Rating: 4.5 stars
Tate Patterson comes to Beulah because he’s heard that it’s easy pickings. Unlike his hometown, there’s no crime, and therefore, no locks on doors. It would be simple to make a quick haul and get away, but just as he’s doing that, a cop grabs him at the train station, and he makes a run for it. He has to get back to Tophet, no matter what, but when it looks like there’s no escape, he seeks a diversion by punching a young man in the face, breaking his nose. Tate’s captured anyway, and the young man, Rory James, is sent to the hospital while Tate learns his punishment—rehabilitation through restitution. How hard could that be? Tate finds out when he’s sentenced to seven years of service to the man he hurt. He knew he shouldn’t have thrown that punch, but seven years?
Beulah is the perfect town with the perfect justice system. In fact, it seems to exist in a bubble. There is very little crime and there are no jails. Almost everyone arrested plea bargains for a 7-year sentence, because, if they go to trial and are convicted, the sentence is life. Once found guilty, the criminal is fitted with an implanted chip in the brain, one that guarantees that they will remain docile. What many people don’t know, however, is that the chip will not allow that man to resist any command given to him by his “master”, the sponsor, who in almost all cases is the victim of the crime perpetrated.
When Rory receives custody of Tate, his new “rezzy”, the nickname given to those in the restitution program, he’s initially very wary, quite fearful of having this man in his home. He’s so new to the town himself, that he doesn’t yet understand or trust the system. But he comes to see that Tate is constantly looking for guidance and expressing his regret. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry” is a constant refrain. Then he discovers that Tate would prefer to be naked and on his knees as he begs for sex every time he greets Rory at the front door. When Rory finally gives in, feeling like a heel for doing so, he can’t quite reconcile Tate’s pleas for “more” and “harder”, when Tate is actually crying and moaning as if in pain.
Despite his better judgment, and under the guidance and counsel of his supervisor, Justice Lowell, he keeps Tate and continues to have sex with him. Justice Lowell acts as his friendly confidante and advisor, as Rory acclimates to Beulah and to his new job in the court system. He’s left Tophet, his hometown, behind him—a dirty, crime- and grime-filled dump, and he’s really happy to have that behind him, but he starts to question why Tate is so obedient and so obsessed with servitude and sex, especially when Tate is never able to verbalize answers to any questions about his own past in Tophet. If anything, the more he is ordered to perform certain tasks, both household and sex, the more he appears to enter a state of happiness that can only be described as bliss. Rory is told, “They’re always happy”, so many times that he feels he needs to believe that to assuage his own conscience.
As the tale unfolds, the authors delve more deeply into the personalities and complexities of the secondary characters. Justice Lowell is the type of guy who is friendly with all of his office staff, and one night, convinces Rory to host an impromptu office party for all of them. It’s then that Rory notices that Aaron, their cute and exuberant office intern seems uncomfortable around Lowell, especially once Lowell gets drunk and starts to make a pass at him. Two days later, he finds out that Aaron has been “caught” stealing and is now Lowell’s rezzy. Shocked, Rory tries to find out more, but is met with a dead end and a boss who tells him that he needs to learn to accept the way things are done in Beulah.
As time goes on and more and more incidents cause Rory to question what is really going on in this town, he endangers himself through his rebelliousness and will be lucky to escape the same fate as Tate and Aaron.
It… It hurts. Help. Me.
As a reader, I was particularly troubled during the times when Tate tried to break through the chip to speak to Rory to make him aware of what was going on. The chip causes tremendous pain each time a rezzy tries to break through the barrier. And, though we spend more time listening to Tate’s inner turmoil and powerlessness, we also share in Aaron’s pain which is manifested through excessive nosebleeds, so we see these very engaging characters struggling through extreme physical pain and, though we know what they want to say, we bear witness to what is actually said, and it’ s never what is intended. They’re always happy. But they really aren’t, and I found it painful to read these passages.
In fact, I started feeling depressed and reluctant to pick up the story again. Not because it was so poorly written, like others that I’ve hesitated to continue to read in the past, but because it was so well-written that I became one with the character. I hurt for Tate and Aaron so much!
On the flip side, I loved the surprising twist the story takes when Rory finally takes action. On the one hand, I knew something good would happen, but on the other hand, I was indeed surprised when it happened the way it did. And, of course, this dynamic author duo provided us with a satisfying HEA for all involved, though it was hard-earned.
So, I’m torn in my rating, because I realize it was so well written and the plot was extremely imaginative and well executed, that it might deserve a 5, yet it had so many dark and depressing elements that I may not have finished it if I hadn’t committed to a review. Therefore, I’m going with 4.5 stars.
I recommend it to those who enjoy a dark tale with non-con and dub-con scenes and/or a look into a non-conventional, yet Earth-based, world. And if you love angst, this is the story for you!
Cover Art by Kanaxa, http://www.kanaxa.com
Layout: L.C. Chase
— The cover depicts a very “blissful” expression on a handsome young man’s face. Sweet!
ebook, 230 pages
Published August 18th 2014 by Riptide Publishing