Publication Date: September 20, 2022
A queer, dark academia YA about a mysterious boarding school, a brotherhood that must stay in the shadows, and an ancient evil that could tear it all apart.
In the fall of 1991, Zooey Orson transfers to the Blackfriars School for Boys hoping for a fresh start following a scandal at his last school. However, he quickly learns that he isn’t the only student keeping a secret. Before he knows it, he’s fallen in with a group of boys who all share the same secret, one which they can only express openly within the safety of the clandestine gatherings of the Vicious Circle––the covert club for gay students going back decades. But when the boys unwittingly happen upon the headmaster’s copy of an arcane occult text, they unleash an eldritch secret so terrible, it threatens to consume them all.
A queer paranormal story set during the still-raging AIDS crisis, Fraternity examines a time not so long ago when a secret brotherhood lurked in the shadows. What would Zooey and his friends do to protect their found family?
This started slowly but little by little it picked up steam until I was on the edge of my seat. It hits hard, blending magic and all-too-real topics in a way that feels wholly natural and right. This wouldn’t be the same book if you removed the witchcraft and black magic, and it wouldn’t be the same book if you removed the talk of AIDS and conversion therapy and queerness and race. It’s queer and it’s unapologetic and it’s set so specifically in time. I was too young in 1991 to pay attention to the news, but even growing up later in the 90s I felt a sense of kinship with these characters and a sense of recognition.
The characters are distinct and well-rounded. They can be summed up in a few descriptors, or so it seems, though they are revealed over the course of the book to be more than they first appear. I enjoyed the multiple POVs, which helped me feel closer to each boy.
The villains are monstrous (in more ways than one) and the monstrous future they were pushing toward felt all-too-real, especially in light of recent events. We may be a far cry from shadowy political cults and the AIDS epidemic… but in many ways we aren’t.
This is not a happy book, and it’s not an easy one to read. There is bullying and intolerance and bigotry and evil. But there is also friendship and queer joy and community and love.
I took a while to warm up to the characters and story, and I even questioned whether I wanted to continue a few times. But by about 40% in I was thoroughly hooked and for the last several hours of the audiobook I couldn’t tear myself away from the story.
The audiobook narrators were really excellent and delivered a gripping and emotional performance. The voices they used for each character were believable and felt right, and I was more invested in the story than I would have been if I were reading it to myself.
I’m not often a fan of an author narrating their own book because they so rarely deliver a riveting performance — it’s a different skillset, narrating a book rather than writing it. But in this case Andy Mientus did a fabulous job and I highly recommend getting the audiobook version.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Recorded Books for providing an audiobook arc for review.