29 March 2015

Mercy's Prisoner (Life Prison: Mercy's Prisoner #1-5) by Dusk Peterson

 "'You have committed a vile and savage act, one that any other nation would punish with death. Our punishment, on the other hand, will only be to give you what you want. You have sought to live in a world without boundaries of civilization, and such a world shall henceforth be your dwelling place.'"

A cold-hearted murderer. A vicious abuser. A young man hiding a shameful secret. A bewildered immigrant. A pure-minded spy.

All of these men have found their appointed places at Mercy Life Prison, where it is easy to tell who your enemies are. But a new visitor to Mercy is about to challenge decades-old customs. Now these men's worst enemies may be hiding behind masks . . . and so may their closest allies.

A runner-up in the Rainbow Awards 2014, the book bundle "Mercy's Prisoner" can be read on its own or as the first volume in the Life Prison series. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural speculative fiction series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.
Hmm. Different than my usual read, but before I get into that – I want to make one thing clear, Dusk Peterson is a helluva great writer. Now onto what I thought of this bundle of shorts that are all connected by the setting of Mercy’s prison. The events takeplace at the end of the 19th century. First off, while I’m all about historicals – especially M/M historicals because the tension and drama is always right there within a historical setting –this is an alternative history. One of the main differences for me in reading this book is that it is not romance. I do read gay fiction, but I tend toward romance because I usually get a HFN at the very least. Nope. Doesn’t happen, so you can forget all about that right now. But again, because I love historical M/M and do occasionally read gay fiction – I thought I’d give this a try. I’m very glad I did.

Okay, yeah, no happy endings for me – or the characters. This all falls under more of a soul searching umbrella. Each story tells the tale of a prisoner who is condemned to live his days out at Mercy prison. The prisoners aren’t allowed to die (which means the inmates or guards can’t kill them) because that would be like skipping out on their punishment. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t be raped and beaten. Or that they’re having a good time or that they aren’t subjected to mind-numbing boredom or worked half to death (Remember – only half, not whole).

There are attempts at romance, attempts to reconcile with fate, attempts to forge a life within a living death. Because this volume of stories is the first of more to come, there are plot lines that are introduced that don’t get resolved. Overall, you’re looking at a very dark, gritty, depressing tale – with a few touches of black humor – and things aren’t neatly wrapped up at the end. You might think that I’m trashing this collection  - but I’m not. I merely want readers who don’t care for that type of book or have triggers that this may not be the read for them.

What’s my opinion about these stories? They made me think. They really made me feel, and it wasn’t always a comfortable feel. Is that a bad thing? Not at all. It’s very important that tales like these be told so that we remain aware of the different shades of humanity and that there are those who suffer unjustly. I’m not sure if the word ‘love’ is the proper label for me to attach to my feelings regarding Mercy’s Prisoner, but I was wholeheartedly invested and lost in the horror of the world Dusk Peterson created. When writing successfully does that to me, then I have no choice but to give it 5 Stars. 
Honored in the Rainbow Awards, Dusk Peterson writes historical speculative fiction, including lgbtq novels. Suspense plays an important role in many of the tales; the conflict in those tales is both external and internal. Peterson's stories are often placed in dark settings, such as prisons or wartime locations. The mood of the stories, however, is not one of unrelieved gloominess: romance, friendship, and faithful service are recurring themes. Visit duskpeterson.com for e-books and free fiction.


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