Bliss, Lisa Henry and Heidi Belleau
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Genre: Gay Dark Romance
Tags: Dystopia/Utopia, Romance **Trigger Warning – Non-Con, Rape, Humiliation and Degradation, Emotional and Physical Slavery,
Reviewer: Kazza K
**Semi Spoiler -ish Review**
If non-con and rape are sexual triggers or off-putting, please think more than twice about reading Bliss.
Tate and Rory are two young men who turn up at approximately the same time in the beautiful, clean, green, no-prisons town of Beulah. Each think Beulah is their ticket out of their home town of Tophet – a place of crime and pollution and debt up to your eyeballs. Neither man has met the other before, but their lives collide when they turn up in Beulah.
Rory has a degree in political science and is to be the new EA to Jericho Lowell – the Beulah Chief of Justice, and a very powerful man. Rory is incredibly naïve, a bit judgemental at times, lacking in confidence, but primarily a decent and ethical guy. He is beyond pleased that Jerricho Lowell has chosen him to be his EA. He didn’t ever believe being a legal immigrant in Beulah could be a reality for him, but now it is. Part of his life in Beulah includes a house with a garden, something he could only ever have dreamt of before. It is just a shame that on his first day in town he is hit by another man.
After Rory is attacked, something that simply doesn’t happen in Beulah, Lowell personally comes to see him in hospital and explains that the perpetrator of this crime will come and live in Rory’s home. Rory will be Tate’s sponsor for his part in Beulah’s successful ‘rehabilitation through restitution’ program. Rory isn’t sure about this concept, but if Beulah is as nice as it seems, as nice as the people appear – and it all seems awfully nice – then he’ll do what he has to. Aaron, Lowell’s young intern, picks Rory up from hospital and can’t sing Lowell’s and Beulah’s praises enough, neither can the nurse who looked after Rory.
Tate is the guy who hit Rory. Yes, he has stolen some things and he was on his way out when he did it. There are no prisons in Beulah and he saw Beulah as a mark for some much needed money. He just didn’t count on why Beulah has no prisons. You know Tophet has not been kind to him. But you don’t know the full story behind Tate until later in the book. You know there is someone named Emmy he thinks of and he must get back to.
The name cut through the static in his head…
You know he has been involved in theft before, but he doesn’t seem like a bad person. You know he had seizures as a boy but grew out of them. And you know he has only ever been with women sexually. You also learn the more you read that he is strong, resilient and forgiving and someone I cheered for.
Tate initially sees Beulah – in full cognition – briefly but differently to Rory. Tate hitting Rory on Rory’s first day in town has been caught on CCTV footage. His Beulah appointed lawyer advises him to take the plea and serve seven years under the restitution program. If he decides to contest it, and loses – and he will lose – Tate will have a life of rezzy servitude. He takes the plea, hesitantly, and soon enough finds out what it is really like to be a rezzy.
After his plea agreement the people in the facility are more than happy to explain it all…and it is nothing like his lawyer painted it – you are a slave to do whatever is required. Sponsor gets left behind with the plea deal and master is used in its place.
Life as a rezzy means surgery and being chipped so you are non-violent, or so everyone believes. What it actually means is you have no free will. You want to, need to do everything you can to make your
sponsor master pleased. The more pleased the better.
If they are happy you don’t feel emotional or physical pain. If you try to tell them (or anyone else) you don’t want to do something there is blindingly painful jolts to the brain. There can be nosebleeds and more. If the people controlling the program feel that you are not performing to standard, meaning you aren’t being a totally happy, willing automaton, someone will come along and re-tweak the chip until you are.
So, post chipping, Tate gets placed with Rory. Rory isn’t too keen. He finds it odd that the person who hit him, who has been painted as a recidivist thief, would be so keen to apologise and do whatever he is bid by Rory. Tate is contrite to the point of misery and when Tate agrees to some sexual acts with Rory, and reacts in a distressed manner after – but doesn’t utter a negative word – Rory feels he has to talk to Lowell. Lowell is a decent man, isn’t he?
