This was one of those that I wasn’t sure what to expect because I didn’t do much homework on it. I enjoyed previous books written by these authors (written not as partners that is) and added to that, I’ve lately gotten into dystopian romance so I was game to give it a try.
Now that I’ve read it, I’m unsure of what to say. I don’t feel its fair to say that it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting since I really wasn’t expecting anything, but yet I must have been to feel that way. I somehow got myself into a dystopian about a supposed utopian society, a non-con that has some extenuating circumstances, a master/slave dynamic that- again- was a bit more and a bit less than that, a conspiracy theory/intrigue story, and a romance that grew where it shouldn’t have been possible. So yeah, I’m befuddled as to what niche to shove this one in and working hard to be fair to the story apart from all the parts of it that made me flinch and twitch.
As to my verdict on like/dislike? Heck if I know, and I’m not just saying this to be contrary. I really don’t know. How can one use words like ‘enjoy’ or ‘like’ for something that involves rape, degradation, terror and pain? Let’s just say that I couldn’t have stopped reading, but my lands, it was a hard one to read in places and really pushed well beyond my comfortable limits (I’m not generally a non-con or dub-con sort of gal here). I got squeamish, but I had a hatred for the big villain of the piece that caused all the trouble and I felt a real need to see the story through, to see the sufferers saved and to see the villain go down. I can’t imagine reading this book and not feeling strongly about all that occurs. It is a brilliant piece of dystopian romance writing in a gritty, dark way.
The story opens with two individuals entering the closed, utopian society of Beulah from the wild, dangerous and crime-ridden Tophet. One, Rory, comes as a newly accepted immigrant to take the job of a justice’s assistant. The other, Tate, came to fast-track his daughter’s removal from the disintegrating hostile environment of Tophet by gaining a quick nest egg. Tate’s thieving leads him to punch Rory as a means to create a diversion to escape with his stolen goods.
Beulah’s ideas of dealing with criminal behavior are unique. Tate is outfitted with a chip in his brain and sent to serve for seven years the man he wronged with the goal of restoring him as a model citizen to society by the time it all ends. Only there is a dark side to the chip. The chip takes control of his will and he isn’t allowed free choice. He must always do the will of his master and he is forced to desire to only please his master. The real Tate is locked far inside his own head and can only watch revolted as the sick ‘pillars of society’ who run this program degrade him and force more and more of his real self to disappear.
Rory is leery of this idea of having his attacker living with him in the role of service for the next seven years. He came to Beulah to get away from violence and here he was injured his first day and welcoming this criminal into his home. Rory doesn’t know what to make of this man who doesn’t resemble a criminal at all and who begs to serve him and do whatever he can to make him happy- and that does mean whatever. Judge Lowell tells him that this is very normal and he should definitely set Tate to work and accept that its perfectly fine and ethical to be with his ‘rezzie’ in a carnal fashion. Rory sets his qualms aside and takes all Tate’s reassurances that he wants Rory and wants to serve until an incident with another man makes him re-think what he is being encouraged to believe. And his conclusions leave him with only two choices that have profound effect.
Dystopians have become a favorite genre for me mainly because I’m fascinated by the creative world building. This one was no exception though I confess that I felt that I was dropped into the middle of things. The world building was a bit hazy with the story just jumping in and letting the reader catch-up to how things are. In the end, I was up to speed on some stuff, but still curious on how this particular dystopian world of contrasting city-state governments came to be and only a vague idea of why things are that way in the present.
The plot was well-paced and written with a nice tension that just engaged me from the beginning. The authors stretched things out until I was so on edge and impatient for what would happen. I had a sense from the beginning of how things would go down and I don’t think that was ever intended to be kept hidden. It is only a matter of time before Rory discovers the truth. I just knew what would happen when he did as situation after situation occurred between him and Tate. I pitied him because he’s a very likeable guy with a good nature and character even as I kept reading toward the inevitable end.
I’m normally so caught up in the main characters as heroes that I have little thought for villains other than the barriers and resolves when it comes to the good guys. In this one however, the villain is larger than life. He and a few others like him made me sick and yet even I recognized how well his evil character was constructed and the pivotal role he played in the story. He almost shoved aside Rory and Tate for me, almost…
Tate goes through a horrific experience and it resulted in shaping him anew. It was fascinating to see even while I was in agony to see him get out of his situation. He is interesting in that the real Tate isn’t known until near the end when his free will is released from its mental prison. Rory is very different even though their goals were similar for what they wanted from the future. In a way, Rory is just as trapped as Tate though he doesn’t even realize it for the longest time. He was an idealist that was smacked with a big dose of realism.
The romance starts out in a very dark place because of the situation. In fact, I wouldn’t describe it that way for Tate, but I would for Rory until both are on equal footing. Rory is a sweet lover, but again, it’s not until the end that the real Tate’s lover qualities are revealed. When it’s just them, it feels uncomfortable, but not disturbing. It’s only with the villain and his cronies present that things cross that line. With those guys, things go into the non-con without a doubt. There are some very hot, erotic scenes, but not something that is meant to be rousing in a good way. I think they help establish the warped-ness of the villain. What all this didn’t do for me is allow me to feel the romance between Rory and Tate had as much development sans the chip’s influence as I would like.
My conclusion is that I’m still not a fan of non-con story lines, but I can still appreciate this as a good story that captured my attention and had me enthralled to the end. I would recommend this one to those that enjoy m/m dystopian non-con romance or at least those who get into stories that push the limits and offer some darker, grittier scenes.
My thanks to Riptide Publishing for the opportunity to read this one in exchange for an honest review.