Chain-Gang All-Stars

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Chain-Gang All-Stars
Vintage Publishing
United Kingdom
26 March 2024

Chain-Gang All-Stars

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Fight for freedom. Fight for love. Welcome to the killing ground.

Enter a world where, livestreamed to millions, prisoners fight like gladiators for the ultimate prize - their freedom.

Fan-favourite female stars Loretta Thurwar and Hamara 'Hurricane Staxxx' Stacker are teammates and lovers. Thurwar is nearing the end of her time on the circuit, free in just a few matches, a fact she carries as heavily as her lethal hammer. But as protestors clash with the baying crowds and the programme's corporate owners stack the odds against her - will the price be simply too high?


In a near-future United States, the incarcerated people in the private prison system fight each other to the death in a bid to win their freedom. This is Chain-Gang All-Stars: a wildly popular televised ‘sport’ and the crown jewel in the Criminal Action Penal Entertainment (CAPE) program. Complete with announcers, betting, and live spectators, the CAPE program has been a commercial success since it was conceived, and at the top of the ladder are Loretta Thurwar and Hamara ‘Hurricane Staxxx’ Stacker – partners and lovers on the same Chain.

Thurwar has done what almost no other prisoner has been able to do in the time the CAPE program has been running: she’s survived nearly three years, and if she survives her next few matches, she’ll be freed. There’s an enormous cast of characters, and it would be easy for an author to narrow the scope to just one or two and leave the rest as one-dimensional allies or opponents. But what Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah does is give voice and emotion to every single human in this story.

Adjei-Brenyah is a phenomenal writer. I’ve been a huge fan of his since the publication of his short story collection, Friday Black, back in 2018; it’s the perfect blend of dystopian social commentary and horror. Chain-Gang All-Stars is similar, but on steroids. His writing is confronting and gut-wrenching, and he forces the reader to see just how complicit they are in the violence perpetrated by a deeply racist system of corporal punishment – including here in Australia.

Adjei-Brenyah’s world is one that might seem horrific to the point of being unfathomable, but one of the most horrifying aspects of his writing is that this world, much like that of The Handmaid’s Tale, is just one or two wrong decisions away from reality. Chain-Gang All-Stars is fiction, but the horrors that inspired it are very, very real.

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