BLOG TOUR {Review #89 & Giveaway}: January Black by Wendy S. Russo

Welcome to our blog tour stop for January Black by Wendy S. Russo, hosted by Kathy at I Am A Reader, Not A Writer. You can follow the tour here. And don't forget to check out the giveaway at the end of this post! Thanks for stopping by! :D

Title: January Black
Author: Wendy S. Russo
Release Date: January 15, 2013
Pages: 336, Paperback

Sixteen-year-old genius Matty Ducayn has never fit in on The Hill, an ordered place seriously lacking a sense of humor. After his school’s headmaster expels him for a small act of mischief, Matty’s future looks grim until King Hadrian comes to his rescue with a challenge: answer a question for a master’s diploma.

More than a second chance, this means freedom. Masters can choose where they work, a rarity among Regents, and the question is simple.

What was January Black?

It’s a ship. Everyone knows that. Hadrian rejects that answer, though, and Matty becomes compelled by curiosity and pride to solve the puzzle. When his search for an answer turns up long-buried state secrets, Matty’s journey becomes a collision course with a deadly royal decree. He's been set up to fail, which forces him to choose. Run for his life with the challenge lost...or call the king’s bluff.


“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, sir. I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death." ~Patrick Henry 

Let’s see what I can say about this book… First things first, this is not an easy read and I don’t think this book is for everyone. The pace is a far cry from your typical YA read and may very well test your patience. The story is slowly developed and the clues are steadily given. There is no easy moving from one clue to the next. Matty goes periods of time without making and progress before stumbling onto some other piece of information. That being said, you have to be interested in both the mystery and the characters or you will likely get bored. I’ll admit, my attention wavered occasionally, but overall I stayed invested. Usually just as I started to get impatient with the story development, Russo would provide another clue or action to pull me back in.

The mystery is heavily tied to politics and political themes. But all roads lead back to the underlying question of freedom.

“… he found a statement made by Ronald Reagan. He said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same…’”

The setting is kept vague enough so that nothing is given away. We know society is technologically advanced. There are references throughout made about the “Old World” which is referring to the world we currently live in. We know the people escaped that world for freedom and peace. But other than clues there is nothing definitively given. Again, this all ties into the mystery. The whole book is a puzzle that comes together at the end.

I don’t claim to be the most perceptive person ever but I had no idea what the answer was until it was given and I didn’t understand the significance of many of the clues until I had that answer and could reflect back. But I still felt both anticipation and suspense with each discovery. I could still follow what was going on. I’ll take a well-seeded mystery over a simple one any day.

The characters were pretty interesting. Not epic, but I liked their stories when they filled the pages in between mystery-solving. The King was my favorite. He was laid-back, mysterious, intelligent, good-humored. I never really knew if he was good or bad. Or if he was hiding something. He definitely added to the intrigue. Matty as a character appealed to my nerdy side – he was a total brainiac. But he was a little awkward at times and had a few too many descriptive boyish moments when he was with Iris. To say they had a relationship is a bit of a stretch. It felt more like a friendship because of their innocence and purity. I liked how Iris kept Matty grounded and she was her own person - both strong and vocal.

The following is a good quote to show both Matty and the King’s relationship:

“‘The instructor is boring and the section is a joke.’
‘And?’ the king prompted him for more.
‘He expects his answers, not correct ones.’
The king spun around at the bottom of the stairs, blocking Matty’s path. He crossed his arms. ‘You drew the atomic model for magnesium.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Matty said, meeting the king’s eyes as he stopped on the lowest stair. They were brown.
‘It was a civics test,’ the king said before walking away. Matty followed. “The question regarded the Assembly.” Downstairs resembled upstairs, except for a burnt orange wall in what Matty assumed was the sitting room. ‘Explain.’
‘Twelve.’ Matty looked around for something in the king’s home that would belong in the palace. He found nothing. ‘Twelve protons, twelve electrons, twelve prince regents.’
‘So, the fact that magnesium is sour and highly combustible, that’s just a coincidence?’” 

Overall, I enjoyed the change of pace in January Black from my usual reads. It was intricately detailed and had a thoughtful and deep-seeded mystery. The setting was familiar and yet it wasn’t, which kept me guessing. And you never know what the characters were really up to. This book makes you think, but it is a good use of brain power.

About the Author

Wendy S. Russo got her start writing in the sixth grade. That story involved a talisman with crystals that had to be found and assembled before bad things happened, and dialog that read like classroom roll call. Since then, she’s majored in journalism (for one semester), published poetry, taken a course on short novels, and watched most everything ever filmed by Quentin Tarantino. A Wyoming native transplanted in Baton Rouge, Wendy works for Louisiana State University as an IT analyst. She’s a wife, a mom, a Tiger, a Who Dat, and she falls asleep on her couch at 8:30 on weeknights.



  1. Well my friend, you have me intrigued. I love a mystery that takes more effort to figure out. I agree with you, I would rather read a complex one that has me confused at times then one that is easy to figure out. The synopsis sounds pretty good. I do however believe that since it is a "slower" read or one that may take a little longer, I will wait until this summer since my must read list should be pretty short, to check it out. Thanks for the great review!

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and review January Black, and for participating in my blog tour.

    I was hoping that you would consider posting your review to Amazon. I am giving away a signed hardcover set of Cassandra Clare's "The Infernal Devices," when I reach 100 reviews. Every one gets one of my fans closer to a drawing.



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