Marc reviews ‘Bliss’ (Bliss 1) by Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau. This book was published by Riptide Publishing on August 18th, 2014 and is 289 pages long.
Why I read this book: I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Lisa Henry at the inaugural ‘Euro Pride Con’ (LGBT Fiction Convention in Europe) and asked her to bring me print copies of ‘Mark Cooper versus America’, ‘The Island’, ‘When all the World Sleeps’ and ‘Bliss’ for me to buy and get signed. I bought about 35 new print books at the convention and got them signed by their respective authors, so one would think I was stuck with an almost impossible decision when it came to picking one to read first. I wasn’t. Lisa Henry’s ‘Dark Space’ was the only book of hers I had previously read (read my review here) and it instantly joined my top ten in this genre. Even after she had warned me about how dark ‘bliss’ would be, I trusted in her and her writing and the extraordinary matte cover almost hypnotized me. My favorite book is ‘1984’ (non-LGBT), a very dark dystopian book that is still current all those years later. The combination of a book by an author I trust, a genre I love, an intriguing blurb and a spellbinding and beautiful matte cover made this a non-decision. I had to read it. Directly!!!
They’re always happy.
Rory James has worked hard all his life to become a citizen of the idyllic city-state of Beulah. Like every other kid born in the neighboring country of Tophet, he’s heard the stories: No crime or pollution. A house and food for everyone. It’s perfect, and Rory is finally getting a piece of it.
So is Tate Patterson. He’s from Tophet, too, but he’s not a legal immigrant; he snuck in as a thief. A city without crime seems like an easy score, until he crashes into Rory during a getaway and is arrested for assaulting a citizen. Instead of jail, Tate is enrolled in Beulah’s Rehabilitation through Restitution program. By living with and serving his victim for seven years, Tate will learn the human face of his crimes.
If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. Tate is fitted with a behavior-modifying chip that leaves him unable to disobey orders—any orders, no matter how dehumanizing. Worse, the chip prevents him from telling Rory, the one man in all of Beulah who might care about him, the truth: in a country without prisons, Tate is locked inside his own mind.
Check Out ‘Tin Man’ (Bliss 1.5) -> HERE
Warning: I always try to avoid major spoilers in my reviews and stick to things readers know from the blurb or the beginning of the book. I tend to give more information on books that may be triggers for some readers though, so all readers can make an informed decision about the book.
Cover: I’m so happy that I have this book as paperback, because the beautiful cover art is absolutely stunning. It is a matte cover, thus the book looks and feels different and truly stands out. My friend Tanja wanted to
steal kidnap the book, because she couldn’t stop touching and staring at it and Dana bought a print copy, after I ensured her how absolutely gorgeous the book looks. With an author like Lisa Henry, there is never any doubt that a book will be well-written and worth the purchase – but even if one is very selective about which print books to get, this is a MUST BUY.
We see the face of a gorgeous guy, happy, perfect. But there is blood running down the book’s title and the phrase ‘They’re always happy’ seems much more sinister for it. The bright, happy and perfect is just the surface and it is obvious there is a dark mystery behind the smile.
I was HOOKED! (and I hope more authors will choose matte covers, because seriously – they’re incredible!!!)
Title: A very simple title: ‘Bliss’. A stronger, more poetic word for happiness. The kind of feeling we are working hard to find. So darkly ironic then that this feling is what turns criminals into slaves. It is very powerful next to the blank, happy face. ‘They are always happy’, indeed. They don’t have a choice. And that is more scary than any ultra-violent slasher movie.
Story: I have a very complicated relationship with dark books. I like when things are complex. I don’t like one-dimensional cardbox characters, who fall into insta-love without even having any chemistry to make it remotely believable. I want shades of grey, doubts, angst, complications, consequences. I’m fine with the required HEAs or HFNs in this genre, but they mean most to me when the characters had to earn them. When their bond was tested and held firm or lead to a new and stronger bond.
But I want to understand the characters and their actions. I don’t need to approve of what they do, but I want to know why they are doing it. Reading books gives readers the opportunity to see right into the main protagonist’s head with access to his private thoughts. It is an opportunity to understand the character, even when his actions are or appear to be morally ambiguous or plain wrong in our own culture or personal value system.
Even when I understand a character’s motivation or reason for immoral behavior or mistakes, I like when there are consequences and the character needs to struggle internally and/ or externally with the decision and fallout.
Mistakes and wrong or immoral decisions and actions can make a character more human, more relatable and in the end more captivating and memorable. I will care way more about a realistic character, who struggles with difficult choices, makes mistakes and feels imperfect and human. Sometimes, though, characters make choices so immoral that I can’t see the ‘human’ side in them anymore and just see the monster.
I believe there is a monster in all of us, but most of us are able to control this dark side. Most of the time. We have a core of ‘goodness’ that dominates our actions and keeps the darkness in control. The contrast of dark and light in every character makes them more interesting and three-dimensional. If the darkness goes unchecked, however, and the characters commit crimes beyond redemption, all the sympathy I might have had for them before may disappear.
