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Friday, April 10, 2009

Dead to the World by L. E. Bryce

Dead to the World by L.E. Bryce
Publisher: Phaze Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (300 pgs)
Other: M/M, Voyeurism, Bondage/Spanking, Forced Sex
Rating: 5 Cherries
Review by: Phlox

Servant and consort of the Lady of the Waters, a powerful sea goddess, Erred is captured by slave traders during a pilgrimage and borne across the desert to be sold. In the decadent city of Tajhaan, he is trained in the arts of love to become a pleasure slave and eventually a courtesan. But in the claustrophobic world of intrigue and brutality he inhabits, what place is there for hope, faith--or love?

The reader has no time to draw breath at the start of this heart-wrenching story. We are picked up and dropped with surgical precision directly into misadventure in progress with Erred already captured by raiders, bound and beaten into submission. A prince in his own country and one of the talevé, the sacred consorts of the water goddess, he is ripped from a life of protected privilege and thrust into one of uncertainty and fear as a Tajhaani slave.

Erred’s slow deterioration, his every defiance and defense stripped from him by acts of calculated brutality and humiliation, is heartbreaking but it also provides a meticulous window into the strange world of institutionalized slavery. We forget that slavery is an ongoing issue worldwide and did not end with the American Civil War. The sociologist Orlando Patterson calls slavery a ‘social death’, echoed here in Ms. Bryce’s title, where the slave is stripped not only of all legal rights but also his social rights. He becomes a non-person. What Mr. Patterson points out, though, is that while there must be legal and social institutions in place for slavery to be sustainable, there is one more crucial factor: the acquiescence of the enslaved person. The slave must, at some point, agree to be a slave for the system to work. Some of my readers will cry foul here. The slave is given no good choice, give in or die. However, examples crop up throughout history of successful slave revolts from Roman gladiators to Jamaican plantation workers. The reason these revolts happened so infrequently was the psychological success of the institution in making someone truly believe in their own social death.

This is Erred’s journey, from sacred being to non-person, made all the more poignant by stolen moments of shared joy and satisfaction, such as the discovery of love with another slave, Tharril, which are inevitably taken from him. Ms. Bryce’s beautiful, intelligent writing renders the journey into something profound, though, rather than maudlin. Her world is well-crafted and fully realized, from the characters’ motivations and flaws to the brightly colored bazaars, from the political wrangling to the clashes of spirituality and culture, every detail is thought out and rendered beautifully. Here, for example, the High Prince ponders his first meeting with Erred, in which Erred’s master has sent him to pleasure the Prince as a bribe: ‘These were well-worn texts which sang the praises of lush, ebony-haired beauties and youths in the first bloom of their manhood with bottoms like firm peaches, of laughter between lovers and utterances of longing, but in them a man would find neither explanation nor remedy for the enchantment of a white-haired beauty lying beneath him like a broken dove.’

Folks, I am a fairly jaded reader. I tend to snort and roll my eyes at literary pathos. But this story pulled at my heart and, yes, I’ll confess: I had to stop and leave the computer to cry not once but twice during the reading. This is a novel of erotic fantasy I would recommend to any reader, a novel that defies genre pigeon-holing and leaves the reader wrung out but richer than before. Feed your heart; feed your mind, read this book.

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