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A Black woman, forced into an intimate relationship with the white man who controls her every move, flees to freedom via an underground railroad of sympathetic strangers, and then grapples with what freedom means.

That sounds like a description of events in a Civil War-era novel but, in fact, it's "The Blueprint," set not in the past but in 2030. Slavery isn't what it's called anymore, but it's back in Rae Giana Rashad's provocative novel.

She carries recent anti-women, anti-diversity events to their logical conclusion: In Rashad's alternate timeline, there was a second civil war in 1954 (not coincidentally, the year of the Supreme Court's anti-racism Brown v. Board of Education decision and the beginning of the civil rights movement). In its aftermath, the country is ruled by the Order of wealthy white men, with only "non-restricted" Louisiana as an escape valve for those who can make it there, and 20-year-old Black Texan Solenne has been the concubine of a possible future president for five years.

Rashad cites Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" as an inspiration, and her book is very much in that vein, albeit more interested in the intersection of race and gender than Atwood was. In 2030, choice does not exist for Black women, and although Solenne believes she loves Bastien Martin, she also knows he routinely makes decisions that rob her people of their rights. It's a complicated headspace, and Rashad captures all of the ambiguities the relationship implies as Solenne decides to flee to New Orleans.

The book is matter-of-fact about the way things work in 2030. One of the most compelling things about it is how familiar its world is. When, for instance, Rashad writes about how white men select concubines, it sounds much like the colorism still used to marginalize Black women: "They created a rating system for behavior and appearance. Facial symmetry, waist-to-hip ratio, skin tone, curl pattern, blemishes..."

"The Blueprint" — the title of which seems to suggest that the template of early American slavery remains in place for Rashad's modern version — skillfully employs multiple timelines. One includes reflections from Solenne's early days with Bastien, and another is in the present, so we meet her simultaneously falling under the spell of and rejecting his control. A third timeline is a history Solenne writes, honoring an enslaved ancestor named Henriette, whose life Solenne begins to realize is not so different from her own.

"Read her story so you learn early what too many of us learn late," Solenne's wise mother tells her. "First, never hang on to anything too tight. Second, nothing in this world, not even the Order, is enough to kill you."

Rashad is terrific at characterization — we feel deeply Solenne's confusion, pain and hope. As she ponders her mother's words and tries to take control of her own life, she springs to vivid life. Rashad isn't as good at plot, so it's not always clear what the rules of the Order are or how Solenne skirts them. But — in chapters dedicated to characters whose significance only becomes clear at the book's end — Solenne's spirit echoes the truth of her mother's words on every page of "The Blueprint."

The Blueprint

By: Rae Giana Rashad.

Publisher: Harper, 292 pages, $30.