Chain-Gang All-Stars

A Novel

384 pages

English language

Published Jan. 5, 2023 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

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5 stars (6 reviews)

Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of the Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a highly popular, highly controversial profit-raising program in America’s increasingly dominant private prison industry. It’s the return of the gladiators, and prisoners are com­peting for the ultimate prize: their freedom.

In CAPE, prisoners travel as Links in Chain-Gangs, competing in death matches before packed arenas with righteous protestors at the gates. Thur­war and Staxxx, both teammates and lovers, are the fan favorites. And if all goes well, Thurwar will be free in just a few matches, a fact she carries as heavily as her lethal hammer. As she prepares to leave her fellow Links, Thurwar considers how she might help preserve their humanity, in defiance of these so-called games. But CAPE’s corporate own­ers will stop at nothing to protect their status quo, and the obstacles they lay …

7 editions


5 stars

Ultraviolent prison abolition set in an immediate future where our societal capacity to inflict pain is only limited by death. Our characters are flawed violent criminals given by the author a full capacity for love and loss and trauma without any easy redemption.

Personal aside, it's six years since Begley's "Concussion Protocol" short video ended my watching American Football. The only parts of this book that are a little faint or maybe subtle are the few views outside of the penal world, and implicate so much more of our lives, in how our jobs and our passions and corporate interests deaden us to pain of others.

Sci-fi romance from an organizer for Prison Abolition

5 stars

Content warning Describes vaguely how the book ends

Review of 'Chain-Gang All-Stars' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

I wanted to give this 5 stars, but I’ve got a little too many nitpicks for it. I think this is a great read, very compelling, very well written on a sentence and chapter level. I love literary writing plus SFF when it’s done right, and this was done (mostly) right.

For me the author’s short story past was a plus. I felt like each chapter was well structured in a way you often don’t see in novels, and I attribute that at least partially to his experience with short stories. I didn’t mind the scale of POVs for the most part. The one-off chapters from Lasser and Mickey Wright were great.

The arc of Thurwar and Staxxx is the best part. Their love story (to be clear they are partners at the start, but we root for them), their conclusion, what they go through together. I predicted some of …

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  • American literature