Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Rating: 5 stars
Type: Standalone Novel
Received from Publisher
Blurb: 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.
Review: The very day Rory James arrives to start his new life in Beulah, having escaped the poverty-stricken, polluted, crime-ridden home city of Tophet, he gets punched in the nose and knocked out by a stranger from right out of the blue. What a way to make an impression on your new boss! Crime is virtually unheard of in Beulah and the justice system Rory has come to work for is more accustomed to dealing with small disputes and environmental law than criminal cases. In fact, it’s been years since there was even a trial! Instead, offenders are offered seven years in the Rehabilitation through Restitution program rather than risk a life sentence if they lose their trial. While the thought of sharing a house with the man who punched him with no provocation makes him uncomfortable, Rory is so impressed with the apparently perfect face Beulah presents that he reluctantly accepts that maybe the program does work.
Tate Patterson isn’t so lucky. When he’s caught for punching a stranger, all hope disappears that he’ll make it back to his home city of Tophet, with or without the goods he’d snuck into Beulah to steal. It quickly becomes apparent to him that the supposedly perfect Beulah is hiding a very dark face. The chip he is fitted with in preparation for his placement with his sponsor suppresses a whole lot more than violent urges. It suppresses his entire self. All that matters is that he pleases his Master and will go to any lengths to do so. He has no choice. Even so much as a thought to the contrary, or of his life prior to the chip, results in excruciating pain. Not fighting against the chip gives him pleasure, but the price is the complete loss of self.
Wow, what a journey! With a great plot and seamless writing, Bliss explores some complex ideas raised on morality and culpability and the notion of if there can really be a perfect society, a utopia, and it gave the story a fascinating added layer of interest. The start built steadily as the reader is introduced to the supposedly perfect society of Beulah, which turned out to have a rotten core. Because both MCs were outsiders to it, it is introduced to us piece by piece as the MCs experience it, which meant info dumps were completely avoided. The characters were thoroughly believable and my heart broke at their predicaments. I couldn’t help but be totally caught up in their world and their experiences right alongside them.
The juxtaposition of Tate and Rory’s experiences in their new society that stems from each side of that shared event right at the beginning is exceptionally well done. From Rory’s wonder and bewilderment of this seemingly perfect society to Tate’s horror and disbelief as he is confronted with its dark underbelly and forced to pay for his crime as a rezzie. It was heartbreaking watching the battle that went on inside of Tate’s mind as his very self tries to fight against being completely swamped by the chip and I couldn’t help but to feel sympathy and horror for Tate. Despite a vague sense of something being not quite right that grew over time, Rory had no idea that Tate had been compromised and ended up embarking on a sexual relationship with Tate thinking Tate wanted it, wanted him. In fact, Tate is not gay, but the chip takes away all ability to say no when it makes his Master happy and forces Tate to even beg for it. There are several times when this book rips my heart out, throws it on the ground and stomps on it for good measure!
Lowell, Rory’s boss, is downright evil, yet he is not merely a two dimensional textbook villain. He’s nuanced and charismatic, even though he has no redeeming features underneath his mask, and that is exactly what makes him so chilling as we learn just what depths he’ll happily go to. And he’s intent on dragging Rory into his depravity and abuse of power as well.
The city of Beulah is very much another character in this book, and the set-up for it superbly done. When Rory’s disquiet becomes too much and he starts asking questions, I was on the edge of my seat with worry for Rory, as well as for Tate and Aaron (Lowell’s former assistant-cum-rezzie).
It may have been a little too neatly tied up at the end, but I think it actually really works for this story. They went through so much, especially Tate, and they deserved their happy ending and I loved it. I was utterly swept up in the story and the characters and highly recommend this book for anyone who can deal with the non-con element and a darker story. It does have that HEA, though, even if the MCs did have to work for it!