Rating: 4.75 stars
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Sascha is quick, clever, and devilishly rebellious. He is also a slave. Since failing the Assessment and becoming a Demoted, he has endured the cruelty of the re-education center and now lives as a torture slave in a brothel. Sascha has lived for years in pain and degradation, but he has learned to make the most of opportunity. So when a wealthy financier comes to the brothel seeking a last minute escort, Sascha makes sure he is noticed.
Cashiel Michaud doesn’t want a slave, but to maintain his image, he must purchase one. He certainly wouldn’t have picked a brothel whore as his first choice, especially one so broken and abused as Sascha, but he finds the slave intriguing and decides to take the risk. Their day-to-day existence with another is fraught with tension. Cashiel does not believe in torturing slaves and seemingly prefers to have as little interaction with Sascha as possible. But Sascha has spent so long living with frequent savagery he struggles to adjust to this new world of disinterested inattention, kindness, and unexpected boredom.
After several difficult months, Cashiel and Sascha begin to figure out the mechanics of their situation and their relationship starts to evolve. But Cashiel has a dark past and old secrets threaten to destroy everything he hopes to achieve. Sascha and Cashiel will have to decide if they can trust one another as politics and power begin to encircle them.
Subjection is a wonderfully complex novel that gives the reader two fantastic characters. I realize the master/slave genre may not appeal to all readers, but Subjection is excellent example of an author managing a challenging topic well. The plot is straightforward for the first half of the book, but as it progresses and each character faces multiple challenges, the narrative becomes more layered. The pacing is good and allows the story to flow naturally and develop in realistic form. The system of Demoting and the slave culture depictions are well described and though a little more information on the overall world structure would have been nice, it did not detract from the novel.
The real heart of Subjection is Sascha. He was born free and only entered into slavery after an act of sacrifice. Being Demoted means he should be simple and capable of only basic tasks. Instead Sascha is vastly intelligent and his trainers quickly realize he must be broken into slavery because he will not bend to it. His inner reflections during the novel often explore the deeper conflicts of his position. He despises pain, yet hungers for it at times. He is terrified of Cashiel, but is desperate for his affection and attention. He is thrilled to be freed from the brothel, but now he gets into trouble due to boredom. Sascha is a jumble of raw emotion and his struggle to adapt to his new life is often painful, but his determination and courage are captivating and make him a truly amazing character.
Cashiel is equally complicated and I found him much harder to like, which only made him more intriguing. He is distant and cold to Sascha throughout much of the book, but not cruel. He eventually recognizes Sascha’s genius and rather than letting him languish in tedium, he puts him to work, challenging him and giving Sascha the chance to soar intellectually. Yet Cashiel is not an abolitionist. He believes in slavery and sees it as an important aspect of the societal structure. The idea that Sascha could or even should be freed is utterly foreign to him. His belief that the Demoted are property to be utilized rather than freed doesn’t endear him to the reader. Yet he is not a monster and has a genuine affection for Sascha and protects him more than once. He is a hypocrite, but this makes him human and even though I didn’t always like him, I always found him fascinating.
My only real gripes of the book surrounded a few grammar/editing issues and POV. There were, especially in the first part of the novel, several awkwardly worded sentences and grammar annoyances. These seemed to level out as the book progressed. The other frustration surrounds POV changes. Chapters switch between first person Cashiel or Sascha, which is fine, but they also switch back and forth in the middle of chapters and without real delineation. I would have a preferred a tag that indicated which character was speaking. It wasn’t confusing, but instead it disrupted the flow of the book and tended to jerk me out of the moment. Still these are minor issues overall and don’t detract too much.
Subjection is an excellent book and, according to the publisher’s information, it also is the first in a series. The characters have real depth and are truly engaging. The themes are far from easy but Subjection forces the reader to think about the realities of slavery, the nature of love and the complexity of being human. I strongly recommend it!