In futuristic New Las Vegas, following an apocalyptic event, a group of humans has arisen bearing extraordinary psychic talents. Those who aren't Talents or who don't possess enough talent to be useful either work in menial jobs or live on the outskirts of the city in poverty. Within this landscape lives Patrick Harvey, a Class One Empath, who has been trained to work in the psychiatric wing of the city's medical facility. He takes on his first solo case, that of John Doe 439, a man who was found unconscious, beaten nearly to death along the Escapeway. John can only speak in gibberish and his writing is equally indecipherable, but Patrick uses his talent and his infinite patience to unlock the mystery of this man.
In doing so, Patrick soon discovers that the man's real name is Jac and that he and his companions were tortured before being left for dead. Due to the trauma, which Jac has largely suppressed, his mind is a complex jumble, but Patrick eventually comes to realize that Jac is a Talent beyond anything he's ever seen before, able to do things with his mind for which he doesn't even have names. Even though he knows it's forbidden, Patrick also begins to develop feelings for Jac. That's why when he discovers that the Talent Management Center isn't at all what he was taught it was and that they are coming for Jac with the intent of experimenting on him to see just how far his psychic talents go, he knows he can't allow that to happen. With the help of other rebels, he assists with getting Jac and his best friend, Rob, out of the city. But can Patrick give up his uncomplicated life inside the walls of the city for the uncertainty of freedom outside and the chance to be with Jac always?
Freedom is a fascinating post-apocalyptic/dystopian story that takes place in an unspecified future time frame after something called The Burst, which while not explained, I assume to probably have been an EMP or something similar. The bulk of the story takes place in New Las Vegas, where only a chosen few live and work within the city. The rest are pretty much relegated to the Outside, which appears to be the outskirts of the city and in between the two is the NeverNever. In this future society, there are Talents and Non-Talents. The Non-Talents are exactly what you might expect, just normal humans. The Talents are special humans who've developed various psi talents. They might exhibit as empaths, telepaths, telekinetics, or other psychic phenomena, some of which are only known to the Talent Management Center, an organization that seems to oversee the various operations around the country that were put in place to identify Talents. The TMC basically ignores Non-Talents, using them in menial type jobs, while those who exhibit a moderate amount of talent will be trained for more specialized jobs within the cities. However, those who exhibit talents that go above and beyond, essentially become lab rats, who are tested over and over to figure out their limits until they are mentally broken. Although most don't realize it, the TMC rules with an iron fist and are a pretty evil organization. I would have liked to know a little more about them. Are they the new government in this futuristic society? The fact that they have the Marines at their command seems to suggest that they either are or have some sort of government backing, but overall, the author doesn't go into that too much. They are, however, a very scary organization with equally scary people working for them.
While the dystopian aspect of the book is quite intriguing, at its heart, Freedom is very much an emotional human story. Within this landscape, we're introduced to Patrick, who is a mid-level empath, working in the psychiatric wing of a medical facility. He and his two best friends were tested years before. His friend, Charlie, didn't have enough talent to qualify to move into the city, but Patrick and Charlie's girlfriend, Evie, did. Patrick was trained for the job he now holds, while Evie was taken elsewhere and later released back into the Outside. After being tested, she was said to be too psychologically damaged to work and hasn't been the same since. However, no one really suspects that it was the TMC who did the damage to her. Patrick is pretty content in his job and has just been given his first solo case working with a John Doe who was found nearly dead by the Escapeway. The man is practically wild and doesn't appear to speak or write except in gibberish. Using his empathic talents, Patrick soon realizes that his John Doe is much more than he seems on the surface and the longer he works with the man, the more he comes to care for him in a non-professional way. He also starts to realize some things about himself and about what's going on in a wider sense, not only within the facility but the world outside as well. Patrick eventually comes to understand that his patient is in grave danger and he knows he cannot betray him, but he must make a difficult decision about whether he can give up the comfortable life he has in the city for the unknown world beyond.
