Hotness Level: Inferno
Kink Level: Moderate Kink
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, m/m
Reviewed by Anne
When I read the blurb for Bliss I was really intrigued! The set up is a bit complicated, so I’m going to use the official blurb to explain:
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.
I’m so conflicted about this story. On one hand it’s really well written, on the other it’s terribly dark and the romance is pretty weak. It actually read more like horror to me than sci-fi.
The thing about the story is that the chip doesn’t just make Rory unable to disobey orders, it leaves him craving Rory’s happiness and desperate to get any orders he can from Rory. However, the whole time he following orders and trying to find anyway to make Rory happy, the real part of him suppressed to the back corner of his head is screaming. Sometimes it’s screaming in disgust, sometimes in pain, sometimes in horror. His personal morals just don’t matter in the face of avoiding the pain the chip will cause him if he even considers something against its programming.
And that’s where things cross the line for me. Rory is very clear to himself that he is not gay, yet he finds himself compelled (and instructed) to seduce Rory. Even when the act is painful for him, he knows it will be worse if he stops, so he tells Tate he’s into pain in order to get him to continue.
If that whole thing wasn’t horrifying enough, things get worse when a third party is involved. At least when Tate and Rory are together Tate isn’t looking to hurt Rory or go against his will – he just doesn’t know that Rory isn’t in control. When this third party comes in (I’m being purposefully vague to avoid spoilers) he seeks out painful and humiliating things to have Rory do.
So, one major problem I had with the story was that it’s just so much darker than what I enjoy. The second problem was that almost the entire time Rory and Tate know each other, Rory is chipped, and basically being tortured. And Tate is unknowingly one of his main torturers. That makes it really hard to believe that any kind of healthy relationship could grow between them. And truth be told, I wouldn’t have minded reading the story of how they overcame that start, but the story is all but over when Rory’s chip comes out. That made the HEA pretty unbelievable for me.
The thing about this story is that despite all those negatives, I just couldn’t put it down. It was horrifying, but I had to know what happened next. Also, what little I saw of unchipped Rory I really liked.
However, in the end, I think this would have made a much better non-romance sci-fi book. Honestly, I’ll probably be avoiding Lisa Henry in the future. I’ve read and loved Heidi Belleau before, so I’m going to blame Lisa Henry for the darkness that still haunts me. If you like darker evil stuff, though, this is would be a great book for you!