Shelly Laurenston’s Honey Badger Chronicles have joined Martha Wells’ the Murderbot Diaries and Becky Chamber’s Wayfarers series as the books I shove in everyone’s faces given the slightest opening. Are they even romances anymore? I don’t know. Who cares? They have transcended genre and reason and exist on their own plane.
There are always 30 something characters and 56 plots going on in a Honey Badger book and it feels a bit like the Motown Wall of Sound. Either you can’t take the confusion or you become immersed and a wonderful story about found family emerges from the chaos. Laurenston’s world is clannish, chaotic and violent. But amongst the violence (there are gun battles, stabbings, eviscerations, defenestrations, and frequent beat downs – often between siblings), the core characters are building a safer world for themselves. Laurenston shows how the power of one person’s decision to be kind and generous has reverberated through the years and impacted the lives of people she never met. Charlie’s mother chose to take in her ex’s children by other women, Charlie’s half-sisters, setting in motion the series, but also giving the sisters a moral center that shapes their lives. As perpetual outsiders, Charlie, Max and Stevie have are protective of each other, and over the series, extend that protection to the people who are becoming part of their family.
Breaking Badger expands the Honey Badger Chronicles beyond the McKilligan sisters and into Max’s basketball and gun toting back-up squad. Mads is kind of a quiet loner. Neglected and abused by her mother and grandmother, she thinks of the other four honey badgers as her teammates, not friends. But as Finn, her love interest points out, they have moved beyond friends, they are her family.
One of my favorite things Laurenston does in her world is give her characters the gift of being their own weird selves, acknowledging that they are weird and then moving along to more important stuff. Finn and Mads do not look at each other and think about dating, they drift into each other. Neither thinks they are courting, but their friends and family know and repeatedly point it out. Along the way they realize they like each other, and maybe they don’t hate spending time together. And really, who has time to think about dating when there are playoffs to be won, enemies to be defeated, and toxic family to be handled?
The Honey Badger Chronicles also has some great mental health representation. In one of the many side plots, Stevie talks about going off her meds in preparation for a possible future pregnancy (to torment Max, of course). The issue is handled sensibly and compassionately, and also with the trademark yelling in any McKilligan sister conversation.
If you haven’t read Hot and Badgered yet, you need to get on that. Charlie McKilligan is a great character among great characters, and I alternately want to be her, and want to have her as a sister.
I received this as an advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.