First there was the Age of Outrage. That was when everyone was hyper-connected. …People getting self-righteously pissed about everything….And then there was…where computers started doing way too much of our thinking for us. …We finally unplugged ourselves from our screens–but we no longer knew how to use our actual human brains. …Welcome to the Age of Ennui.
In the future, society is bored. Live sex shows are the new hot ticket to keeping the population entertained. Love is but a distant memory and the urge to create has been dimmed. Bode is a dancer and wants to experience love and all the emotions that are no longer accepted by society. When he meets and falls for the eccentric and unstable Kilroy Ballast, his life takes a turn he never even knew existed. With Bode drugged to keep his feelings at bay, Kilroy breaks, and then shapes, Bode into the star attraction in the erotic circus, The Grand Ballast. Bode, who was a private man, trades his free will for what he perceives as affection. Now, Bode is essentially a prisoner performing at the whim of a madman.
When Bode rescues Valen from a rival show, the two men flee the horror and confines of their lives. Bode sees a spark in Valen, but Valen has his own demons to ward off. Arriving in a new place, the two men must hide in a world that is still filled with terror and their past will not let them be. Bode still craves love and beauty and wants more than anything to have a simple life and be loved in return. But, Kilroy is still out there. Kilroy who thinks that Bode still owes him a debt. Kilroy, with an obsessive notion that Bode is and always will be his.
There are many, many places that I could start. I will start with the quote above, for a book set in a society where everyone is bored and no one believes in love should be the first indication that this is not what would be considered a traditional romance. We must then look to the writing, as the sheer force of words and imagery that J.A. Rock puts forth to connect the characters and the reader to this new world is amazing. Set somewhere in the future with no real sense of time or place, the landscape of the story offers billowy, dream-like edges combined with a fantastical, old world, side show feel of eras gone by, which is also the foundation upon which nightmares are built.
The first part of the book offers the characters in their present day setting and we are also taken to the past, to “Then.” This part of the story has a back and forth feel but Rock does an exceptional job layering the story and filling in details that add to the overall mystique. Bode is different than most of his peers. He is proud, he still wants to create, he wants to be noticed for his art, and he wants to be loved. It is this need for affection that draws him to Kilroy. Rock also takes a long hard look at the state of society and where current culture could be headed, or in some cases may have already veered into that path.
To say that Kilroy is not likable is a huge understatement. He offers no redeeming qualities at all throughout the entire book. Bode is sheltered and so starved for affection that he misses every sign that Kilroy is unstable and that is he truly a madman. Bode goes from being reserved and private to being the star performer in a live sex show. There is a shadow that follows Bode, a ghost that haunts him for transgressions past and Kilroy uses that to control Bode through psychological manipulations and physical abuse. It is when Bode sees Valen performing that that he feels the need to save someone else, since he doesn’t know how to save himself.
This is not an easy story all the way through and those with a weak constitution will find many places that they will want to look away. When Bode reaches bottom he knows that, “Life was so much of this. A swing and a miss at miracles. Missteps that cracked bones.”
This will then not be the story for everyone. There is violence and non-con that while mostly off page still leaves an indelible imprint. You should go into this book knowing that you will be bruised and battered and there are many moments that are raw, gruesome, unstable, and heartbreaking with only a melancholy feel of hope and love settling in. There are characters that you may not want to continue to engage, yet the story and the words will seep under your skin. It may definitely push some reading boundaries as Bode makes his journey to a better place.