Lowell’s staff love him, the people of Beulah revere him, and he lives in a modest house in amongst the rest of Beulah’s township. He is charismatic, attractive and has picked Rory for his own assistant in a dream job in his dream town. Yes, he can talk to Lowell. Tate must be up to something, surely. Rory finds it hard to believe that Tate can’t be plotting revenge, let alone wanting to be with him physically. Lowell makes it all seem so reasonable. – ‘Coming from the outside Rory doesn’t understand how these things work in a nice place like Beulah. Believe in Lowell, believe in the rezzy program, stop being so judgemental of Tate, he wants to make amends. It is natural to feel as Rory does, but he should just ask Tate if Tate wants to do the things he does, Tate will tell him, he’ll confirm what Lowell is saying. Tate wants to be a better person, wants to be in Beulah, wants to serve Rory.’
Of course Tate can’t do anything but confirm exactly what Lowell says, he’s been programed. Tate confirms that he ‘wants to atone, that he feels awful about what has happened. That he isn’t in a prison but living in a house and being given a chance in beautiful Beulah and, yes, he wants to be intimate with Rory.’
Bliss is a dark book, the reader is aware that Tate is not gay, that Rory is and that Rory finds Tate incredibly attractive. You also know that when Tate is trying to communicate in the beginning, and Rory questions if things are okay with Lowell, that Tate is in for more aggressive mind control. As time passes, and after re-tweaks, Tate seems so willing. Tate wakes Rory up with blow jobs, rimming, is naked and submissively presenting himself for Rory when he gets home from work. Rory has no ability to say ‘no’ to this arrangement either. It is all so incredible, and, for a quite a while, he has no reason to believe it is anything other than what it seems – a man wanting forgiveness and a life in Beulah just like Rory does, a gorgeous man, someone who looks like he stepped out of a magazine, wanting him. They snuggle watching movies, Tate cooks and cleans and is fucked by Rory. Rory is a good sponsor on the surface, he is kind and caring and he is developing deep feelings for Tate. But like everything in Beulah, the façade is a sham and a nasty one creating multiple victims.
It takes a catalyst for things to change, and a pissed off but caring female friend. What finally happens when you wake up and smell the bulldust… and see one of the nicest guys around accused of a crime against one of Beulah’s citizens? What happens when you finally listen to your gut?
First and foremost, Bliss needed to be longer. It really did. I wanted some things tidied up or explored in more detail. For example, I would have liked more on the chip – technicalities, why/when did the chip go off the rails? Or, had it always been that way? I did not get the closure I so badly wanted on Jericho Lowell, someone so heinous. I enjoyed the irony of his fate, but I wanted to experience it on page. I wanted to feel some revenge. Poor Aaron. I know he was there with Alexandra in the epilogue, but I was left worried about him. I fell quite hard for Aaron and if there is a book in either of these writers on him I am here waiting.
“…but she’ll never look at me at me like that again, will she? She’ll never look at me like I’m the kind of guy who can be clever and funny and strong, because she knows. She knows what he made me into.”
“She knows it’s not your fault.”
“Does it matter?”
The relationship between Tate and Rory did and didn’t work for me. It was unusual, it was there in amongst the chip control, but at its core it was built on really horrible circumstances. I would have liked more time with the real them.
I liked both MC’s a great deal. While Rory is a source of (understandable) frustration, he is a good, decent guy at heart. Tate is amazingly resilient and proves things are not always so cut and dry.
Bliss is well written, and the co-write works well. It is thought-provoking, made me react at a deeply visceral level throughout – anger, more anger, sadness, a bit more sadness, some more anger, and, I guess, hope. It is so believable that people would abuse this sort of power, the world is full of them. People are always looking for greener grass, and people are mighty quick to pass judgement. Bliss makes quite the statement on people thinking they are better-than, on immigration and crime and punishment. How easy it can be to guilt people into your way of thinking and how easy it can be to push aside principals for something that really is Satan in a Sunday hat…oh, how people (can) desire a promised utopia. I enjoyed the journey that Henry and Belleau took me on. 4 Stars! One more thing, that is one beautiful cover.
An ARC was supplied by the publisher in return for an honest review.