Dead to the World by L.E. Bryce

12 Apr

Dead to the WorldGrade: B+

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.

~Annie

Please buy this book here.

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12 Responses to “Dead to the World by L.E. Bryce”

  1. shuzluva April 12, 2007 at 10:54 am #

    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.

    That’s me! Thanks Annie, this book sounds both heavy and sublime. I look forward to reading it!

  2. Barbara B. April 12, 2007 at 2:02 pm #

    I’ve got this book. I think I’ve bought all of Bryce’s book for my huge TBR list yet I haven’t read any of them yet. I guess I’ll move it up on the list but I don’t wanna cry. I love M/M but sometimes there’s such an underlying sadness to them I can hardly bear to read them. Sounds like the sadness in this one is all pervasive.

    I’ve also had Maia for over 20 years. Guess I should go ahead and read that one, too.

  3. L.E. Bryce April 12, 2007 at 3:20 pm #

    Do you realize, Annie, that the character of Satu ked Menteith owes a lot to the character of Sencho in Maia, just without the ample waistline? Yes, I’ve read that book and still have it on my shelf.

    This is a book readers either love or hate. I originally wrote it to be posted in installments over at Adult FanFiction.net, and with each installment purposely deviated from what readers were expecting, so no sweet Stockholm syndrome love plot there.

  4. Ann(ie) April 12, 2007 at 3:34 pm #

    Yes, I saw Sencho in Satu. The book did resonate with me in a similar way, but honestly, Erred is a stronger, more interesting hero than Maia was a heroine.

  5. L.E. Bryce April 12, 2007 at 4:56 pm #

    I found Maia to be very one-dimensional, and was really more interested in the characters around her, like Occula.

    In writing this book, I looked at real-life victims of the sex slave trade in Eastern Europe and the psychological conditioning they endure. Still, it remains my most problematic text, mostly because of its length, and I wish I had the opportunity to go back and edit a bit more intensely. I have to keep telling myself to let it go, but typos always nag at me.

  6. bam April 12, 2007 at 4:59 pm #

    I have no idea what you guys are talking about. but awesome review as always, ann!

    Now I’m off to go watch The Hitcher. No, not the remake. The one with C. Thomas Howell and Rutger Hauer. Whoo-hoo!

  7. Wylie April 12, 2007 at 7:37 pm #

    Great review Annie and congrats LE, on another smash hit!!

  8. L.E. Bryce April 12, 2007 at 7:43 pm #

    Thanks, Wylie.

    It’s funny, today as I was leaving work I was wondering what Annie would review this Thursday, and if she would ever review Dead to the World. Then I told myself that if she gave it an F, at least I would get a thoughtful critique as consolation.

    Other reviewers have commented on the indifference and slavery aspect, but Annie is the only one so far who’s even halfway warned readers that it gets ugly–though I notice she didn’t use the “R” word.

    There won’t be another book until June, and then August.

  9. Samantha April 12, 2007 at 9:56 pm #

    I wanna buy this so bad – why did I go clothes crazy this morning? Wait, I get paid tomorrow :) .

    Which reminds me, book slut that I am, I’ve already spent the spoils of the last contest: Sunshine (McKinley!) and Blood and Chocolate, among others, will be in my grubby hands very soon. Yay! jk – I have very clean hands.

  10. Ann(ie) April 13, 2007 at 8:16 am #

    Oooh, Sunshine. Totally read that first, Samantha. I loved that book and I don’t even like vampires.

  11. Samantha April 13, 2007 at 11:33 pm #

    ^Sounds like a good idea to me, Ann(ie) :) .

  12. Nienna April 15, 2007 at 12:59 am #

    You already know how I feel about this book… And I am very glad that someone else has given it such high marks!