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Dear Author

REVIEW: Remastering Jerna by Ann Somerville

Dear Ms. Somerville:

Remastering Jerna is a remarkable book that harkens back to the beginnings of the novel in the eighteenth century. It is a spiritual autobiography, a travel narrative, a psychological exploration of extreme stress, a prison story, the memoirs of a whore — all the stuff of the novel’s infancy and growth. Although Remastering Jerna is brilliantly constructed and a stunning tour de force, it is only a romance in its last third, perhaps its last half, which is going to make my review slightly schizophrenic.

Set in…an alternate world (?) that is very much like our own but with a different political system, different money, and a matriarchal religion, Remastering Jerna is the first-person narrative of Jerna Setiq, teacher, husband, father…and repressed masochist. He agrees to tutor Davim Korei, the apprentice of his former master, Kimis, the master he broke with when he fell in love with and married his beloved wife Tyrme, mother of his two young children. Davim is almost 17, underage in this society where the age of consent is 18 for everything, and when Jerna finds out that Davim is Kimis’s current sexual submissive, he forces Kimis to stop the relationship until Davim reaches his eighteenth birthday. Davim is furious and as punishment, comes on to Jerna then lies when they are discovered in a compromising embrace. Jerna is arrested for, charged with, and in very short order convicted of the very “child perversion” he is trying to prevent.

This set-up all happens within 28 pages. Another 40 pages follows Jerna as he narrates us through the awful abuse, dehumanization, and hopelessness of the penal system. He is then “hired” in his capacity as a prisoner at a brothel, where we follow him for another 80 pages as he describes his life and duties at the brothel. As first-person narratives sometimes do, the story feels strangely conflictless. This is a direct effect of the book not truly being a romance until more than halfway through. Because the story as a whole follows the ancient conflicts of Man Against Society and Man Against Himself, rather than a romance trajectory, there is no progress in a relationship to track to provide the story with the form we’re familiar with. Jerna doesn’t even meet his future love interest until after he’s well-established at the brothel and it says something about the narrative that I can’t reveal who Jerna’s love interest IS without huge spoilers. The result of this format is that the reader is left following Jerna’s own blind endurance of his extreme suffering without much surcease or hope. Which is kinda depressing, most of the time.

Which is not to say that this book isn’t a brilliant psychological portrait of the effects of the extreme stress of torture and imprisonment and a devoted, almost loving exploration of the unbelievable limits of the human mind and body to endure without hope:

Lady, what do you want from me now?

I sank to my knees, ignoring the freezing wind against my bare arms. I wanted to be cold, to suffer. Maybe, when I’d suffered enough for the Goddess, she’d end this. Or maybe that was what she was waiting for me to do — not to force other people to do my dirty work for me.

I couldn’t tell. I didn’t know what anyone wanted any more. I’d tried so hard to do the right thing, and all that had happened was that I’d make them angry, been punished, imprisoned, shouted at.

“What do you all want?” I whispered, bending low over my knees, crouching around the pain inside me. “Please, tell me what you want and I’ll do it, whatever it takes.”

It is indeed brilliantly done and completely compelling. I read until 4:30am the day I received the book, completely unable to put it down or even to read ahead as I usually do because the picture of Jerna was so perfectly constructed. But it’s not the happiest of books, let’s say.

As for the BDSM—it’s as brilliantly, beautifully done as the psychological portrait. Jerna is a sexual submissive and a masochist. He has been suppressing this side of himself for seven years, all through his very happy marriage to Tyrme, because he does not believe she will understand or approve of his sexual predilections. The brothel’s female owner, however, recognizes the masochist in him and uses him in her BDSM show, re-awakening his need for masochism. The scenes of BDSM done right and BDSM done very wrong are both perfectly enacted, showing the “synergy” (your word) between the emotion and the acts that is so necessary to — the point, in fact, of — BDSM.

When the romantic interest finally shows up, it’s the last person in the world I would have guessed would or could be a successful partner for Jerna. I have never been surprised like that before in a romance. The plot twist — more a wide turn, really, than a sharp twist — to reveal Jerna’s partner is perfectly executed. Although I could never have imagined Jerna’s partner to be who it was, you make me fully believe that he is the perfect person for Jerna by the end of the book. The only niggle I have here is that there doesn’t seem to be quite enough interaction for the depth of Jerna’s emotions at the dark moment when the two men are parted. Jerna’s emotions are so exquisitely laid out and dissected throughout the novel, that to have the depth of Jerna’s romantic attachment be slightly underdeveloped only makes it that much more glaring a concern.

However, that aside, the writing and emotions expressed were strong enough that I was crying at the end of the book, both for the lovers’ parting and for their reunion. Whatever the rest of the book, the ending is pure, exquisite romance, beautifully portrayed. My grade is slightly lower than it would be if this weren’t a romance review site, because most of the book is NOT actually a romance. If this were a general lit review site, I’d give it an A- (notice, for example, how many times I use “brilliantly” in this review). As a romance review site, though:

Grade: B

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Amazon. No ebook version.