John Doe 439 is really a young man named Jac, who has partial amnesia. Due to severe injuries, as well as emotional trauma, he sustained when attacked by the Purples, humans who've gone feral, he's forgotten who he is or how he came to be at the medical center. All he knows is that his older brother always taught him to fear the All-Whites, and now he's locked up in a place that's completely white and only tended by people dressed in white. Into this frightening landscape comes Patrick, who treats Jac with gentleness, dignity, and respect. Gradually Jac begins to trust Patrick, especially after they connect psychically. To say that Jac is a sweet and gentle soul is almost an understatement. To many around him, he's viewed as weak and easy prey, because he possesses an almost childlike quality. Even after he remembers how to speak, he does so in the way a small child might, dropping syllables and sometimes mispronouncing words, something his friend, Rob, calls a form of baby talk. Jac has an interesting backstory as to why this is that I won't spoil for readers, but one of the reasons is that it's much easier for him to simply communicate telepathically. There aren't a lot of scenes from Jac's POV, but on the rare occasions we get a look inside his mind, particularly after he starts to calm for Patrick, we see an intelligent man with a tremendous gift. He has psi talents above and beyond anyone who works with him has ever seen before. Patrick isn't even certain what to call some of his talents. Again, I won't spoil anyone by saying what they are, but he truly is a wonder. He's also a deeply affectionate human being who loves to give and receive touch from the right people and in the right way, which as a touchy-feely person myself, I loved. When he finds out that Rob also survived the attack and they're reunited, Jac is like a clinging vine who must be physically connected to him at all times, which made me question at times which of the men he was meant to be with, Rob or Patrick. The answer is kind of both but in different ways.
Initially the bulk of the POV scenes belong to Patrick with a few glimpses inside Jac's troubled mind, but as the story progresses and moves outside the medical center, we get more and more scenes from other characters' perspectives. There's Patrick's top-level empath supervisor, Sam, who recognizes Jac's talents early on and starts covering up some of the things he can do. Sam ends up being a whole lot more than he seems at first. Patrick also has a co-worker, Dana, who works with Jac, too, and ends up helping in a lot of ways. We get to see things from Rob's POV as well, as he supports Jac and gives so much of himself to the man he thinks of as a brother of sorts. Then there's the evil Julia from TMC, who's a bully determined to get her man and break him, but she didn't count on him having help and being so powerful himself. If memory serves I think these were the only characters who got their own POV scenes but there are plenty more supporting players such as Charlie and Evie, and several other Talents, as well as at least one Non-Talent who we meet as they make their escape and who played integral roles.
Overall, Freedom was a story that very much drew me in and kept me reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so that being the case you might be asking yourself why I knocked off the half-star. Well, the main reason is that as wonderful as it was, I still felt it had a few weaknesses. First, I was a little reluctant to even classify this book as romance, because that part of the story is rather subdued and kind of secondary to other events in the story. The plot simply doesn't follow the two men on the same track that most romances do with them meeting, forging a relationship, and falling in love. These things do happen, but in a much different way than what I'm used to. There's no explicit sex and I don't even recall them saying, "I love you," although it's fairly apparent by their actions. So for me, this was more of a sci-fi story with a light romance on the side. Then there were the questions I mentioned earlier about the greater world outside New Las Vegas and exactly what was motivating the TMC. Lastly, the author wrote the book in a number of different styles. Patrick alone was written in first person present tense when he's interacting with Jac, first person past tense when he's taking case notes, and third person past tense when he's interacting with other characters. Once we start getting into the other characters' POVs, they could be either first or third person, and I can't say I understood the differentiation on those. I did get used to it and was never confused as to whose perspective I was reading because each POV change is clearly labeled with the character's name and setting, but for some readers this may be jarring. Despite these perceived weaknesses, I still couldn't help giving the book keeper status. I'm fascinated by all thing to do with the inner workings of the human mind and psychic phenomena, so that alone kept me glued to the pages. I also loved all the characters and felt like I was very much a part of their world. This was such a good read, I was quite surprised and a little disappointed to discover that this is, so far, the only book Jay Kirkpatrick has written, but if she (yes, despite the male-sounding name, this is a female writer) ever writes another, I'll definitely pick it up.
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