Book Review: Privilege, Book One of the WP Trilogy by Bharat Krishnan

4/10 Fundamentally flawed with some strong ideas.

A copy of the PDF was provided by the author as an advanced review copy.

WP is a drug that grants superhuman powers, but only white people can get it legally. Aditya Shetty, an Indian-American, runs a hedge fund where he can acquire WP through business, but it’s not enough for him. Rakshan is a young Indian-American man that works for Aditya but is swiftly fired after losing a client. After then losing his girlfriend, Sadiya, Rakshan enlists his friends and plots his revenge against his former boss.

Story and Characters

One of the core issues of the book is that our antagonist’s big evil deed, murdering his former boss and his mistress to take over the company, isn’t why our protagonist plots against him. Rakshan’s motivations are centered on revenge and theft. He wants to steal Aditya’s supply of WP and convinces himself that getting WP will win back his ex-girlfriend, Sadiya. If he wasn’t unlikable already, he convinces his friends to organize and execute the dangerous and illegal heist and yet treats them horribly. Rakshan never shows self-awareness or a desire to change; though, he has a sudden turnaround at the end and apologizes to his friends (yet never sees Sadiya as anything but an object).

Sadiya, on the other hand, is a much more likable, well-developed character with a more complete, though perhaps rushed, character arc. The problem is that her story is too far removed from the rest of the jumble of plots. Her only role in the rest of the story is as an object of Rakshan’s obsession.

There’s another subplot, the most interesting in the book to me, involving a black teen, Jerome, who comes across a ring with WP in it (Rakshan’s discarded engagement ring). He then gets involved with a dark underworld, using the ring to inflict vigilante justice. I would have liked to see more of him, though I think his story could have used a sensitivity reader. In general, the book needed sensitivity readers, as the portrayals of white characters are flat, negative stereotypes. We also get a glimpse of the political subplot halfway into the book. We meet a few new characters and then never see them again. Presumably, they come back in book two, but why are they here if they have nothing to do?

What is WP?

So, the drug WP can grant superpowers to those who use it, but it can cause changes in a person’s mental state and even alter memories, or just kill you if you take too much. Just being close to enough WP can affect someone. One would think a volatile and dangerous drug would be illegal, but in this strange world, it’s legal for white people (though no reason is given other than likely being a clumsy metaphor for white power (?WP?)). Except, people of color can also acquire it legally through less direct means such as business transactions. But how does a superpower-giving drug alter the world after over a hundred years of its existence in society? Not at all. The world presented is pretty much ours outside the narrow confines of the narrative, and even inside the narrative, WP is little more than a MacGuffin, mostly serving the theme rather than the plot.

Inconsistencies and leaps of logic run throughout the book, as does a tremendous amount of hand-waving. For instance, characters use WP several times in the book, even characters who have never used it before smear it on their arms and legs with no ill effects. The only time it could have been deadly to a character, we’re told that a doctor saved him and he has no lasting side-effects. That memory altering aspect? It only plays a part when the plot needs it to (completely ignoring plot-holes along the way); it never affects the characters as they carelessly use WP.

Writing

There are a few problems with the writing itself. For one, the scenes are chopped into tiny pieces for no reason. We get a scene break, and then the scene continues where it left off. Why have a scene break? And most of the scenes suffer from white-room syndrome in which not enough concrete details of the environment are established and the characters aren’t given anything to do, so it’s just a lot of talking back and forth, sometimes bouncing between POV, and then the scene ends. The world feels empty except for our characters, when even a car crash and street brawl goes without consequences; no cops, no paramedics called for the injured driver, no crowd of gawkers taking video to upload online, nothing. We just go to the next scene. And products and brands are constantly named as a shorthand for actual description, to where it feels like product-placement.

There’s a scene when Jerome meets with a character, Spartacus, and it’s one of the best scenes in the book because we are given strong details about the environment, and both Jerome and Spartacus have good characterization. There just aren’t enough scenes like it in the book. Most of the time, we jump around from place to place, get dialogue, then move on.

Conclusion

The idea of tackling racism with a drug that in a literal sense is white power is solid, but there are logical holes, and the racism is approached with the subtlety of being run over with a bulldozer. There are moments, brief and infrequent, when the book is good. But as a whole, the book feels rushed, as if a draft was published before it was ready—a problem many self-published books have. A developmental editor and a line editor could have done a lot to help focus the storyline, clean up the characters, establish stronger motivations, and fix the scene-level problems. But it’s clear that the book comes from genuine passion, as the dedication puts it:

For anyone who’s ever been embarrassed to bring food from their native country to school.

I was first introduced to Indian food by one of my best friends in elementary school. Even now, one of my best friends is an Indian immigrant—who sadly doesn’t like reading very much, he’s more of a movie guy. I wanted to like the book more, but who knows, maybe my friend will read it and get more out of it.

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