Rating: 5 stars
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Daniel Whitlock is exhausted, barely getting enough sleep to survive. Daniel sleepwalks, doing things while asleep that he has no memory of in his waking hours. As a child he painted his parents living room, cut up their curtains, escaped his room and peeped in the window of a boy he liked, all while sleeping. As an adult, Daniel has sex with random men at the local bar. He creates beautiful drawings when he has no artistic talent during the day. And one terrible night, Daniel murdered Kenny Cooper, setting fire to his house after Kenny nearly beat Daniel to death for coming on to him.
The courts agreed that Daniel’s sleepwalking absolved him of murder, locking him up for less than a year and setting him free back in his small hometown of Logan, South Carolina. But Daniel will never put the past behind him. Everyone hates him, looks at him like he is a crazy murderer. Kenny’s friends continue to terrorize Daniel, seeking vengeance for Kenny’s death. And each night, Daniel must lock himself to his bed lest he find himself wandering the town all hours of the night, getting into trouble he will never remember in the morning.
Logan police officer Joe Belman finds Daniel in just that situation one night, mouthing off to Kenny’s friends and almost getting himself beat up in the process. Like everyone else, Bel thinks Daniel is guilty as hell, and crazy on top of that. No one believes the ridiculous sleepwalking defense. And while Joe definitely knows Kenny was a bastard for what he did to Daniel, he also knows Daniel got off too easy. But when he encounters Daniel that night, Bel sees the truth that Daniel has no idea where he is or what he is doing. He is, in fact, sound asleep while walking and talking. And when someone later sets fire to Daniel’s cabin, almost burning him alive as he is chained to his bed, Bel is the one to save him.
Spending time with Daniel, Bel starts to understand the full extent of what the man is dealing with. The constant sleep deprivation from his fear of sleepwalking. The nightmares he has about the horrific attack by Kenny and his friends that almost left him dead. And the emotional toll all the hatred takes on Daniel, keeping him a virtual recluse in his isolated cabin in the woods. And worst of all is the self-loathing Daniel has for himself for what he did to Kenny. But slowly Bel also begins to see the real Daniel, the sweet man buried underneath all the pain and trauma. Bel finds that his presence comforts Daniel, and soon the man is sleeping better and wandering around less. Bel and Daniel find an attraction for one another that builds, despite the fact that Bel knows being associated with Daniel will draw a line in the sand between him and most of the town. But Bel soon realizes that being with Daniel is worth any fallout, that he is falling for the man and cares for him deeply. But not everyone is willing to overlook Daniel’s past. The more confidence Daniel gains, the more others are trying to tear him down. And just as Daniel and Bel may finally be finding some peace and happiness, those threats risk destroying everything the men have built together.
Oh you guys. This was so good. Really, it is hard to know where to start here because I don’t think anything I can say will really capture all the depth and complexity of this wonderful story. But I will try folks, because really it is just fabulous.
What I loved the most about When All the World Sleeps is that it takes all these shades of gray and lets them all hang out in this story. There is no attempt to make this all pretty and tie it up in a bow. This is a messy situation with lots of layers, and that is what makes it wonderful. At the root of the conflict are Daniel and Kenny. Kenny is a total piece of shit who almost beat Daniel to death for being gay, who would have killed him if he had the chance. Daniel still suffers horrible nightmares about that night, of the things Kenny said and did to him. It is trauma he may never recover from emotionally. And while the whole town knew darn well that Kenny and his friends were responsible, justice was never done. But at the same time, Kenny should be rotting in jail, not burned to death in his home out of vengeance. Daniel killed him — walked to the local store, bought a lighter, and set Kenny’s house on fire with Kenny inside. And Daniel hates himself for it and will never totally forgive himself. But Daniel was also asleep. He has no memory of buying that lighter or of setting the fire. He couldn’t control his actions, couldn’t stop himself, didn’t even know he had done it until he woke up with burns on his hands.
So this is a big old mess, a complex situation with no black and white. And that is what makes this story so fascinating. Because as well fall in love with Daniel and our hearts bleeds for his pain, we can also see that he did something horrible, even though he didn’t know he was doing it. It just makes the story so totally fascinating with all these layers that we get to dig through as we follow along with Daniel’s journey.
The authors also create a fascinating dynamic with Daniel and Bel’s relationship. Daniel has always sought out something that would stop the sleepwalking. There is no cure, but he finds that with enough pain, he can exhaust himself to the point that he sleeps more soundly. In college, Daniel dated a Dom who would beat him and tie him up. But Daniel doesn’t get off on the pain. It doesn’t make him hot and he doesn’t enjoy it. But he feels like he needs it to sleep. And since Kenny, maybe he even deserves it. What Daniel does like is rules, and to feel safe and protected by being restrained. Bel has never even considered these types of kinks, but he sees how much Daniel needs it, and soon begins to enjoy taking on a more dominant role in the bedroom. And it begins to help Daniel and to settle him. But Bel refuses to hurt Daniel, he can see that Daniel doesn’t enjoy it. But Bel sometimes struggles figure out what Daniel wants versus what he needs. And even what Daniel thinks he needs, versus what he really does need. Again, I really found all these complexity fascinating and it creates this really interesting dynamic as Bel and Daniel try to find that sweet spot that gives Daniel what he needs, that works for Bel, and that doesn’t cross the line into Daniel punishing himself.
What makes this all work is that Daniel and Bel are such fabulous characters. For as complex as Daniel is, I couldn’t help but love him. We see so clearly the horrific life he leads, the pain and emotional toll his past and even his present take on him. The total hopelessness that things will ever get better. And then he meets Bel, and suddenly things do start to get better. Because he loves Bel and feels a peace with him he doesn’t any other time. But the sleepwalking will never go away. And the town still hates him. And he still lives with the nightmares. And our hearts just ache for him as he pushes on, because Daniel doesn’t think he deserves any better than what he has got. It probably sounds awfully gloomy, but there is a charm to Daniel that I couldn’t resist. When he is with Bel, there is a playful banter, a humor and a lightness that makes him so endearing you can’t help but love him. And slowly, along with Daniel, we start to see that there is hope for him.
But as much as this story is Daniel’s journey, the real heart of the book is Bel. Bel starts this story knowing, like everyone else, that Daniel is crazy and guilty as hell. But what makes Bel amazing, is that once he gets to know Daniel, he is completely willing to accept that he was wrong. And not only that, but to stick by Daniel even when he knows that he will alienate many in their tiny town, that they will see him as choosing sides and will not forgive him. Bel is a young guy, but he has such inner strength and goodness. He sees what Daniel needs and does everything he can to give it to him. He supports Daniel completely, and is determined to help Daniel see he is worthy of love and life and that it is time to forgive himself and move on. Not to mention that Bel is sexy and oh so good at making those rules and carrying them out. Bel is really just amazing and he is what makes this whole story really work, as we see Daniel through his eyes and grow to love him along with Bel.
So yep, this one was just fabulous. I am not sure my review did this story justice, but I really hope you will give it a try. It is not a neat and tidy book; there are lots of complex ideas here and not everything is perfectly black and white. But that is what makes it wonderful. And at its heart are two fabulous characters in Daniel and Bel who just stole my heart. Very highly recommended.
Cover Review: I really like this cover. It exactly captures that intensity of the story and depicts the fire that is a recurring element in the book.