Well, once again L.E. Bryce has done it. I started this book with an overwhelming sense of disgust and loathing, despite the gorgeous, evocative writing. By the end, I have yielded to the pervasive wonder of her imagination.
You see, Erred is a taleve to the Lady of the Waters. This is something like being a priest, except he’s a shapeshifter who can turn into a sea creature that I imagine as a cross between a dolphin and a seal. He’s sacred and Goddess-touched, entitled to a life of privilege and reverence. The Goddess exacts high payment for her favor, though, as Erred is unable to marry, father children, and he suffers from a reduced lifespan. The oldest taleve at the temple is thirty-nine.
The reason for my hate and horror — at the start of the book, Erred is kidnapped and enslaved. Make no mistake, this isn’t a sweet Stockholm syndrome story where he falls in love with his captor because the man treats him tenderly. No, Erred has everything stolen from him: his honor, his dignity, his purity and even his name. I nearly threw up over the way they torture and degrade him. In some regards Dead to the World strikes me as akin to an adaptation of the story of Job, an elegy that explores the nature of faith and the resilience of the human spirit.
At first Erred fights, believing the Goddess will save him, and then he lapses into this numb acceptance that’s worse than anger and outrage. He comes to accept that as a slave he has no rights and he must do as he’s told, that he doesn’t have the right to love or be loved. The way she writes about his broken spirit damn near breaks my heart in turn. I admit it, she made me cry, ya’ll. Not the in Hallmark commercial way either. It was raw and awful, and I want to punch her in the face over it. Religion lives and breathes in this story; it isn’t added for fantasy flavor or window dressing. Erred believes, and as the story continues, so do I. The scene where he goes into a mad, mournful rage over being forced to violate one of his sacred rites (don’t want to spoil here) was heart-wrenching.
I hated the first part of Dead to the World so much that I wanted to grade this book an F. It hurt to read about what those bastards were doing to a lovely, ethereal creature like Erred. I persevered with this story because I wanted so much for it to get better. When I finished it, I realized that writing is supposed to evoke a strong, visceral response. On that level, Ms. Bryce hit a homerun. After analyzing the book more closely, I realized that what I hated wasn’t the story or the writing, so I couldn’t grade the book an F. See, what I hated was the antagonist’s actions. They weren’t evil in a cartoonish, one-dimensional way, but in the manner of those who are smug with the surety of their own power. Ms. Bryce deftly creates a lush, decadent society, built on the agony of the enslaved. The men who tortured and debased Erred didn’t see him as human, you see. To them, once he was captured, he became chattel. Property. And as such, devoid of fundamental human rights.
I didn’t grade this book an A because the end dragged a bit and it struck me as a bit anti-climactic, after everything else. I won’t discuss the specifics of that because it would give away what happens. Dead to the World is a story of epic proportions. The only book I can liken it to is Maia by Richard Adams. It addresses questions about the nature of love and honor, and by the time I finished reading it, I felt dizzy with the panoramic scope. Ms. Bryce left me aching by the time I finished this story, but I will caution readers: this is not an easily accessible book. It’s not light fare or beach reading by any means. She does offer an upbeat ending for those who need such things. I must tell you, despite the elegant, evocative writing and the wonderful world-building, I would have given this book a big fat F if she had tormented poor Erred so egregiously and then failed to give him a happy ending.
If you’re looking for a beautifully written fantasy with male homoerotic elements that makes you feel like a masochist for enjoying it, then you’ll want to buy this book.
Please buy this book here.
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