I have watched shows like ‘Dexter’, ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘The Sopranos’ with interest, as they show us the human side of monsters who do unspeakable things. A book is much more personal, though. I can see directly into the characters head and sometimes the darkness that can be found there is too great for me. Sometimes the situation they find themselves in is too dark for me to handle and the things I read make me sick – even though they might be incredibly well-written. Those are the rare times when I actually DNF a book.
This is where trust comes in. It is incredibly difficult for authors to keep that balance of light and darkness and keep characters readers identify or relate with likable or at least human. From ‘Dark Space’ I knew Lisa Henry could create a dark and gritty world, where terrible things can happen, without leaving the readers in a darkness without hope. I have read things that really disturbed me in a way that was unpleasant and I rarely venture out to try a very dark book without a certain level of trust in them.
I trusted in Lisa Henry and I wasn’t disappointed. Every one can handle a different level of darkness and ‘Bliss’ is WAY dark. It is scary and disturbing in a very subtle, but effective way. Who’d have thought that a life of ‘bliss’ could be more scary than the newest horror movie? For me this book worked, because I liked and deeply cared about both main protagonists and through everything that happens in the book, I never felt that any action by them was irredeemable.
I actually think this is the one thing that will determine if you like this book. It’s kind of a question of philosophy. If a man sins without knowing that he is sinning, does he still commit a sin? Rory is a very likable character, but he has sex with a man who considers himself to be straight and was unable to consent – wouldn’t have consented if given a choice. It’s very dark and complicated issue, because he committed the deed and Tate was sexually abused through it. On the other hand, readers know Rory’s thoughts and he has no clue how extensive the personality modification of the chip implanted in Tate is. He is lead to believe that Tate can consent and has free will (just not to escape or do harm), never wants to abuse his authority, always tries to make sure that Tate is okay with anything that happens and has genuine feelings for the man.
Rory never intends to rape Tate and in fact the chip makes Tate appear to want sex with desperation. Tate not only states very clearly what he wants, his body confirms his words as ‘truth’. Rory has no way of knowing that it is the chip speaking and not Tate himself. Tate actually ‘needs’ to please Rory and does anything to make it happen, even while part of him is locked away in his own head, screaming silently.
Still, even in the moments when Rory agrees to something that is more extreme than his gentle love-making with Tate, there are those among us who like humiliation, rough play and exhibitionism. Given his feelings for Tate and Tate’s words and actions, I can’t judge Rory for giving it a try to please Tate, nor do I judge him for finding some primal pleasure in it in his inebriated state or his regret and discomfort, when he is sober. For me, it is all about the question of consent and what Rory does when he finds out what is going on.
In the end, while all the dark and terrible things in this book happen, have consequences and cannot be reversed, Rory remains a good person, whom I care about. I don’t hold him responsible for his actions before he realizes just what the chip in Tate’s head does and for me he remains one of the most likable characters I have read about. I think that he deserves the beautiful HEA he gets at the end of the book and that it is a great reward for readers who struggled through the really dark parts of the book. But I’m sure not everyone will absolve Rory of all blame and it will determine whether readers will feel the HEA appropriate or whether the whole book works for them at all.
For me this book is about the importance of freedom. I think it is one of our most highly held values. That’s probably why the thought of losing any freedom and control, even over our own thoughts and actions, is one of the scariest things one can imagine. In Germany we have a very well-known and powerful poem about thoughts being the one thing no one can take away. Thoughts are free. Even when the alternative to Beulah is not very appealing, the appearance of perfection is not worth the loss of that freedom and the abuse that would open people up to.
The concept was shocking, but well-executed and thought out. It inspired me to think about my own community and what is most important to me. The story captivated me and had me at the edge of my seat. It was REALLY dark, but I loved the MCs and was happy that they found the life they deserved in the end. I knew Heidi Belleau was a great writer as well, but I am glad that this story is not quite as hard to handle as her ‘Flesh Cartel’ series, which is one of those well-written stories that I had to abandon. Heidi and Lisa make an amazing team and this is a story I can strongly recommend, if after all I said this still seems like a story you might enjoy.
Rating: 9/10 Pots of Gold (90% Recommended). Compares to 4.5/5 stars.
Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly.
She shares her house with a long-suffering partner, too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.
Heidi Belleau was born and raised in small town New Brunswick, Canada. She now lives in the rugged oil-patch frontier of Northern BC with her husband, an Irish ex-pat whose long work hours in the trades leave her plenty of quiet time to write.
She has a degree in history from Simon Fraser University with a concentration in British and Irish studies; much of her work centred on popular culture, oral folklore, and sexuality, but she was known to perplex her professors with unironic papers on the historical roots of modern romance novel tropes. (Ask her about Highlanders!)
When not writing, you might catch her trying to explain British television to her newborn daughter or standing in line at the local coffee shop, waiting on her caramel macchiato.
- Blog: www.heidibelleau.com
- Twitter: @HeidiBelleau
- Goodreads: goodreads.com/heidibelleau
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org