"'This prisoner deserves special treatment.' The hooded man looked over at the young man again."
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.
To say that this book messed with my head a bit, might be a touch of an understatement. Indeed, many parts of the story are disturbing. So, if descriptions of abuse, torture or rape trigger issues, for you, then you might want to keep on walking. Rebirth doesn't pull its punches. It is quite intense and at times, it is pretty hard to read. The main themes explored are good and evil, guilt and redemption, life and death. It's a very psychological and philosophical journey.
Rebirth has 2 distinct story elements. One is the story involving Elsdon Taylor and the High Seeker, Layle Smith, told from their POV. And the other, intermixed with Elsdon and Layle's story, is written in a more scholarly style and is from what would be the future, from their perspective. And that part is mostly about Layle and how there isn't much known, with any certainty, about his life. Very little about him has survived the test of time, save his revisions to the Code of Seekers and a few other fragments of his writing.
Without giving too much away, Rebirth is about two men, both very damaged by their pasts, and both of whom want nothing more than to be reborn into men that are each worthy of the other. Layle, particularly. He's a master torturer; a sadist. He is greatly shamed by his nature and has made the personal decision to spend his life alone because he can't see a way that he could find another Seeker who was also a masochist. And, yeah, he's pretty right, there. You see, The Code prohibits Seekers from having physical contact with prisoners, with very good reason. Seekers are also forbidden to have relationships with guards. Their only option is another Seeker. So, you see his dilemma, yeah?
But he falls for Elsdon. His innocence, his compassion... And Elsdon feels the same. Elsdon sees a good man in Layle. One who has spent nearly 20 years doing everything he could to protect the integrity of The Eternal Dungeon while also protecting the rights of the prisoners within. When Elsdon looks at Layle, he sees a compassionate, intelligent, emphatic man. He does not see a monster. He does not see the darkness that Layle keeps so tightly in check.
So the story revolves around Layle and Elsdon learning how to be together, given their individual frameworks. And Elsdon has such insight and understanding. He amazed me. Layle, did, too, because he tried so hard.
The writing is impeccable, though the style really didn't mesh with me. Still, it was very well written and one of the most unique stories I've read. And as I mentioned earlier - it is intense, so do head the warnings.
Review copy of Rebirth generously provided by the author, in exchange for an honest review.
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