Book Review: Rebirth, by Dusk Peterson
Elsdon Taylor, a prisoner accused of committing a terrible murder. Layle Smith, a torturer with a terrible past. Their meeting in the Eternal Dungeon appears certain to bring out the worst in both men.
Yet neither man is quite what he appears. As the prisoner and his torturer begin to be drawn toward each other, the ripple effects of their meeting will have a powerful impact on other inhabitants of the Eternal Dungeon: Layle's faithful guard, struggling to contain his doubts. A younger guard determined to take any shortcuts necessary to ensure that his life follows the path he has already chosen. An old love from Layle's past, still sorrowing. And most of all, a prisoner who has not yet arrived at the Eternal Dungeon, but whose fate will depend on how Layle handles Elsdon Taylor . . . and on how Elsdon handles Layle Smith.
A winner of the 2011 Rainbow Awards (within the "Eternal Dungeon" omnibus), this tale of love and adventure can be read on its own or as the first volume in The Eternal Dungeon, a speculative fiction series set in a nineteenth-century prison where the psychologists wield whips.
The Eternal Dungeon series is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (Waterman, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, The Eternal Dungeon, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.
Stunning. Beautiful. Brutal.
What can I say? This book ripped my heart out and then ground it to dust, taking great delight in the brutal act. The only thing Layle would lament was that the pain didn't last longer.
I'll admit, I was scared to start. I've enjoyed very few dark reads, because they're either not taken far enough into the darkness or we're taken too far into the mind of a sadist who brutalises the MC we're come to love. The balance is so hard to reach, but this one did it. It was brilliantly written, complex and the author didn't apologise for being brutal and blunt. But once I started, I was thrilled by what I read. From the first story Rebirth #1: The Breaking, I was captivated. The inserts from Psychologists with Whips: A History of the Eternal Dungeon were so intriguing and weird, in a good way, that I couldn't wait to read more.
When it comes to characters, I completely fell in love with Elsdon. He was innocent, charming and yet dark in a way that was almost contrary to his nature, yet made perfect sense because of the way his story was told. The glimpses we got into his soul within the first 20-30% of the story were incredibly detailed and real.
Mr Smith and Mr Sobel intrigued me right from the start, because they were so mysterious and didn't get to show their POV for a long time. I actually think that worked in their favour. Though we never saw Sobel's POV, I know it's coming in later books, so I'm excited by that. Mr Smith, however – Layle Smith – is such an enigma. I honestly have never known a more confusing, more passionate, darker or self-conflicted characters. His relationship with Elsdon is beautiful, right from the start.
Mr Bergsen, the healer, was interesting; a small character who had a huge impact on the main characters. Garrett was that unknown anomaly and by 21% I knew he was important, but I couldn't figure out why or how for a while. When the big reveal came, I was thrilled to get answers that made sense. On top of that, I admit that Rebirth #6: Tops and Sops really confused me; the character was a total mystery, difficult and intriguing. For the first page or two, I really thought it was going to be a separate story maybe leading into the next book and that my time with Elsdon and Layle was over. Then, the shock of all shocks came, and not only was I relieved, I was crying and being a big blubbering sop and...there's nothing to say but THANK YOU, AUTHOR! You know why. ;)
As ridiculous as it sounds, I cried a lot. I was crying by 11%, right after Elsdon's confession. It was not only gut-wrenching, captivating and completely devastating, but it was kind of beautiful, too. By the time we learned about Layle at 19% my head was in a total mess of F'd up proportions. The flashbacks! God, the flashbacks killed me over and over and over again. By the big, huge revelation of epic proportions came right at the end of Rebirth #2: Love and Betrayal, I was in total shock. I don't think I spent more than 10% of the story after that point not crying over something.
In Rebirth #3: First Time, we finally got Layle's POV and it was a kicker. I can't even describe what it did to me except to say that seeing Elsdon through Layle's eyes was hard on my heart. I'm still not sure how I survived. Then the whole “Sun” thing cut me to shreds. Literally, that one word, alone.
I loved the way that each of the “episodes” had a different focus on POV. Each story, bar #6 (which deviated with a 1st person POV), had the 3rd person, main focus of Elsdon's POV with generally one other character giving him a break, as well as a continuing storyline running throughout. Elsdon and Layle's relationship and the challenges they faced were a constant source of plot, even into that final story. The extra POV's – Garrett, Chapman and Layle – were vital to the understanding of events that Elsdon wasn't present for and it was great to have that added information.
I can't put into words just how much I loved it. It's the kind of story that hooks you from page 1 and with each page just digs its claws in a little further, until – before you know it – you're flesh and blood with the story, the characters and you have such an investment that putting ti down for a drink, food or the loo is just impossible and unthinkable.
Not only will I be buying and devouring the next three volumes in this series, but Dusk Peterson has just landed themselves on my Must Buy NOW! list.
Thank you. Thank you for this story, for these characters, the stealing me away from a cold Winter day and giving me a hot prison to feel like home, a little cell of my own to feel safe and Layle and Elsdon to restore my faith in humanity.
“Searching other people is easy. Allowing oneself to be searches is an act of courage.”