out for his brother, and if he does nothing else in life, he will complete this mission. Other than that, they aren’t that much alike. But I saw that cord of recognition in Stefan, and the author builds a very different man from this foundation.
What I liked about this story was being inside Stefan’s head, and seeing what he views himself as, but knowing that he is much more than that. I totally fell for him. I loved seeing how having his brother back healed the broken parts of his soul, and gave him hope, a four letter word that was alien of his vocabulary for a long time. I liked seeing how much of a survivor he was. He’s a street-smart, clear-thinking young man, who has his own moral compass. Not purely black and white, but more focused on the greater good, which is taking care of his brother. If he has to steal a car to do that, no problem. He doesn’t want to be a killer, but if it takes that, he’ll do it. I wanted Stefan to be happy, and I hope that he will be. I hope that he will have more to his life, so much more, than he turned his back on. He certainly deserves it.
Michael’s character was also great. He was raised in this facility for one purpose, to kill. Every lesson learned focused on making him the optimal assassin, and nothing more. However, Michael found out the hard way that he didn’t have the heart for it. His days were numbered as the ‘program failures’ tended to disappear in the middle of the night. Fortunately, a man claiming to his brother (a fact he doesn’t believe) takes him away. Given the choice of going with this man or staying in the facility, it’s a no brainer. Now, Michael has to learn to be a normal human being, which is somet hing he has little experience with. Although Michael has a lethal ability, an incredibly intelligent brain, and enhanced healing abilities, he’s still a seventeen-year-old kid. He acquires a serious junkfood habit that Stefan indulges although worries enough about him to buy vitamins. He is curious about sex and girls, and he purchases a ferret. And along the way, he becomes attached to this guy who is determined to convince him that he is Michael’s long-lost sibling. The love he develops for his ‘brother’ scares him, because he could one day lose Stefan, and he has nothing in his short life that belonged to him for keeps, if at all.
I liked the view of the United States through a windshield and roadside motels. The mundane which is very fascinating when one takes the time to look at it. If you have ever taken a road trip across America (or any small part, you know what I mean). Every state and even parts of the same state has a distinct feel, but the overall flavor is “This is America.” This motif reminded me of Supernatural, as the Winchester brothers spend their lives on the road, going from hunt to hunt. In this case, Stefan and Michael are running for their lives.
Another refreshing aspect to this story was the inclusion of Stefan and Michael’s Russian heritage. Although Stefan’s Russian is the colloquial, everyday, user-friendly version, he retains a very strong sense of the culture. His dialogue is realistically seasoned with Russian terms (which is great since I am learning Russian right now), and his values reflect those of a second-generation Russian-American, with a background in the Russian mafiya thrown in for extra flavor. Miss Thurman showed the daily life of a man born into this crime life very authentically. Stefan had a father who was cold enough to order men killed at the dinner table, and his job as a Mafiya boss was the elephant in the room for Stefan growing up. All his uncles were associates in the family business. Clearly, it was difficult for him to divorce himself from that life and to yearn for something better. But Stefan would have willingly left it behind, if he could have found his brother without those resources. Because his true family is his brother, especially with Daddy Dearest gone underground to elude the Feds on his case.
This is a deeply personal story. It is one of those speculative fiction stories that throws you a loop, because it’s really about people, and the relationships we have with those we are related to by blood, and obligation. There is enough of the sci-fi element to earn its place in that genre, but moreso it’s about humanity and relationships, one in particular. I became deeply involved with this novel, and I found that I came to regard Stefan and Michael as real people. I really appreciated that about this story, and the lessons it contained. Love doesn’t give up, ever. Love sacrifices. And love recognizes what is lost. What is family? It’s not always what we believe it is. It’s a lot more than we can imagine.
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