Crowded, Vol 1, by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein & Ted Brant – Review

Book Jacket:

Ten minutes in the future, the world runs on an economy of job shares and apps — like Reaper, a platform for legal assassination. When the apparently average Charlie Ellison wakes up one day to find out she’s the target of a million dollar Reapr campaign, she hires Vita, the lowest rated bodyguard on the Dfend app. Now, with all of Los Angeles hunting Charlie, she and Vita will have to figure out who wants her dead, and why, before the campaign’s 30 day — or their lives — are over.


Now that’s what I call a killer hook.

But seriously folks, this series has it all – a mismatched buddy(ish) duo, non-stop tension, glorious action sequences, and brilliantly flawed characters. In short, the perfect tonic for your superhero fatigue. 

And the future-world of this book is so spot on, it’s downright scary. Gig economy, app life, fake online friends, the killer version of ‘social media influencers’ – it’s all so, so right, it’s (deliciously) wrong; a perfectly droll lampooning of our modern world. I also particularly enjoyed the fun had at LA-city-life’s expense – I mean, the random chihuahua? Priceless.

But it’s the characters that are the main attraction here – and it’s pretty much impossible not to be intrigued. Vita is pure lovable badass, basically the black, gay, femme version of a classic western Clint Eastwood (the last honest gun in this town!), while Charlie is a hot, selfish, self-destructive mess that rings all too painfully true.

But therein also lies the sticking point – which is Charlie and the likability question. Because in truth, Charlie spends just about the entire first volume acting out in selfish, entitled, bitchy, self-destructive ways, and it is aggravating. Exceedingly. Which is the entire point, I think – the question of her character. And while the story drops enough intriguing hints, about Charlie’s past and present emotional/personal damage, to make her a fascinating puzzle, there definitely is an inevitable, knee-jerk kind of reaction, of what a jerk. And while there’s a lot to unpack in that kind of reflexive judgement – about sexism, and how unlikable male characters are so much more accepted and acceptable than unlikable female characters – honestly, Charlie is at times exceedingly unsympathetic. Yet I was still hooked, in that I do want to see where she goes from here – whether it’s a redemptive arc, or full-on villain turn (and the fun part is, she definitely could go either way). And honestly, that’s just good writing, whether you like Charlie or not.

Besides, Vita is so incredibly easy to love that she alone is well worth wading through Charlie’s messes, so I’m in.

Also, can I just give a quick shout-out to all the delightfully unapologetic gay/bi romance/flirting in this story? I mean, even the club is named BiFurious. Love.

So in the end, the body count is high and murder rife, but this story is still a lot of fun. And between tantalizing hints of a larger conspiracy, a partnership so screwed up you can never quite tell what’s going to happen next, and assassins crawling out of every nook and cranny – this book is a humdinger. So jump on board and buckle up. It’s gonna be a wild ride.

Byrt Grade: A