EDITED TO ADD: I do have to add, for the record, and because it needs to be said even though I keep forgetting to say it, that Jerna is a sanctimonious prig. In the nicest possible way, of course, and I was rooting for him the whole way through. But if he’d been able to bend some of his morals just a leetle now and then….well, there wouldn’t have been a book, but it does make me want to slap him around a little and, like Cher in Moonstruck, yell “Snap out of it!” But that in no way detracts from the novel — in fact, it adds to the reader’s involvement with the book. But still. It had to be said. :)

Dear Author

REVIEW: Beloved Vampire by Joey Hill

Dear Ms. Hill:

I remember when I received a copy of this book, I meant to just casually flip through it but from the very beginning I was riveted. I remember thinking that I resented having to put the book down to cook dinner and do my daily ablutions.

Jessica Tyson was a servant to Lord Raithe, a cruel vampire master.   “Once or twice, she made the mistake of believing he could do no worse to her, but evil was bottomless.”   She managed to kill him one day but her bond with him meant that she was dying as well. Her sole desire is to find the tomb of Farida and her lover and rest herself in peace with them.   Where to die is the only choice left for her and free of her master, Jess clasps that close.

The love story of Farida and her lover, Lord Mason, was one that rivaled Romeo and Juliet only it appeared to be a true account. Jess had found a journal of Farida’s in her master’s rare book library. Before her abduction, Jess was a research assistant for the archeology and history departments in Rome. Her love of the arcane knowledge of the past was one thing that managed to sustain her over the long years of captivity and abuse.

She was able to piece together through cross referencing historical texts that Sheikh Asim, Farida’s father, had indeed lived at one time and that during his life, he was assisted in a desert battle for power by one Prince Haytham who was accompanied by a British soldier, Lord Mason.   With some luck and fortitude, she was introduced to a descendant of Prince Haytham’s who had researched his only family history and had a few letters from Prince Haytham about Farida and Lord Mason.

Sheikh Asim would not allow Farida to join Lord Mason and so they fled together. One day, the Sheikh’s forces captured Lord Mason and through him, Farida.   They killed Farida in a cruel manner for bringing dishonor to their family. Lord Mason escaped alive but not in time to save his love but he stole her body away.   Prince Haytham writes to his family:

Lord Mason cannot be found when he does not wish to be. Which means he is seeking their blood as much as they are seeking his. I expect they will not be dissuaded from this now, but from my experience, they would be wise to leave him alone and let the desert absorb his rage and grief. They will not find her grave-’it will be only where a desert tiger can find it.

Close to the end of her life, Jess makes a painful journey in the Sahara led by three guides she has no doubt will rob her blind once she arrives at her destination but she is hopeful that the exorbitant amount of money she pays them will be enough to see her to the end.

Lord Mason was no ordinary British soldier but a vampire, one of the oldest and most powerful, but in the day of Farida, even his power could not keep her alive.   For an immortal, the death of a beloved is a type of a killing.   He has suffered everyday, inflicted by his loss. Lord  Mason knows of Jessica Tyson. Every vampire does.   She committed an unforgivable sin, that of killing her master.   A slight like that is met with death.   Despite this, Jess’s shortened tale of abuse moves Lord Mason and irrationally, he decides to help her.

This story is an erotic romance wherein the sexual nature of the characters play an important part of the conflict. Jess, like Farida before her, is a natural submissive. Part of her nature is to please and submit.   Lord Raithe recognized that in Jess and it is why he killed her fiance and threatened her family, all to take possession of this true prize.   Lord Raithe perverted what could be a true bond between a Master and a human servant whereas Farida described it so beautifully:

A lifetime of never voicing my angers, and I could not stop myself from speaking sharply to him tonight. I feared I might be beaten, but he simply shouted back, and in time we were so amazed with ourselves, we laughed. When I asked him why he had not punished me, he told me that I would be, but he needed time to devise the proper rebuke. And Allah be merciful, he found one, such that I became determined to defy him at every possible opportunity . . .

I thought the juxtaposition of the relationship that Farida had with Lord Mason and the joy she found in submission and pain was brilliant against the humiliation experience by Jess.   It was through Farida’s words that we can see what a gift Jess’ nature could be under the right circumstances.   It provides the basis upon which we believe that Jess and Lord Mason can belong together.

In order for them to be together, though, Lord Mason must overcome his fear of losing another beloved, Jess must come to grips with being a natural submissive, the two must find a cure for a vampire wasting illness, and convince the council that Jess should not be terminated.

In the end, the most serious complaint I had was that I was expecting the story to go farther and to some extent was a bit disappointed.   One of the particular elements I enjoyed about the first book in the Vampire series was how hard core these vampires were, dark, hungry for blood, and a not a little inhuman.   The love story, though, between Jess and Lord Mason, was beautifully done. I couldn’t help but cheer for the happy ending for both characters who had suffered so much but found solace in each other. B+

Best regards

Jane

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.